Radio Interview: Remembering Fr. Dan Kennedy
Summary of today’s show: The short, beautiful and inspirational life and priesthood of Fr. Dan Kennedy ended suddenly on January 27, 2008, just 247 days after he was ordained to the priesthood. As we approach the fifth anniversary of his death, Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor talk to Dan Kennedy, Sr., and Fr. Bill Lohan about Fr. Dan’s journey to the priesthood and the legacy he leaves behind of working passionately to help others discern their own calls from God.
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Dan Kennedy, Sr. and Fr. Bill Lohan
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Remembering Fr. Dan Kennedy
1st segment: Scot Landry said today is a significant anniversary in the life of our country, marking the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal throughout the country. Later this week will be the 40th anniversary of the March for Life. But today we will be remembering a priest who served for 247 days in the Archdiocese of Boston, Fr. Dan Kennedy who died on January 27, 2008, less than a year after being ordained. Fr. Chris O’Connor said we will be reflecting on the gift of the priesthood, no matter how long they serve.
Scot recalled Fr. Dan’s funeral and Cardinal Seán’s reflection at the end of the funeral Mass that his last words with Fr. Dan were Fr. Dan saying, “I love being a priest.” Fr. Chris said he helps out at Fr. Kennedy’s parish in Winthrop and remembered Fr. Dan’s last words to the parish, that priests come and go, but Christ remains constant. To this day, many young people still wear the black and white bracelets in remembrance of Fr. Dan.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Dan Kennedy to the show. He said his son’s main ambition in life was to promote vocations to the priesthood. He talked about his continues that mission as his son had told him that this is our job, to identify and encourage young men for the vocation of the priesthood. Scot said Cardinal Seán appreciates Dan Sr.’s help with vocations because Cardinal Seán says vocations are everyone’s business.
Scot welcomed Fr. Bill Lohan to the show and asked him how he met Fr. Dan. Fr. Bill said he was at a bar with some buddies in early 2002 while he was discerning the priesthood. At the other end of the bar was Dan Kennedy and they got together and talked about the discernment. They all ended up in St. John’s Seminary together where he met many men of all kinds who were called.
Scot said Fr. Dan was born in 1964 and grew up in Needham. He was ordained to the diaconate on January 27, 2007 and to the priesthood May 26, 2007. Dan said Fr. Dan was the first boy after three sisters. He also had a younger brother, who was close in age and they were very competitive and fought constantly.
In high school at Catholic Memorial, Dan became the school mascot and then did the same when he attended Providence College. Dan said his son loved the limelight and was always a leader who wanted to get involved in all kinds of activities. Dan said his son became the Silver Knight mascot for Catholic Memorial even though he was an athlete playing hockey and soccer because he didn’t play football. Dan told a story about Dan Jr.’s antics with their rivals the BC High Eagles.
Scot said he’d heard many stories of Fr. Dan’s pranks and storytelling. Fr. Bill said he had a gift of humor but also of intensity. He said in 2002-03, the seminarians were a little older, but were participating in intramural softball against Boston College students. He said Fr. Dan was intense about playing those games. He was also intense about celebrating the Liturgy. He was a natural leader and the men in the seminary responded to that.
Dan said Dan Jr. from an early age had signs of being headed to the priesthood. At various points in his life, different people suggested he was headed to a vocation despite Dan Jr’s best efforts to ignore them. So when he announced to his parents, they weren’t surprised, but his mother wondered if he would survive the seminary with his hot temper. They worried he wouldn’t make it through. But in his first three years at the seminary he was happy to be there. But in his fourth year he started to have misgivings about where God was calling him and stepped back for a leave of absence.
Fr. Chris said it’s not uncommon for men to take a step back. Sometimes you have to leave to return. It’s a way to discover the beauty of what God is calling you to and to recognize that the priesthood is what God calling you to and you won’t be satisfied with anything else.
Fr. Bill said when Fr. Dan left, it was difficult for his friends to see him go. His friends related to him in a way that they couldn’t relate to men outside the seminary, but they were open to God’s willing. Fr. Dan came back after six months, but even then he stayed involved.
Fr. Dan was often asked by parishes and pastors to come and speak to young people about the priesthood. Fr. Bill said Fr. Dan had a great zeal and that may have been why. He truly believed and that made him so passionate and intense.
Scot noted that Fr. Dan was ordained to the priesthood and assigned to St. John Parish in Winthrop. He was then re-assigned to South Boston and preached his last Mass at St. John’s on January 27 and went to Connecticut for a friend’s child’s baptism. On his way back on January 28, he died of a heart attack. Dan said in both Fr. Dan’s first homily on Jan 27, 2007 and his last homily on Jan 27, 2008, he spoke about the relevance of Christ in their lives.
Dan said on that day, he’d gone to visit his granddaughter on the Cape. As he was driving home, he got a call from his daughter that she got in an accident that totaled her car and she almost died. Then later that night at 10pm, they got the call about Fr. Dan having a heart attack. As they were driving down, they got another call from their other son who was with Fr. Dan to tell them that he passed away. Dan said he and his wife on their hearts considered the time of his son’s death to be a blessing. They accepted that God had chosen him to be the first priest among all those ordained in 2008 to be with Him.
Fr. Dan had just come back from two weeks as a US Navy chaplain on the USS Nimitz and had spoken of the amazing stars at sea. As Dan and his wife sat in a rest stop on the Mass. Pike, they looked up at the stars. He envisioned Fr. Dan walking across those stars to join the Father and the Son in heaven. He said no matter how much he misses Fr. Dan, he feels that his son is with the Lord and that brings them true happiness.
Fr. Chris said it’s clear Fr. Dan got his faith from his parents. Dan said his faith comes from Christ and he was blessed to be born into the Catholic faith. He said his speaking at his son’s funeral was the work of the Holy Spirit. He would normally cry at the drop of the hat, but he was on a mission at his son’s funeral to tell people how his son had fully lived and was fully in love of the world and thus didn’t shed a tear during that Mass.
In his eulogy, Dan asked people to pray every day for more vocations to the priesthood. Scot said he was present that day and was surprised how this man who had just lost his son and was focusing on the priesthood. Dan said that statement was directly from the Holy Spirit. Dan wanted people to know how important vocations were for his son. Dan shared a prayer composed by Cardinal Seán that was particularly apt.
Holy Mother of the Good Shepherd, turn your motherly care to our Diocese. Intercede for us to the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers to the harvest. Inspire vocations in our time. Let the word of your Son be made flesh anew in the lives of persons anxious to proclaim the Good News of everlasting life. Draw them near to the heart of your Son so that they can understand the beauty and the joy that awaits them to be His witnesses. Amen.
Fr. Bill said for his class, which was the one just after Fr. Dan’s, was ordained the day after Fr. Dan’s funeral. He recalled that Bishop Arthur Kennedy, who was rector of the seminary, got all the men together to talk and pray. For them it was a reminder of the one priesthood of Christ, with no beginning and no end. They remember that their work is just part of God’s Work. Fr. Bill has no doubt that some of the young men who worked with Fr. Dan in his parishes will one day knock on the door of the seminary. In our human accounting it doesn’t make sense to take the finest among us away, but God’s accounting is not ours.
Fr. Chris said the funeral was extraordinary. Priests are so different and diverse, yet priests who knew Fr. Dan and those who didn’t all felt the need to be there. It’s like the death of a firefighter or police officer, and the whole presbyterate felt the need to be there together that day. Scot said a priest affects a parish like no one else and while Fr. Dan was only at St. John’s in Winthrop for about six months, he had a strong impact. Fr. Chris said that impact is still felt. He said there’s a memorial bench on the parish grounds near a statue of Our Lady, which is appropriate.
Scot said he’s heard several times that Fr. Dan would have made a great vocations director for the Archdiocese. Since his death, Dan Sr. has been going out and speaking for vocations all over, including for the Serra Club. Dan said at the end of the Mass each day, he thanks Christ for sending his son and calling home and to please send more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He related a story of Fr. Dan visiting Paris one day before he entered seminary and during a Mass at Notre Dame where the cardinal-archbishop stopped during the recessional, leaned over to Dan, and told him when he got home to go see the rector of the seminary.