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

Her story

Recent Parish Priests

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Visitors since 12 April 2004
  Church Mouse

Some of my earliest memories of Redfern date from the late 70s. They include meeting Aborigines camped around small fires all night, in the Presbytery backyard, with accompanying noise followed by a contrasting calm in the mornings. “More than individual Aborigines, you will become acquainted with many of the relations as well', said Christine Smith on introducing me to the Redfern scene. Mum Shirl and Br Tom Hammerton, shortly after, were supervising cooked meals. An Aboriginal man was declaring that he had fought in WWII for Australia. I'm not sure whether he was part of the “Black Theatre” mob.

Father Ted's homilies and this community interaction both seemed to “hit the mark” for me concerning an involvement in Christianity lived “at its roots”. I was buoyed by Ted's recurrent themes: conscience, being perfect in compassion, personal involvement with disadvantaged persons... all these supported me, and they instigated movement outwards to Wilcannia and Land Rights issues. There was also the informal inner city network of houses run by “Women with Redfern connections”: Forbes, Hordern, Alice, & Queen Sts, (Newtown), Caroline, Wells, Abercrombie & Walker Sts (Chipp, Redfern & Stanmore - not to mention further afield in Sydney & other towns – e.g. Mittagong). The “network” had the Redfern community link in common, each could visit the other's set-up, and it worked to provide the personal-hospitality touch to Aboriginal acquaintances who probably knew them all.

Mum Shirl epitomised Ted's words in action. With an absolute sense of equality, she would talk to anyone. As I became one of her regular drivers, and we visited Long Bay and Bathurst, Parramatta and Broken Hill gaols together, I experienced her straight and well-meant talk, at times telling the wardens “hoff” (as she did bishops and her own people if she thought it would do some good). Once she was handed a key by a new Long Bay warden, suggesting that she lock her bag up for safety. Immediately she handed it back saying, “I've been coming here for 50 years!” and proposing, in colourful style, that he jump in the locker and lock himself up. At Bathurst, all the Kooris were already seated in the courtyard awaiting Mum Shirl's approach up the drive - on the Wardens’ presumption that they all wanted to see her. “They just got us all out here to wait for her arrival”, reported one of them. Not curtailed to gaol visits however, Mum Shirl covered the country for many a diverse and particular purpose. She was down at Melbourne listening to Daniel Berrigan, at Pine Gap for an Anti-Bases Protest, launching her “Tug” namesake in Newcastle, and at many seminars. We often took her “grandchildren” Vernon, Lawrence, Kenny, Melanie, Belinda and Natalie swimming at Yarra Bay. Those were the days.

Musicians: There was Sister Ursula who played the organ and was very well respected for her other activities as well. Helen Regan is an accomplished guitarist and singer; with Sr Pat, she has been very constant and faithful to the task of providing a musical liturgy so well selected and played over all these years and we have always appreciated it Kevin Hunt, of course, and Peter Kearney, have added professional touches; Peter compositions speak very much of and to the Redfern scene and to Australia. Helen is as supportive to the Cana Community. Because Ted allowed for an interplay of charisms from anyone “on the floor” in the form of a prayer or recognition, many a heartfelt comment has been poignantly uttered or sung there.

Announcements through Redfern served to platform important causes. I have been deeply grateful that Aboriginal Deaths in Custody notices could be aired and be received welcomingly. At times, I was following in the footsteps of others, such as Denis Doherty and his many Peace Movement announcements: Anti-bases, Pine Gap, Nurrungar, Palm Sunday and Hiroshima Day Rallies. More recently, messages are given about forthcoming talks, “street Masses” & donations of food and clothes for East Timor, Bougainville, Sri Lanka, asylum-seekers solidarity vigils, and supporting, say, Pax Christi -Buddhist Fellowship or other groups” work.

Traditionally. it seems there has been a degree of variety as far as liturgies are concerned. Volunteers arise for special occasions and there will be a whiz-bang one. Some I remember are the Easter 2000 Liturgy, featuring, on Good Friday, strong references and photos related both to Aboriginal Massacres and to those many wars in which more than 100,000 people were killed. That Good Friday, who can forget Glenn cast as Jesus, and that Easter Day, lsobel, Lizzy, Leanne and Mariah danced “Celebrate', while Kevin Hunt played keyboard.

Robert and Thelma enacted another beautifully touching Good Friday ceremony arranged by Sr Leonie this year. Whatever, liturgies have been an Integrated celebration of the life and breath of our community. Weddings and many Aboriginal funerals have made Redfern “sacred ground'. Some “off the top of my head” were; Fr Ted “married” us, with Denis as best man, Vernon, Kenny and Lawrence as altar servers, Mum Shirl in attendance and many invitees.

Other memorable weddings - Denis and Hannah (Middleton), Katy & Paul, Tom Hammerton & Jan MacNamara, Maggie and Peter, Kerry and Geoff, Robert and Thelma.

Funerals: Wayney West, Patricia, Dicko, Uncle Leo, Archie, Harold, and John Jones, Sr Veronica. The community has stood as a block with Fr Ted over solidarity with Aboriginal issues, reconciliation, measures of rightful ownership to Aborigines and the Medical Centre - an ongoing business.

Recent strong interactions with other faiths has been enriching. A series of various priests and speakers on Sundays has proved that the community is independently alive and well. The tradition of Scripture discussion on Friday and Mass on Saturday evenings also serves to help me in preparation for a Communion Service at Rozelle Hospital and at Boarding Houses. In short, the Redfern Community has been, and continues to be, a central wellspring in my life.

by Frank Vavasour


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