Father Bill was one of the good guys

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If it weren’t for Fr. Bill Kenneally, I wouldn’t be editor of the National Catholic Reporter. I wouldn’t even be a Catholic.

Kenneally, an extraordinary homilist, stand-up comedian, opera and Chicago White Sox lover, and healer of wounded souls, died on October 28 at the age of 85. praise called him “holy”, so maybe it was a day off.

I won’t go into the details of how Father Bill kept me Catholic, but suffice to say I was over half the door, literally sobbing from the repeated injuries of the church. . On his own, he restored my faith in the institution and provided me with a parish house, St. Gertrude’s in Chicago.

At his wake and funeral, I was one of dozens of people who kept telling the same story: “Father Bill changed my life.

LGBTQ Catholics who were welcomed with open arms. Refugees and homeless people who have moved into the vacant convent. Parents whose children died too young and who were comforted by Bill and the community of St. Gert. Resigned priests who have been given a place to preach and continue in the ministry. Ditto for other lay preachers, including women. At one point, I think there were four Roman Catholic priestesses in the parish.

And not just in St. Gert’s. NCR Board member Terrence Rynne was part of a monthly community of home masses with Kenneally for over 40 years.

When Father Bill retired in 2006, the Chicago Tribune wrote about his sometimes controversial career. Ordained in 1961, he belonged to that generation of priests who welcomed the changes after Vatican II. But he told the Tribune reporter he had become frustrated with the conservative leadership taken by the church.

“I think liberal Catholics are no longer considered by the hierarchy,” he said. “They are considered some kind of plague or irrelevant.”

Not by Bill.

He made Sainte-Gertrude a place for “here’s everyone” – and it still is today. As parishioner KC Conway said, “Bill dreamed of a church I belonged to.

“He did it for all of us,” said John Horan, a former priest who has worked with youth in struggling Chicago neighborhoods since leaving the priesthood.

In his eulogy, Horan described Kenneally as “the Ty Cobb of preaching”, except that instead of hitting close to 0.400, “he had a hit nine Sundays out of ten.”

“In a time when too many homilies are forgotten before the prayers of the faithful, Bill’s homilies still touch us,” said Horan, noting that Kenneally’s nephew John was reading Bill one of his own homilies when her uncle is deceased.

Father Bill was a reporter’s dream – always ready to give an honest quote, to hell with the downtown Chancellery reaction.

“He called on people, politicians, culture and yes, the Catholic Church, especially the Catholic Church, for practices that made no sense, which in the name of God were diminishing and hurting people.” , said Horan.

“It was so liberating for us to hear from the pulpit what we were thinking and talking in private,” he said.

Horan called him a “holy poet” who “knows the millions and a tales of our restless souls”.

My favorite part of Mass with Father Bill was his improvised prayer after Communion behind the altar. It was brief, but straight from the heart.

“Haven’t we been lucky to have Bill?” I told several friends at the vigil and at the funeral.

Yes we were. But not everyone is so lucky. As editor, I have overseen story after story of vibrant parish communities destroyed by arrogant, conservative young priests who think they have all the answers.

I’m afraid we won’t feed the Fathers Bills of today. The Church’s limited vision of what the priesthood is and who is called to it prevents so many vocations. If my children have a crisis of faith, will there be an open-minded and welcoming person like Father Bill to keep them in the church?

I think I will pray to my new guardian angel about it. Thank you, Father Bill, for all you have done in your life serving God, the church, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have been pastors through you.


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