Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Priests and onlookers break out in spontaneous applause as the body of Msgr. Thomas Kelly is wheeled from the Cathedral of Christ the King to the funeral hearse.


Msgr. Kenny Remembered As ‘One Of The Finest’

By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published November 13, 2008

Msgr. Thomas A. Kenny was remembered Nov. 5 and 6 as a priest who made each person feel as if he or she had a special claim on his heart and his prayers.

Because of that bond so many felt, the vigil service and funeral Mass for Msgr. Kenny, who died Oct. 30 at his home at the Cathedral of Christ the King, were filled to overflowing. In addition to hundreds of parishioners, over 100 priests came to the funeral Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on Nov. 6. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs.

Msgr. Paul Reynolds, his friend and part of his golf foursome on days off, spoke about him at the vigil service held at the Cathedral the night of Nov. 5.

“I’ll try not to enlarge Father Kenny in death more than he was in life,” Msgr. Reynolds said, adding that the priest “never liked to give himself a great welcome.”

Nonetheless, he said, “he was one of the finest and the best—that was obvious to everyone who knew him.”

“He had a deep, deep relationship with the Lord. … He loved and he cherished his Catholic faith. … He found the Lord in his heart, and he found the Lord in other people’s hearts.”

He said that the priest, who always went by Father Kenny, loved poetry, and he quoted some of his favorite lines from William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”: “his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love” that the poet said are the “best portion of a good man’s life.”

Priests, family and friends gather for the Nov. 6 funeral of Msgr. Thomas Kenny. Msgr. Patrick Bishop, front row, second from left, said, “We could all learn something from him (Msgr. Kenny). He was one of the kindest people I know.” Photo By Michael Alexander

He was “in every sense of the word … a scholar and a gentleman … deeply loved … charming and generous to a fault.”

“As Father Tom Kenny would return from his day off … he would ask a question of one or more of his clergy friends: ‘Have you ever had a better day?’” Msgr. Reynolds said.

The foursome had such a day on Oct. 28 when Msgr. Kenny, highly competitive on the golf course, won $14 from two of his “wonderful, deeply loved friends,” Father Michael Redden and Father Walt Foley.

He died peacefully between the night of Oct. 29 and morning of Oct. 30.

Thinking about the promise in Scripture that “eye has not seen nor has ear heard the wonderful things God has prepared” for his people, Msgr. Reynolds said he believed his friend would now no longer be asking a question but making the statement, “I have never had a better day.”

Born Sept. 22, 1939, in Caltra, Easkey, County Sligo, Ireland, Msgr. Kenny was the son of the late Patrick J. Kenny and Annie Rebecca Cuffe. He was 69 at the time of his death. He came to Atlanta along with a wave of other Irish priests who were recruited for the Southern diocese by Msgr. Patrick J. O’Connor of Atlanta. He studied at All Hallows College seminary in Dublin where, Msgr. Reynolds said, “he took first prize in every academic subject every year” and was ordained June 20, 1965, in Dublin, coming immediately to the United States.

In Atlanta, he began his priestly assignments at the Cathedral, where he was an assistant for two years, later moving to Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta and to Holy Cross Church where he helped to establish a mission in Norcross.

His first pastorate was at St. Michael’s in Gainesville where the new church was struck by a tornado while under construction and had to be built twice. After serving there from 1970 to 1976 and returning briefly to the Cathedral, he became pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain for 13 years from 1977 to 1990 and then rector of the Cathedral from 1990 until his death. He was named a prelate of honor with the title of monsignor in October 1994.

While he guided needed changes to the physical plant of the Cathedral—the addition of the Donoghue Center, a three-story parish center, a multi-level parking deck and new sound system—and strongly supported Christ the King School, his humility and spirituality touched people’s hearts, said Hamilton Smith, music director at the Cathedral.

“He exuded warmth and accessibility to all who came in contact with him,” Smith said in a eulogy at the vigil service. He was “beloved as our spiritual leader, beloved as our friend.”

Longtime parishioner Barbara Johansen holds a funeral program in her hand as she stands outside the Cathedral of Christ the King. Johansen said, “I’m sad for the loss of Msgr. Kenny, but I’m celebrating the gratitude and gift of having had him as our pastor.” Photo By Michael Alexander

Basically, the Cathedral member said, he thought of himself “first and foremost as a servant of the Lord.”

Quoting Chaucer, Smith said, “I think there never was a better priest. … Christ’s own law and His apostles’ twelve he taught, but first he followed it himself.”

Music for the vigil service and the funeral Mass melded classical pieces with Irish hymns and instruments, including the harp and tin whistle. The Cathedral children’s choir sang at the funeral Mass, along with adult soloists.

Coming early to be sure to get a seat, people spoke quietly as the plaintive sound of Irish music floated in the air. They remembered that this would be the time before Mass when, normally, Msgr. Kenny would emerge from the sacristy and make his way from row to row, smiling and greeting people. It was hard to think he wouldn’t be doing just that again today.

Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Cistercian Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler were principal concelebrants of the Mass with Archbishop Gregory.

Archbishop Gregory reflected on the Gospel reading in which Jesus answers the question of the disciple Thomas about knowing the way to the Father.

“Jesus answers Thomas, and in reality all of us, with this poignant exchange: ‘Thomas, I myself am the way and the truth and the life,’” Archbishop Gregory said.

He added, “another Thomas,” Msgr. Kenny, “both believed that truth and followed that admonition. … That confidence allowed him to hand over his life to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. … Tom Kenny pursued that journey from his childhood in Ireland until he drew his last breath sometime in the night between October 29 and 30.”

“He was the ideal pastor for the Cathedral parish,” the archbishop said. “He welcomed all.”

Addressing family members who came from Ireland and from other parts of the United States, Archbishop Gregory said, “We could not be more grateful to you for helping to prepare this fine man in the warmth of your family life.”

To the priests he said, “We have lost an important member of this presbyterate, whose friendship and love we have all come to value.”

“We believe today that our Thomas is safe within the Father’s house,” Archbishop Gregory said. “We must promise to comfort and strengthen one another in all the days that lie ahead.”

Speaking for the Kenny family at the end of Mass, his brother, Patrick, said he remembered the day of his brother’s ordination in 1965 when the roads were lined with people as they returned in a convoy of cars from Dublin to his hometown where the first Mass would be celebrated followed by a joyous reception for the new priest.

“I think that was the best day of his life,” he said.

Although he served in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the next 43 years, Msgr. Kenny always stayed close to his family, Patrick Kenny said, and was present for his siblings in Ireland whenever they needed him. He is survived also by a sister, Nora Wright, and another brother, Joe, as well as by nieces and nephews.

Cistercian Brother Augustine, who grew up in Corpus Christi parish, said his vocation at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit was influenced by the example and support of Msgr. Kenny.

“No one said Mass more beautifully than Father Kenny,” Brother Augustine said.

“His presence and his graciousness and his warmth just kind of radiated,” he added.

At Corpus Christi he was known for getting many people involved in parish life and for empowering parishioners to live their faith actively.

“In many respects he was helping to implement the Vatican II Council’s vision of having more active participation in the church by the laity,” the monk said.Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory censes the body of Msgr. Thomas Kenny during the final commendation.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory censes the body of Msgr. Thomas Kenny during the final commendation. Photo By Michael Alexander

Lifelong Cathedral parishioner Barbara Johansen said the community has over 100 ministries. Membership at the parish has reportedly quadrupled while Msgr. Kenny has been the rector.

People feel “he has given them the inspiration to use the gifts they have,” Johansen said.

Parishioner Andy Smith said about five years ago he decided to come back to the Catholic Church after being away for a number of years. He came to the Cathedral.

Msgr. Kenny “always started his Mass out by saying God was full of love, gentleness and compassion, and I thought ‘I’m in the right place,’” Smith recalled.

“So I stayed and I got very involved.”

He believes for Msgr. Kenny God’s love was “before anything else and above anything else.”

“He is the only person I’ve every known to pass away and not one person had a negative comment—not one,” Smith said.

“You came here as a visitor maybe and you became part of a family and he is the one who made that happen. Everybody felt important.”

“The way he said Mass was so incredibly beautiful,” he added. “He was like a brother or an uncle to me. I think people felt like he was a part of their family.”

Sharon Connelly, director of operations at the Cathedral, recalled his remarkable gift for remembering individuals and touching them in times of need.

“We had not been at the Cathedral for more than three weeks. He knew our first names,” she said. “We have thousands of people that come to Mass here at the Cathedral. It is totally beyond me.”

He “had such a heart for all people,” Connelly said. “He makes those phone calls to check on people and see how they are doing. He writes notes to parishioners and lets them know they are in his prayers.”

“He was the epitome of a holy man. He was such an example for being a priest for young seminarians. If they could even come close to following in his footsteps, they would be such a treasure to the priesthood.”

A Msgr. Thomas A. Kenny Memorial Fund has been established at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 2699 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30305. Donations may also be made online at