CHICAGO — A funeral Mass will be celebrated June 10 at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago for Eugene Kennedy, a sociologist, author and former Maryknoll priest.
Kennedy, 86, died June 3 of kidney and heart failure at Lakeland Community Hospital in St. Joseph, Michigan, near his home in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Kennedy was a prolific author, with more than 50 books to his credit, including both fiction and nonfiction, often focused on the church or his adopted hometown of Chicago, and sometimes both. One such work that combined the two was a 1996 photo book of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, “This Man Bernardin.” Kennedy wrote the chapter introductions. Writing it “was kind of an experience in itself,” Kennedy said, “as if I were encountering him afresh. His presence gave it shape.”
Then-Fr. Kennedy first met then-Msgr. Bernardin when the latter was general secretary of the U.S. bishops.
Kennedy had been commissioned to provide the psychological component of a study on the nation’s priests. He concluded in his report many priesthood candidates lacked psychological maturity, making mandatory celibacy difficult, and struggled with sexual conflicts that should be identified and treated before they, if ever, enter seminaries.
In 2002, when the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in America, Kennedy said it should have come as no surprise. According to the Chicago Tribune, he called the institutional church that year “the Enron of religious institutions.”
Kennedy was born in New York in 1928. His uncle established the King Kullen supermarket chain in the New York City borough of Queens during the Great Depression; for a time, Kennedy served on the family-run company’s board of directors.
Attracted to the priesthood, he studied at Maryknoll College and Maryknoll Seminary in Chicago, and was ordained a Maryknoll priest in 1955.
He did psychological and consultative work on behalf of the order, and continued his education, earning a doctorate in psychology from The Catholic University of America, Washington, in 1962.
According to Loyola University Chicago, Kennedy started teaching there as a psychology professor in 1969 and stayed until 1995. In 1995, Loyola granted Kennedy “emeritus” status.
Kennedy was laicized in 1977, the same year he married his wife, Sara Charles, a former Maryknoll sister who is now a professor emeritus of clinical psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School. His wife survives him, as does a brother, Bernard.
Immersing himself in Chicago’s culture, he became fast friends with contemporaries such as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, priest-sociologist Fr. Andrew Greeley and priest-theologian Fr. Richard McBrien, the latter two themselves prolific writers and authors. Kennedy wrote columns for the National Catholic Reporter and the Chicago Tribune in addition to his books and psychological research.
One of his most popular titles at the time of its publication was his 1988 book, “Tomorrow’s Catholics, Yesterday’s Church,” in which he described Catholics as coming from either “Culture I” or “Culture II,” and how they can differ dramatically on other aspects of Catholic beliefs and practices.
Culture I Catholics see the clergy as the church’s authority figures, place a high value on obedience and agree with the church even on peripheral beliefs, according to Kennedy, while Culture II Catholics see the laity as leaders, value thinking for themselves and often disagree with church teaching on peripheral matters.
While sympathetic to the challenges priests faced, Kennedy ultimately became a critic of the bishops he once advised. In 1990, after the U.S. bishops had hired the Hill & Knowlton public relations firm to develop a pro-life public relations campaign, he wrote in The New York Times that, “in behaving like corporate CEOs, the bishops are subverting their admirable pastoral strengths and risking the reputation for integrity they have elevated in the last decade.”
By 2006, Kennedy’s attitude was such that he told a Catholic lay group called Voice of the Faithful, which was meeting on Long Island, New York, “The world of hierarchy has come to an end. Don’t fight with it. Let it disintegrate.”