REFLECTIONS
Father Ted Kennedy
St Vincent's Redfern 1971 - 2002
 
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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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Some of the parishioners of St Vincent's may not know very much of Ted's background other than that which relates to his championing of the aboriginal people and his time in Redfern so I have chosen to write about an earlier time in his life when I first got to know him. There are common threads of course between his earlier work and his ministry in more recent times.

Most Catholics who went to Sydney University in the fifties and sixties took with them the view of their educators that it was a perilous place. There were bound to be threats to one's faith from the largely atheistic and agnostic teachers and worse still threats to one's morality (and this always meant sexual morality in those days). Predatory young men, probably atheists, were lurking to seduce innocent convent girls and loose girls, undoubtedly from public schools, were flaunting themselves shamelessly in the attempt to make good catholic boys "go off the rails" as it was euphemistically expressed. Surprisingly, not everyone was deterred from the decision to attend university by these dire warnings. My own view had been coloured by the experiences of my older brother who was working as a journalist and studying part time. Oddly his faith seemed to be strengthened. I couldn't speak with authority about his morals, though I did notice he had some very attractive female friends. He was an active member of the Newman Society and was clearly much influenced by the charismatic chaplain to the University, Roger Pryke.

By the time I got there the youthful Ted Kennedy had taken over as chaplain. Ted built on Roger's work and brought his own wonderful style to the job. For Ted, as for Roger Pryke, the university was a place of challenge with which Catholics ought be fully engaged, not retreating into protected enclaves where one's faith could be safeguarded and dangerous ideas could be avoided. It seemed to me that he was unerring in his affirmation of things central to Christianity and his encouragement of students to pursue truth in the marvellously stimulating environment in which they found themselves.

The Newman Society found a more or less permanent home in the old building in City Road, now alas demolished. It became a haven and a refuge for hundreds of students. Groups met there and grappled with the Three Realities which provided the structure of student discussions. Ted's guidance was gentle and deft and for many these groups provided the foundation of a renewed and deepened faith. He had infinite patience with troubled students and the compassion and wisdom he displayed in helping to solve problems ensured that there was a steady stream of students at his door. Perhaps inure than anything else though what I remember is his generosity: there seemed to be literally nothing, if it were in his power, that he would not do to help someone in need. Often this would be material assistance but it also took the form of spending a prodigious amount of valuable time listening and offering counsel. Most people who have come in contact with him since this time will be aware of this facet of his character.

Ted was a colourful figure to those of us brought up in the monochromatic fifties. He had a taste for what was then the exotic in cars. Many will remember the Peugeots, the Citroen ID 19 and many others. I don't think he ever quite lost the taste for fancy cars though his driving is rather curtailed these days. He loved driving as he still does. He would take every opportunity to head off to the bush and in particular to his beloved Araluen. Many a citified student had his first taste of the bush and primitive country living through Ted's love of driving and his wonderful hospitality at the Kennedy property in the Araluen Valley. It was folk music more often than not which provided the nightly entertainment there- this was another love of Ted's. This was the decade of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Weavers, Pete Seeger, The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers and many more. Irish folk songs were a particular love of Ted's, as indeed was anything Irish for that matter. There was a special magic in these evenings of strumming guitars and youthful voices at Araluen. And among students there were those who sang beautifully and poignantly and who were to go on to make music their careers, like Christine Tilley (nee Delahenty) and Peter Kearney. Ted was also an amusing raconteur and mimic. He did a wonderfully amusing imitation of Cardinal Gilroy, mimicking perfectly the distinctive intonations and the timbre of his voice. He liked playing practical jokes too, particularly on unsuspecting visitors to Araluen. And he was, and still is, a wonderful source of local history and Australian Catholic history with a phenomenal retention of names and significant detail.. As far as I know he has never written down any of this history. Perhaps there is a project there for someone.

Ted brought great personal and intellectual gifts with him to Sydney University and he dispensed them liberally and effectively. There were hundreds of students whose lives were enriched incalculably by Ted and who have good cause to be very grateful for the decision of church authorities to appoint him to the position of Chaplain at Sydney University.


by Rod Coady
 

 

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