Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo by Michael Alexander
Passionist Father Jerome McKenna, pictured in his office in April 2018 at St. Paul of the Cross Church, died April 7. He was 93 years old and had served as pastor of the Atlanta parish since 2009.


Father Jerome McKenna, CP, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross, dies

Published April 9, 2024

ATLANTA–Father Jerome Francis McKenna, a Passionist priest of the St. Paul of the Cross Province of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, died on Sunday, April 7. Born on April 13, 1930, he was 93 years old. Father McKenna became pastor of Atlanta’s St. Paul of the Cross Church in 2009, serving until his death.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was the son of the late Francis Joseph McKenna and the late Gertrude Foley McKenna.

In a video interview last April with the archdiocese, the priest shared that he was born on a Palm Sunday.  

“My mother, instead of carrying palms, carried me into the world,” he said. 

Father McKenna said that every job he ever had in the priesthood prepared him well for the next. 

“I’m grateful for the life I’ve had,” he said. 

Father Jerome was preceded in death by his brothers, Thomas, Jerome Matthew and Patrick. In addition to the members of his congregation, Father McKenna leaves his brother Joseph, (spouse: MaryLou Libell), Regis (spouse: Dianne Page), Brother Robert McKenna, CP, many devoted nephews and nieces, family members and friends.

Father McKenna graduated from High School at Holy Cross Minor Seminary, Dunkirk, New York in 1950. His First Profession into the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ was on July 17, 1951 in Pittsburgh. His Final Profession was on July 17, 1954 in Brighton, Massachusetts. From 1951 to 1955 he completed undergraduate studies acquiring an academic degree of Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from St. Gabriel’s Passionist seminary in Brighton. Between 1955 and 1958 he engaged in academic studies at Holy Family Monastery, West Hartford, Connecticut, and St. Michael’s Monastery, Union City, New Jersey, achieving an academic degree of master of arts in theology.

On April 25, 1958, Father McKenna was ordained a priest by Bishop Cuthbert M. O’Gara, CP, at St. Michael’s Church in Union City, New Jersey.

In 1958, the priest also completed his studies in Sacred Eloquence at Our Lady of Sorrows Passionist Monastery in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Father McKenna’s final academic achievement was in 1961 when he completed an academic degree of Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, Italy.

His Passionist ministry proclaiming the love of God in the Passion of Jesus Christ spanned more than 63 years and included official leadership responsibilities throughout the Province, including work in Union City, New Jersey; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Preston, West Virginia; Charleston, West Virginia; and Atlanta. His Passionist service had significant positive impact on the lives of numerous individuals, groups and dioceses.

In a 2018 interview with The Georgia Bulletin, he recalled a meaningful trip to China. 

In 1997 he traveled to Beijing, China to deliver donations to priests and religious of the Yuanling Diocese under Passionist care but driven underground from communism. In his hotel he celebrated Mass with lay leaders, seminarians and two Yuanling priests. 

“They had nothing. They had a host and wine in a medicine bottle and used a teacup and saucer for the chalice and communion plate. It was just the most wonderful and moving experience of my life, to have Mass with them,” said Father McKenna. 

Father McKenna assumed varied leadership roles and duties including Provincial Secretary (1961-1965), Monastery Rector-St. Paul of the Cross Monastery (1965-1971), Director-Passionist Social Concerns Center (1971-1981), Director Passionist Volunteers, Inc. (1973-1981), Moderator-Monastery Food Cooperative (1974-1978), Pastor Catholic Church of Preston County (1981-2000), Dean-Fairmont Deanery (1985-1994), Provincial Consultor (1990-1994), Vicar Forane-Vicariate of Clarksburg (1997-2000), Director-Diocesan Planning & Pastoral Services (2000), Vicar General-Diocese of Wheeling (2005-2009), Pastor-St. Paul of the Cross Church (2009- until his death).

Father McKenna also served on numerous commissions and boards of directors during his years of Passionist and priestly ministry. These include the Synodal Commission for Religious-Chairperson (1970- 1971), Church Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Chairperson (1976-1979), Province Task Force on Option for the Poor, Pastoral Concerns Committee-Diocese of Wheeling Presbyteral Council, Preston County Ministerial Association & Ethics Committee, Priest Mentor Committee-Chairperson (1993), Inter Province Committee on Corporate Responsibility (1994), Mission Fulfillment Task Force (1994-1999), Synodal Commission on Church (1997-2000), Province Pastoral Planning Committee (1999), Presbyterial Council, Diocesan Consultor (2000), Bishop’s Cabinet (2000), Executive Secretary, Diocesan Pastoral Council (2001), Executive Staff of Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston (2005) and Vicar for Planning (2006).

In addition, Father McKenna was a member of a number of church and civic societies including the Catholic Theological Society of America, Amnesty International, Knights of Columbus, Priests Eucharistic League, National Catholic Evangelization Association, The Liturgical Conference, PAX CHRISTI USA and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was also engaged in various literary publications. He was publisher of the S.C. Alert, an editor of Compassion magazine, a contributor to the Whole Earth Papers and a participant and contributor for the radio series, The Catholic Perspective-Catholic Sound Bites (1990-1994).

Father McKenna was decorated by the Holy See on Dec. 15, 2006 with the Cross of Honor-Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

Wake services and a Mass of Transferral will be held at St. Paul of the Cross Church, 551 Harwell Road, Atlanta. The wake will occur on Wednesday, April 10, from 3-9 p.m. The Mass of Transferral will occur at 10 a.m. Father McKenna’s body will then be transferred to St. Paul of the Cross Monastery Church in Pittsburgh for  a wake, Mass of Christian Burial and interment.