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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Like many non-indigenous Australians, I had never known any Aboriginal people before I started coming to Redfern. So this is probably the most significant change that Redfern has made to my life. Ted and the St Vincentís community gave me the opportunity to begin to get to know many different Aboriginal people, and to witness the generosity of spirit of those who are among the most dispossessed people on earth. Through Ted, and of course Mum Shirl, I came to see what it should mean to be a Christian in Australia Ė how Australian Christianity is inextricably bound to the struggle for justice for Indigenous people. In the years that have followed this introduction Iíve had the opportunity to become involved in this struggle in different ways and to meet many more people Ė both black and white Ė who are looking for ways to help bring about a better future. I thank you Ted for that.

Although, rather like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, Tedís focus is always more on the present than the future. I have never known anyone to carry less baggage or to worry less about what or how things will happen. I experienced a literal example of this liberation of Tedís a few years ago when Danny and I spent a memorable two weeks travelling around Ireland with him. Tedís luggage consisted of a suitcase the size of a school bag, and as far as I could tell, there were only books in it! Ted, with his enthusiasm for all things Irish, and his knowledge and love of Irish literature and history, was a wonderful travelling companion. Even now when his mobility is so restricted, Ted likes nothing more than to jump in any available car and go tearing around the state visiting his many friends.

On a personal level Ted has always, without any fuss, made himself available. When my sister Joanne was very ill in hospital, Ted was a constant visitor. Ted also travelled all the way to Howlong to concelebrate at my fatherís requiem mass, which meant a lot to my whole family.

Mass at Redfern was always an experience. Although the trappings were missing, and there were often competing small dramas involving dogs or small children, Ted always brought a reverence to the Mass that I have rarely experienced in more resplendent surroundings. The familiar words of the liturgy always came alive as if he were saying them for the first time, as if it was always the first time we had heard them.

Tedís homilies have always been inspirational. His insistence on bringing the human presence of the historical Jesus into the here and now was always central. He always reminded us that the gospels are political in the real sense of the word Ė that they are about the location and use of power, and that the kingdom of God is a revolutionary one.

He loves the Catholic Church, even though he is its harshest critic. He is relentlessly engaged in the war against clericalism, and in his championing of all those who are marginalised by the institutional church Ė the poor, Aboriginal people, the gay community, and women Ė Ted offered us a vision of a church built on humanity in all its forms, rather than a network of rules more at home in the committee room of a bowling club. In a radical departure from the Catholicism that people of my generation were taught as children, Ted took out the fear and replaced it with fearlessness.

Iím very sure that I never heard Ted tell anyone what to do or what not to do, but his words were always full of hope Ė of the possibility that we can be better than we are and that we can make our world a better place. Tedís faith in human potential is breathtaking in its scope yet always rooted in the particularities of the here and now. Ted had a way of showing us the big picture, of putting the right perspective on things. I often had the experience of going to St Vincentís weighed down by concerns that seemed important, only to experience a kind of expansion of vision, a lessening of constriction, that left me with a sense of hopefulness and of possibility.

In the words of Tedís beautiful Eucharistic prayer, we all thank God for Ted who came into our lives and challenged us to grow.


by Kathleen Gilbert
 

 

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