Obituary: Father Daniel Kennedy, one of archdiocese’s newest priests

A priest who had been ordained by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley just seven months ago, Father Daniel J. Kennedy died suddenly at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn. on Jan. 27. He had just celebrated his 34th birthday three weeks prior, on Jan. 6.

Father Kennedy was born in Holyoke one of the five children of Daniel and Alice (Haggarty) Kennedy. The family moved to Needham where he attended St. Joseph Parish School and West Roxbury’s Catholic Memorial High School. He subsequently graduated from Providence College and worked for a time at Cabot Corporation in Billerica.

His mother said that she thought that the “idea of the priesthood was in his mind since he was a young boy.” He delayed the answer to the call, but eventually he entered St. John’s Seminary in preparation for ordination. An accomplished athlete who took excellent care of his physical health -- he was a familiar figure jogging the hills of the seminary grounds and streets of Brighton. He had participated in several marathons and was preparing for another. His father noted he was a great athlete and favored hockey over all sports. He quipped “if he’d spent less time in the penalty box, he’d have scored more goals.”

Father Kennedy was also a reserve chaplain in the United States Navy and had recently served a few weeks on the USS Nimitz. Among his several passions was promoting vocations to the priesthood. Whether celebrating Mass, shooting hoops with young parishioners in Winthrop or prepping for a marathon, he always wanted to be a model for those young men considering the priesthood. Prior to ordination he had spent his deacon year at St. Mary of the Nativity Parish, Scituate.

Father Kennedy’s funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Joseph Church, Needham on Feb. 1. It was at that same altar just seven months before that he had celebrated his first Mass following ordination. The celebrant of the funeral Mass was Cardinal O’Malley who was moved to tears several times during the Mass.

The homilist was Central Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey, who had once been assigned at St. Joseph Parish, serving there when Father Kennedy was a youngster. Bishop Hennessey admitted that this was “one of the most difficult things he had to do as a priest or bishop.” Preaching to some 200 priests, including classmates, seminary contemporaries and many friends and brother priests; to a church filled with people crowding the aisles, and especially to the family, the bishop began by saying “We have not come to celebrate a life, but to mourn a death.” This was certainly a funeral that, while filled with hope, was overwhelmingly sad.

Before the Final Commendation, Father Kennedy’s father, Dan, spoke and told those assembled that he had been asked over the course of the days since his son’s death “What can we do for you?” He answered “Pray for vocations to the priesthood. Dan loved being a priest and he wanted others to consider it seriously. For him and for us -- pray for vocations.”

In addition to his parents, Father Kennedy’s survivors are his sisters, Kathleen, Patricia and Anne Marie, all of Needham and a brother John, Simsbury Conn. Father Kennedy was buried in St. Mary Cemetery, Westfield on Feb. 2. Attending the Commendation rites were Springfield’s Bishop Timothy McDonnell and former Bishop Joseph Maguire.

As readers note there are two obituaries for archdiocesan priests this week. They will further see that these two priests: Father Walter Stocklosa and Father Daniel Kennedy were the “bookends of the presbyterate” -- Father Stocklosa the longest ordained at almost 68 years, and Father Kennedy among the most recent, at about seven months.

Each served this archdiocese with zeal and joy, each loved being a priest; each leaves many people: family, friends, folks young and old who received something of Jesus Christ from each of these priests’ ministry.

For Father Stocklosa we can adjust Bishop Hennessey’s words and truly say, “We have come to celebrate a life as well as to mourn a death.” With him we mourn Father Kennedy’s death. For both we say to God, and their respective families “thank you for their faithful priestly lives.”