Ted Kennedy (priest)

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Edward Phillip "Ted" Kennedy (27 January 1931 – 17 May 2005) was a prominent Australian priest and activist.

Early life and ordination[edit]

Ted Kennedy was known throughout Australia as the priest of St Vincent's Roman Catholic church in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Redfern.

Kennedy was born 27 January 1931, the son of Jack and Peg Kennedy, in Marrickville and entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly, at age 16.

Before he went to Redfern, Kennedy worked in the Sydney parishes of Ryde, Punchbowl, Elizabeth Bay and Neutral Bay. He was also chaplain to the University of Sydney. He befriended, influenced and introduced artists and intellectuals such as the poet James McAuley and musician Richard Connolly.

Kennedy arrived in Redfern in 1971, appointed to head a team ministry by the then Archbishop of Sydney, James Freeman (later a cardinal), with colleagues John Butcher and Fergus Breslan. He served also as parish priest in Redfern continuously under archbishops Edward Bede Clancy and George Pell. This remains unusual by contemporary diocesan standards which limit the duration of tenure. By 1974, Kennedy was the only parish priest at Redfern.

Work with Aboriginal people[edit]

The Redfern area has a significant Aboriginal population. Kennedy was initially somewhat insensitive to Aboriginal Australians[citation needed] but over time he identified with the many social problems and challenges the Aboriginal community faced and worked to bring justice to them. His presbytery and church community became a place of refuge for Indigenous Australians travelling from all parts of the nation. He befriended Aboriginal activist Mum (Shirl) Smith and worked closely with her until she died in 1998.

Kennedy promoted reparation and reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.[citation needed] Through his personal contacts, he established networks of influence through the local community, and through the indigenous communities of the nation. He preached and taught against what he perceived as exclusion and marginalisation of all kinds, whether because of race, income or sexual orientation. Progressive Catholics from all over Sydney travelled to Redfern weekly to be part of the parish community.

While Kennedy at Redfern, the South Sydney Uniting Church donated property to the Black Theatre and the Sisters of Mercy gave property to the Redfern Aboriginal community in 1978 in which the Aboriginal Medical Service was established. The service now provides medical, dental, aged care, drug and alcohol services to around 55,000 patients each year.

In 2001 Kennedy was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the Aboriginal community.

After two major strokes, Kennedy retired in 2002. He died at Concord Hospital, Sydney, on 17 May 2005. Approximately 1500 people, including "seventy priests, three bishops and one cardinal",[1] attended his funeral on 24 May.

Activism and controversy[edit]

Kennedy's example of personal poverty and commitment influenced other people and organisations. In 1975 Frank Brennan SJ worked at Redfern with Kennedy and thus began a lifelong connection and influence.

Kennedy was a controversial figure and not all Catholics or all Australians supported his radical views. He was often in conflict with the church hierarchy for his activism. He once described himself as "a sample of that endangered species – an Australian Catholic priest".[2][3][4]

In 2001, however, his work received direct support from Pope John Paul II with the reception of a letter to Naomi Mayers, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Service, supporting their work at the Aboriginal medical centre. On 22 November 2001, the Pope issued in Rome the document Ecclesia in Oceania, in which he referred to "the shameful injustices done to indigenous peoples in Oceania" and to the "special case" of the "Australian Aborigines whose culture struggles to survive".[5]

Kennedy wrote a book, Who is Worthy, The role of conscience in restoring hope to the Church, in response to controversy in the Archdiocese of Sydney over the proper role of individual conscience. This was a public debate triggered by comments from Cardinal George Pell, who had argued that the "doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched, at least in our schools, or comprehensively restated"[6] largely because of his concerns that too many liberties were being taken in a society that over-emphasised the philosophy of individualism. But Kennedy was focused on what he considered was the chief problem of clericalism. In the book he argued that the Australian church has corrupted the basic teachings of Christ and has become a church of exclusion rather than inclusion, so that a process of reformation was required.

Edmund Campion SJ wrote a biography, Ted Kennedy: Priest of Redfern, which was published in 2009.

Catholic hymnody[edit]

Partly through Kennedy's introduction and encouragement, Connolly and McAuley became the most significant people creating Australian Catholic hymnody to date. Kennedy asked Richard Connolly to consider composing some Australian hymns to sing during various parts of the Mass.[7] Thus began one of the most successful hymn-making teams of the 20th century in Australia.

In 1960 their work would anchor the Living Parish hymnbook, published by a group around Fr Roger Pryke, which would sell one million copies over the next decade, enabling congregations to sing hymns in an Australian voice. Kennedy also collaborated in partnership with Pryke to produce the Living Parish hymn book for Australian Catholics.


  • Kennedy, T. Who is Worthy? The role of conscience in restoring hope to the church, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 1-86403-087-9
  • Campion, Edmund Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, 2009, ISBN 978-1-86355-129-8


  1. ^ Edmund Campion p.189 Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern
  2. ^ Edmund Campion, p. 158, Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern
  3. ^ Fitzgerald, Prof. Ross. "Flawed hero healed the wounded". Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Hill, Jonathan (17 July 2009). "Life of a Non-conformist Priest". Eureka Street 19 (13): 3–4. 
  5. ^ Ecclesia in Oceania, apostolic exhortation of John Paul II, Indigenous Peoples, section 28 [1]
  6. ^ Issues facing Australian Catholicism, AD2000, November 1998.
  7. ^ cf. Fr Edmund Campion's online article in Catalyst for Renewal

External links[edit]