Fr Mícheál Kennedy SMA
Funeral Homily – March 28th 2007 at SMA Parish Church, Wilton Cork
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10
Romans 6: 3-9
John 14: 1-6
“There is a destiny that makes us brothers None of us goes our way alone
All that we put into the lives of others Comes back into our own”.
I do not know the exact origin of these words but they impacted Halai Kennedy to the extent that he used them in a speech prepared for the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of ordination to priesthood in Blackrock Road in June, 2001. I think they express eloquently sentiments he lived his life by. He knew he was not alone. For the past number of years debilitating sickness necessitated his being aided in most things. Perhaps it was merely payback time for the goodness he brought to others’ lives during 55 plus years of missionary priesthood.
The most significant announcement made in the history of the universe was that made by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of God. This year the Church transferred the celebration of the Feast to Monday last. It was a nice privilege for Halai to finally surrender his body and spirit home to the Lord, surrounded by his beloved sister, Sr Brenda and Lee Cahill, on such a special day. We gather here this afternoon as family, confreres or friends to pay our final respects and pray for the repose of his soul. Halai has now begun the process of sharing in the fullness of life in God.
Our opening reading this afternoon is a splendid reflection of a people who are so convinced of God’s abiding love that their joy at this good news cannot be contained. One can almost picture a people dancing for joy as they proclaim that God is king. The Lord is consoling his people, redeeming the city. And we as Christians are the inheritors of this vision. We too can dance in our heart today that God is consoling his people. This is not in any way to deny the reality of loss. We must grieve and mourn the loss. For Halai’s family especially it is a poignant moment. He was the eldest of eleven children and my sense is that he became, especially in latter years, very much the focal point around which much of the family life revolved. So his loss has a special impact.
But our grieving is done as a faith-filled people. A people who proclaim with conviction that at death life is changed, not ended. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me” our Gospel assures us this afternoon. We reflect along with St Paul that we have been baptised into Christ’s death “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life”. We believe that Halai having died with Christ will return to life with him. This is our own conviction but it was also the conviction that inspired Halai to dedicate his life as a missionary priest.
“How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news”. Halai carried the good news to the people of Nigeria and to the people of Ireland. He did that effectively and efficiently when his health was robust. But perhaps he did it in a more authentic way when he was most vulnerable. Perhaps we minister to others best when we allow them to minister to us. In such a vulnerable space our ego loses the ability to obstruct the workings of God’s Spirit. How beautiful too are the feet of the one who welcomes and receives good news.
Halai celebrated his 80th birthday last August. He was always proud of his Kerry roots and the town of Tralee always held a special place in his heart. He did his initial studies in CBS Tralee and was part of a group of four lads from the same class – including his own brother, Tom, to join and go on to ordination with the SMA. Halai was ordained at St Catherine’s Dominican Church, Newry in 1951. Being academically bright and a systematic student it was no surprise that he was immediately assigned to study science at U.C.C. He took an honours primary degree and followed this up with a Masters Degree in Chemistry. Such a course of studies would of course mark him out as a man who would give his life to the education profession and this is what he did.
In 1955 he was appointed to the Prefecture [later diocese] of Ibadan and was to serve all his African missionary career attached to the college of Loyola in Ibadan. Twenty one years were spent as Principal of this highly respected school. He was competent, efficient, a good teacher and a good organiser and administrator. He was a man of prudence and many relied on his sound judgement, a man of drive and determination tempered by moderation and self-restraint. He believed that education was a better safeguard of liberty than any police force or army. And he believed in a well-rounded and balanced education rather than a simple attention to academic subjects. Theodore Roosevelt has said, “to educate a man in mind, and not in morals, is to educate a menace to society”. Certainly Halai’s philosophy of education was not geared to adding to the menace in society. He was acknowledged as a man of rare stature. He was loyal to his colleagues on staff. This was much appreciated by younger members who may not have received the same respect from other older confreres. “He was the one man you could call on whenever there was a problem” was how one sister described him to me last night. And his organising abilities were legendary: he had constructed a comprehensive evacuation plan for the missionaries in Ibadan during the Nigerian civil war – based on a plan worked out by the British embassy; thank God it did not need to be put into use.
But life was not all work and no play because he enjoyed a healthy social life. He had a particular fondness for the card game of Bridge and he became a very accomplished player. In fact this interest deepened when he returned to Ireland and he is the author of some books on the game. Apart from being recognised as a competent teacher and administrator he was also highly regarded by his confreres in the SMA. He was elected as a delegate to a number of Assemblies, attending both the Provincial and General Assemblies of 1973. He was a member of the Preparatory Commission for Provincial Assembly 1973 and was also on the short-list panel for election as Provincial Superior that year.
From the mid to late 70s ill-health became his almost constant companion. Cardiac problems of various kinds were to shadow his days from then on. Visits to hospital are too many to enumerate here but a heart pace-maker installed in 1978 and renewed a number of times afterwards was to allow him a decent quality of life for a number of years. It would appear that the later degeneration of his mental capacity was also connected to his cardiac condition. This whole ill-health saga required his dying to much of what had gone before. But here too for the Christian there is solace, for the law of Christian spirituality in the scriptures tells us that nothing that we have not died to in this life can ever be resurrected in the life to come.
Having been forced to retire from Africa due to this health condition he was assigned to Wilton as a tutor and confessor in the Preparatory year programme and helped out also in this public church. He was much admired and respected both by his colleagues on staff and the students. He prepared excellent notes on the bible and these were appreciated by the students when they went on to study theology in Maynooth. He also shared his love of the scriptures with the prayer group in Wilton parish and many attribute their love of scripture to his promptings. He enjoyed ten good years in the college ministry and then after a short period of service in the parish as assistant priest he eventually retired from active ministry in 1993. The unexpected death of his brother, Fr Tom Kennedy SMA, that same year, took a serious toll on his overall health condition. In 1995 he came to live in the Blackrock Road community where he has been lovingly cared for ever since by the staff of the house and by his attentive family, none more so than Sr Brenda Mary who has surrounded him with love and meticulous attention all these years.
The above listing of the various places to which Halai has been assigned reminds us again of our gospel text this afternoon. “I am going now to prepare a place for you”. In a sense the Lord has been preparing a place for Halai all his life. But now the promise is more compelling: “I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too”. The next lines of the gospel evoke for me memories of Halai in his most vulnerable state. The dialogue between Jesus and Thomas as to where he is going and how the road there is to be discerned is most apt. Halai struggled with the insecurity of not being sure how he might get back into his bedroom to rest. Repeated verbal assurances that this would be taken care of seemed to offer little respite. But now at his death he has the assurance from the Son of God himself that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through him”. Halai no longer has to struggle with insecurities about the way forward. Jesus has assured him that he is the way to the Father and he has come to claim Halai as a companion on the journey. His troubled heart and spirit can finally rest in peace.
Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dilis.