Father Michael Kennedy, C.M. begins his vocation story with the adage “It takes a whole village to raise a child”.
Father was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1951 and shared his story in a much earlier post on cmeast.
“It takes a whole village to raise a child” goes the old adage. Looking back on my North Albany upbringing, I’d have to agree. Young and old sparked my vocation and the Holy Spirit had great cooperation.
Our North End was isolated by railroad tracks and the Hudson River, gravel banks and steep hills, factories, warehouses and the city dump (now covered by Interstate 795). We knew everyone in this Irish Catholic enclave and to this date, Limerick, our “village,” has its annual St. Patricks Day Parade.
In the center of the 3- by 9-block patch stood Public School #20a wonderful school, K through 8, that formed me well in thinking and especially in a love of reading. Most of the excellent teachers answered to the Catholic faith, and at the end of class each Tuesday and Friday urged us to catechism taught by the St. Joseph Sisters from Troy. It was just across Pearl Street in the Sacred Heart Church Hall. A third class on Sunday kept our faith growing.
Hawkins Stadium in the “village” was the home of the Albany Senators a place where we could imitate the batting stance of the stars on their way to the big leagues. With models like this, all our kids made it to their high school baseball teams. Those skills bound us together as a community, and after graduation, the same “young-uns” played twilight league ball. In the autumn we even formed our own are football team under the biggest name in the hood, Sacred Heart Church.
The village may have raised the child, but the greatest influence was Mom and Pop. He came from Tipperary in 1910, full of strong faith. He gradually took on better jobs and finally became Prudential Insurances local man in the North End village. There for 30 years, he collected weekly premiums, was always home for lunch, and was the foundation of the family. Mom, from Mayo, a 1905 arrival, took on the role of the heart, with humor, warmth and a kindred living faith. Though neither directly encouraged us boys, she said to me one day, “I’ll be very disappointed if one of you three does not become a priest.” By 15 or 16, I was already well convinced interiorly that I had to give the seminary a try. My mothers hope confirmed it.
The second greatest village contribution to their child becoming a man was our Sacred Heart Parish. There was the Eucharist for visits, Sunday and daily Mass, reconciliation, Miraculous Medal Novena, and the chance to serve at the altar. John, Tom and I had a franchise on the 7:00 AM Sunday Mass for close to ten years. Two years after high school, I was still serving the Sunday 7:00.
Gyppos vocation story mentioned Fr. John Fearey, and I would add that he loved Niagara where he did his bachelors as a classmate of our Fr. Dan Leary. He was very disappointed when the Diocese of Albany sent him to St. Bernards in Rochester instead of Our Lady of Angels Seminary at Niagara. He was indeed a loyal son of St. Vincent in our village.
In addition to the three Kennedys, John, Mike and Tom, he saw three more of his boys ordained Carmelite, Augustinan and La Sallette Fathers.
The boundaries of the Village broadened for high school when I entered Christian Brothers Academy. The brothers proved to be role models, inspirational teachers and persuasive vocation directors and supporters. After the academics and discipline of CBA, the demands of Princeton, novitiate and MIS were easy. I chose the commercial courses typing, shorthand, bookkeeping ready to enter the business world.
With the stirrings and whisperings of the Spirit, however, this did not seem best, because there were no Latin or college prep courses my schedule. I prayed and prayed that this poor son of an Irish immigrant would find a solution. Brother Pat Duggan, FSC, came to the rescue with private instructions in Latin. These later gave me a jump-start in Princeton.
I never expected a Paul of Tarsus vision of light, but Brother Brendan gave me an insight that proved true: As often as I thought of God by way of Mass, prayer, religious studies, rosary and other reminders of Gods workings, it would all be a steady “attraction,” a calling to be a priest. The influence of the village came in second to these quiet urgings of the Spirit.
Other impressive moments of grace were our family pilgrimages to Auriesville, Shrine of the North American Martyrs, where the Lord and the Jesuit saints held out a very warm invitation to be like them.
On reflection, Sunday summer afternoon family picnics were also great moments of love and grace. Since my father had the only car, our Ford took the six Kennedys to the Irish aunts and uncles for Sunday visits, always topped by tea and Irish soda bread, not to mention homemade chocolate cake. Yes the Holy Spirit used them all on this child to mentor and raise him well.
All in all, my fellow villagers of family, parish, school #20 and the Christian Brothers took me from infancy to manhood and made me ready. So one day in June 1942, Fr. Fearey said simply, “Mike, why dont you go down to Princeton and join John?” “Okay, I will,” I said. I applied and Fr. Art Hamilton accepted me. Easy.
In my gratitude to the village that raised me, I must not overlook the love of the Lord Jesus, the workings of the Holy Spirit behind the scenes, and the power of the Miraculous Medal Novena. I asked, Mary heard and here I am 61 years later.
Update; Fr. Kennedy, now in his 90’s, lives at St. VIncent’s Seminary in Germantown.