Father Ted Kennedy
St Vincent's Redfern 1971 - 2002
A compilation of reflections by Community members presented to Ted Kennedy on his retirement as parish priest of the St Vincent's Catholic Church in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern.
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Fr Ted Kennedy

Reflections 1
Reflections 2
Reflections 3
Reflections 4
Reflections 5
Who is Worthy?
Letters from Ted

Mum Shirl

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Visitors since 12 April 2004
  Church Mouse

For me, the road to Redfern was uphill. Baptised Catholic in infancy, I was at four years of age, handed over to the nuns, or as Ted more accurately names them, the “consecrated coolies” so that they, the “token torturers”, might do their worst with me in the following 13 years of “mind binding” and un-Christian (but never non-Catholic) non-education.

I was a spectacular disappointment and subjected to hour upon hour of banishment from religious education classes for daring to ask questions. During these times my classmates, I was reliably informed, had been exhorted to “pray for that girl”. Their prayers, obviously of the lacklustre variety, failed to penetrate the walls of heaven. I left school without becoming a child of Mary because Reverend Mother had decreed that I would “lose the faith”. I can see now that she had judged that my baptism was, as Ted would say “like an inoculation that didn’t take”.

As the years went by, I could neither recognize nor reconcile my understanding of the message of Christianity in and with the institutional Church, its patriarchal and therefore exclusionary practices, its hypocrisy and its self serving clericalism. I decided to leave the Church and told a friend of my decision. She invited me to come to Redfern the following Sunday. I went. Seek and ye shall find! It was there! The Spirit! A blessing without disguise! It was a wonderful and peaceful place to have come to. Over the years I have often noticed the emotional reactions of many people as they are enveloped in the peacefulness of that place.

Arriving outside the Church in Redfern Street, one could not but be struck by the single word, painted with pertinence in white, across the outer wall of the Church: “SHAME”. The somewhat dilapidated building symbolizes the dispossession and continued marginalization of the indigenous inhabitants of our land. Whilst their exclusion continues it would be blasphemous to have our building stand in the midst of Redfern in any but its present mournful condition.

The word “SHAME” has long since been painted out and many urban Aboriginal people have been driven out to the metropolitan fringe as the suburb of Redfern has been gradually gentrified, becoming concomitantly alienating for many.

Ted and the Redfern community have, to me, been the antithesis of all the orthodoxy and un-wisdom that have so conclusively alienated many women from the Church. It is here that orthodoxy is truly tested and challenged by orthopraxis. Ted asserts that the gospel is in urgent need of liberation. One could hear a pin drop on any Sunday as he set about doing just that. He has led and served a dynamic community that expresses its faith by its commitment to justice and to resisting the structures and the values that have served to maintain a status quo that sees the world catapulting to its destruction.

Redfern has been a magnet for many wonderful human beings. How could it be otherwise with the magnetic Ted at its heart? Here, I soon found, people are respected because they are: black, white, young, old, powerful, powerless. It is a place where one is welcomed in one’s own right rather than for how one fits in relationship with others. It is a place where one also experiences the freedom to be and where all have a voice. On innumerable occasions I have seen Ted sit down quietly, deferring to those who have something they wish to say, no matter when or how they wish to say it. Some years ago, he became increasingly concerned that the cost of his homilies was the silencing of the voices of the women of the community. Thus did some of us women become instant biblical scholars! My homily may have been delivered without much acumen (but then again I have heard worse in places that were not Redfern) but it was nevertheless imbued with a fervent desire to honour my ancestors who had throughout their lives been forced to bow their heads and remain silent in both the public and the private spheres.

Over the years I have shared happy and sad times with Redfern friends and with them have been able to express faith and hope through political activities. The “Church picnics” or pickets outside Richmond Airbase on the first Sunday of so many months, together with a memorable trip to Nurungar, despite their serious purpose, had many light moments and remain amongst my most treasured Redfern memories. Some of the friends involved in these activities have moved far away whilst others, both black and white, have been claimed by death. We were bereft at the illness and subsequent death in 1998 of Shirley Smith, “Mum Shirl”, our beloved “Roamin” Catholic”. As she was not one to commit words to paper, this was the way I preferred to interpret her self description! Despite the accumulated grief she bore, there was never a twinkle far from her eye. Her tireless commitment to the cause of peace and justice, her big heart and her steadfastness as a friend, were truly awesome.

Despite Redfern, it hasn’t always been easy to remain Catholic! During the papal visit of 1986, I was aghast at the shallow showmanship surrounding the event. I remarked to Ted that I was nearly not a Catholic. “Oh!” he replied: “Is it something that drains out of you drop by drop?”

Some years ago Ted complained that he had forgotten a phone number that had recently been given to him. He had never kept a diary or written down a telephone number, instead committing all to memory. I commiserated with him on his imminent relegation to the status of mere mortal! This facetious remark of course belied the reality: mortal, human, humane, wit, intellect, faithful friend, bon viveur, railer against injustice, anarchist, liberator, voice of the voiceless, hater of the “uncharitable works fund”, St Vincent de Paul “runners”, clericalism and the Catholic Weekly, empowerer of the powerless, funny, sad, happy, angry, peaceful, unfit, overweight, loveable, loving and much loved May Day comrade. How much more mortal can one be?

Redfern has been the place that I go to so that I may be energized to go from it.

by Anne Webb


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