Eugene Kennedy

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Eugene Cullen Kennedy
Photo courtesy of Sara Charles Kennedy, MD

Eugene Cullen Kennedy (August 28, 1928 – June 3, 2015) was a psychologist, award-winning writer, public intellectual, syndicated columnist, and professor emeritus of Loyola University Chicago. A laicized Catholic priest and a long-time observer of the Catholic Church, the work of Eugene Cullen Kennedy spans many genres. He has published over 50 books that include 2 biographies, 3 novels, a play, as well as books on psychology, on the Roman Catholic Church and the relationship between psychology and religion.[1] In the early 1970s, inspired by Vatican II, he emerged as a powerful voice for reform and modernization of the Roman Catholic Church.[2]

Early life and education[1][2][edit]

Eugene Cullen Kennedy was born in Syracuse, New York, on August 28, 1928, to second generation Irish parents, James Donald Kennedy and Gertrude Veronica Cullen. His father was an executive with the King Kullen Grocery Company, the family-owned supermarket chain founded by Kennedy's uncle, Michael J. Cullen, and his mother was a homemaker. During the 1980s, Kennedy became a consultant to King Kullen and a member of the Board of Directors, positions he held until his death.

Raised in Long Island, Kennedy graduated from Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY in 1946 after which he entered the Maryknoll Seminary in Maryknoll, NY. From that institution, Kennedy received a B.A. (1950), S.T.B (1953) and M.R.E. (1954). Following his ordination to the priesthood on June 11, 1955, he was instructor in psychology at the Maryknoll Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA before beginning graduate studies in psychology at The Catholic University of America where he obtained an MA (1958) and PhD (1962).


Kennedy was a licensed psychologist in Illinois and professor of psychology and counselor at Maryknoll College, Glen Ellyn, Illinois from 1960 until 1971. He was Professor of Psychology at Loyola University of Chicago from 1969 until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1995. Kennedy was a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and served as President of Division 36 (1975-1976) where he led a resurgence of the phenomenologically based research into religion.[3]

Kennedy first gained attention among Catholic audiences in 1965 with the publication of his first book, The Genius of the Apostolate, which he co-authored with Paul D'Arcy M.M. In 1967, Kennedy published Fashion Me a People, which won the Catholic Book Award, an award he again won in 1968 for his third book, Comfort My People. During the 1970s, Kennedy published twenty-five books. His diversified interests and talents are evident in the titles of some of the works of that decade: In the Spirit, In the Flesh (1971), The Return to Man (1973), and Believing (1974) represent his ongoing concern with the Church; Living With Loneliness (1974), On Becoming a Counselor (1977), and Sexual Counseling (1977) reveal his interest in psychology; and St. Patrick's Day with Mayor Daley (1976) and Himself (1978), his biography of Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, that won both the Thomas More Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to Catholic Literature in 1978" as well as the Carl Sandburg Award (1978) for the best non-fiction by a Chicago author, represent his interest in Chicago.

His On Becoming a Counselor is described as "an unusually helpful, well-conceived guide"[4] for non-professional counselors – those persons such as teachers, lawyers, ministers, nurses, priests and others – who may have to do counseling as part of their professional work.[5]

During the 1980s, Kennedy co-authored Defendant with his wife, Sara Charles. He also published 3 novels: Father's Day (1981), that was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award for the best fiction by a Chicago author in 1980-1981; Queen Bee (1984); and Fixes (1989). He also authored the PBS special one man play, I Would Be Called John, based on the life of Pope John XXII featuring Charles Durning in the title role.

During the 1990s and into the new century, Kennedy, continued to publish including a biography of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin,This Man Bernardin (1996),and reflections on his relationship with the Cardinal, My Brother Joseph (1997). Kennedy also published Authority (with Sara Charles)(1997), The Unhealed Wound (2001), and his last, Believing (2013), that won a Catholic Book Award First Prize from the Catholic Press Association. At the time of his death, Kennedy was working with co-author Sara Charles on the 4th edition of On Becoming a Counselor slated for publication in June 2017.

Landmark study[edit]

His Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations (1972), co-authored with Victor J. Heckler, is considered a landmark study that was prescient of the sex abuse crisis that broke into the public's awareness in 2002.[6]

In the late 1960s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) of the United States commissioned an extensive study of the life and ministry of the American Priest. As Kennedy had earlier published The Genius of the Apostolate (1965) that focused on the emotional health of Roman Catholic seminarians, he was named chief investigator of the psychological component. In 1972, he published, with Victor J. Heckler as co-author, The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations. The study concluded that two-thirds of the 271 priests in the study were found to be emotionally undeveloped, had not achieved the kind of growth that psychological theory would expect from men of their chronological age and vocational responsibility, and, as such, had not been able to achieve healthy, trusting and non-sexual relationships. These men lacked the emotional maturity and life experiences that made mandatory celibacy difficult for many of them.[7] As early as 1967, he advocated a change in the culture of the priesthood and proposed making seminaries co-educational. Although a passionate defender of celibacy, he came to believe that it should be a matter of choice, not a rule.[8]

The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church broke into the public's awareness with the well-known work of the Boston Globe reporters in 2002. Kennedy, who felt a deep love for the church, outlined two pathways for the church leadership to address the issue: 1) to develop a healthy sense of sexuality within the clergy and 2) to replace the current hierarchical structure that was unhealthy, unaccountable, and authoritarian with a healthy, accountable, authority structure. He felt that until the church was able to get sexuality right, it could not get humanity right and if humanity isn't right, it could not get right the sacramental life of the Church which is its window into the mystery of God.[9]

Other work[edit]

In addition to publishing a number of books, Kennedy also wrote articles and opinion pieces in numerous publications and newsletters, as well as columns for the Chicago Tribune, Religious News Service[10] and the National Catholic Reporter's "Bulletins from the Human Side.[11] He was awarded the Wilber Award in 1987 by the Religious Public Relations Council for his New York Times Magazine article, "A Dissenting Voice."[12]

Throughout his career, Kennedy was a frequent TV commentator on politics and religion and lectured widely. His final lecture was given on Maryknoll Alumni Day, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Maryknoll, on September 16, 2011.[13]


Kennedy left the priesthood in 1977 and married Sara Charles M.D. They had homes in Chicago and Michigan.

Kennedy died at Lakeland Hospital, St. Joseph, Michigan of heart failure. His funeral Mass was celebrated in Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago[14] and he is buried in Resurrection Cemetery in St. Joseph, Michigan.


General non-fiction[edit]

  • The Genius of the Apostolate. with Paul F. D'Arcy. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965
  • Fashion Me a People: Man, Woman and the Church. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967
  • Comfort My People: The Pastoral Presence of the Church. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968
  • The People are the Church. 1969
  • A Time for Love.1970
  • The Catholic Priest in the United States: psychological investigations, with Víctor J. Heckler. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1972.
  • What A Modern Catholic Thinks About Sex. 1971
  • In the Spirit, In the Flesh. 1971
  • The New Sexuality. 1972
  • The Pain of Being Human. 1972
  • What A Modern Catholic Thinks About Marriage. 1972
  • Living with Loneliness. 1973
  • The Heart of Loving. 1973
  • Return to Man. 1973
  • The Joy of Being Human. 1974
  • Believing. 1974
  • Living with Everyday Problems. 1974
  • A Contemporary Meditation on Prayer. 1975
  • If You Real/y Knew Me, Would You Still Like Me? 1975
  • A Sense of Life, A Sense of Sin. 1975
  • Human Rights and Psychological Research. ed., 1975
  • What a Modern Catholic Thinks About Sex and Marriage. 1975
  • The Trouble Book. 1976
  • St. Patrick's Day with Mayor Daley. 1976
  • A Time for Being Human. 1977
  • On Becoming a Counselor. 1977
  • Sexual Counseling. 1977
  • Free To Be Human. 1979
  • The Choice to Be Human. 1981
  • On Being a Friend. 1982
  • Loneliness and Everyday Problems. 1983
  • Crisis Counseling. 1984
  • Defendant: A Psychiatrist on Trial for Medical Malpractice. (with Sara Charles) 1985
  • The Now and Future Church. 1985
  • Reimagining American Catholicism: The American Bishops and Their Pastoral Letters. 1985
  • The Trouble with Being Human. 1986
  • A Time for Being Human. 1987
  • Tomorrow's Catholics, Yesterday's Church. 1988
  • On Becoming a Counselor - 2nd edition. 1990
  • Authority: The Most Misunderstood Idea in America. (with Sara Charles) 1997
  • On Becoming a Counselor- 3rd edition. (with Sara Charles) 2001
  • The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality. 2001
  • Joseph Campbell: Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor (editor). 2001
  • 9-11: Meditations at the Center of the World. 2002
  • Would You Like to Be a Catholic? 2003
  • Blogging Toward Bethlehem. 2007
  • Believing. 2013


  • Father's Day. 1981 (Doubleday/Pocket)
  • Queen Bee. 1982 (Doubleday)
  • Fixes. 1989 (Doubleday)


  • Himself. 1978 (Viking)
  • Cardinal Bernardin. 1989
  • This Man Bernardin. 1996
  • My Brother Joseph. 1997
  • Bernardin: Life to the Full. 1997
  • Cardinal Bernardin's Stations of the Cross. 2003


  • I Would Be Called John. 1986 (PBS)


  1. ^ a b c Eugene C. Kennedy Papers (KNN), University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA), Notre Dame, IN 46556
  2. ^ a b c Grimes, William (2015-06-10). "Eugene Kennedy, a Voice for Change in the Catholic Church, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-27.
  3. ^ Van Ornum, William (2015). "The Intellectual Legacy of Eugene Kennedy". America Magazine.
  4. ^ "ON BECOMING A COUNSELOR: A Basic Guide for Non-Professional Counselors". Retrieved April 7, 2017.
  5. ^ "Kirkus Reviews Book Reviews". Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  6. ^ "New York Times, Eugene Kennedy, a Voice for Change in the Catholic Church, Dies at 86". Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  7. ^ Pashman, Manya Brachear (June 5, 2015). "Psychologist, author's 'voice of renewal'". Chicago Tribune.
  8. ^ "Current Comment". America Magazine. July 16-13. 2015.
  9. ^ Fox, Thomas. "Through expressive writing, Eugene Kennedy espoused a rich sacramental vision". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  10. ^ "Religion News Service: Eugene Kennedy". Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  11. ^ "National Catholic Reporter: Bulletins From the Human Side". Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  12. ^ Kennedy, Eugene (November 9, 1986). "A Dissenting Voice: Catholic Theologian David Tracy". The New York Times. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
  13. ^ "Maryknoll Alumni Day, Sept 16, 2011". Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  14. ^ "National Catholic Reporter: Eugene Kennedy laid to rest". Retrieved March 8, 2017.

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