As the approach of senior-priest status brings an end to his role as parish leader, Father Robert Kennedy said he will miss the people most.
“Always the blessing are the people you’re serving, to be with them in all the wonderful faith moments of their lives, all the sad faith moments of their lives,” said Father Kennedy, who will reach senior-priest status in June. “Being with people at baptisms, weddings and funerals. I would say it’s a blessing for me every Sunday to be with the congregation.”
Father Kennedy is pastor of Southeast Catholic Community, which comprises Blessed Sacrament, St. Boniface and St. Mary parishes in Rochester. He has served the longest at Blessed Sacrament, having been assigned as pastor there in 2000.
“I especially appreciate the diversity among the people,” he said of the three faith communities. “Sharing their lives has been a great joy. I’m going to miss that tremendously.”
Yet managing three distinct faith communities has not been without its challenges, he noted. It is a lot of work to juggle the needs of three different campuses plus day-to-day duties related to finances and building maintenance, as anyone who leads multiple worship sites can attest.
“I will miss none of the administration,” he joked.
Celebrating his 70th birthday on May 5, Father Kennedy has been engaged in ministry since a young age, having entered junior seminary right after eighth grade.
“When you’re taking the next step, you’re always making the decision, ‘Am I called?’” he said. “Along the way, I had the sense that as I met different people with different needs, I felt God calling me to try and respond as best as I could.”
After completing studies at St. Andrew’s Seminary, Father Kennedy was among the first class of seminarians to attend St. John Fisher College and then St. Bernard’s Seminary. His class also was one of the first ordained at the churches where the seminarians had completed their pastoral years, he added. Bishop Joseph L. Hogan ordained him at St. Margaret Mary Church in Irondequoit on March 1, 1974.
Father Kennedy’s first assignment was at St. Mary Church in Canandaigua until 1975, when he became diocesan director of liturgy (1975-81). Subsequently, he took on the role of diocesan director of continuing education (1981-83). From 1975-2000 he served stints as weekend assistant at several Monroe County parishes and also was chaplain at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse from 1977-81.
Starting in 1983, he spent five years at the University of Notre Dame to complete his doctoral studies in liturgy, and later taught liturgy and preaching for 12 years at St. Bernard’s Institute (now St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry).
Father Kennedy said he had to give up teaching when he became pastor at Blessed Sacrament in 2000, and he hopes to return to the classroom when he gives up parish duties.
“It has always been a privilege for me to know I was preparing people for parish ministry, whether permanent deacons or lay women and men studying for degrees at St. Bernard’s,” Father Kennedy added.
But first, he said he will take a sabbatical to travel and take time to rest and pray.
“The work will never be done, and I don’t know if I want it to be,” Father Kennedy remarked. “It’s a great pleasure and privilege to serve the people of our diocese.”