When Fr. Dan Kennedy first arrived at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Winthrop, he brought a rush of energy that impacted everyone. He especially had an effect on the members of the parish’s growing Youth Ministry.
Fr. Dan moved in just in time for the summer. With plenty of activities planned over those few months, he immediately asked where he was needed and how he could help. Our biggest Youth Ministry activity in the summer of 2007 was Gospel Road, a week long service retreat for high school students in the Archdiocese of Boston. When the week was over he left the young people with the perfect image of the Priesthood.
The kids were drawn to his energetic and joyful personality. Always the jokester, he was able to keep everyone laughing. Through his charismatic personality he expressed his love and devotion for Jesus Christ. One of the most memorable moments of the week was when Fr. Dan led the young people in Eucharistic Adoration. It was beautiful. The image of a dimly lit chapel with Fr. Dan kneeling on the Altar before the Lord as a hundred high school students silently prayed will remain with me forever. I knew at that moment that Fr. Dan was not just an ordinary priest. He truly had a purpose on this earth. To evangelize Christ’s love.
When we returned to St. John’s it was time for a new year of Religious Education. Fr. Dan had established a bond with the members of the youth ministry over the summer, now it was time to learn even more about the young people of the parish. The Confirmation classes are held on Wednesday nights and Fr. Dan always found time to be in the school on those nights. To no one’s surprise, the Confirmation Candidates were immediately drawn to him. His actions did more for vocations than anything I have ever seen. I can honestly say that there are several members of our parish considering the priesthood, all thanks to Fr. Dan.
Whether Fr. Dan was socializing with the members of the parish, talking with the young people or randomly joining the town high school students in a game of baseball in the Church parking lot, everyone gravitated to him. Needless to say, Fr. Dan quickly went from a co-worker to a great friend of mine. When he came to my office in early January of 2008 and told me the news of his new assignment in South Boston, I was devastated. I also knew that the parishioners would be heart broken. Fr. Dan had brought new life into the parish.
During his last weekend here, Fr. Dan spoke to the congregation at the end of all the Masses. As he spoke you could hear the soft cries from the members of the Youth Ministry as well as the parishioners. He knew how sad we were but he asked the parishioners to remember that “the priests are the interchangeable parts of the parish, but Christ is the constant. Keep Christ the constant.” Those words were the last that Fr. Dan preached at St. John’s. It was such a powerful statement that he left us with, that it quickly became a mantra with our Youth Ministry.
Though Fr. Dan was only at St. John’s for 8 months, his legacy will remain with us forever. He gave young people a desire to participate in the Mass and to develop a devotion to Jesus Christ. If there is one thing that Fr. Dan would want everyone to remember about him was how he loved to celebrate Mass. He was at ‘home’ on the Altar. This love helped start a Youth Mass on Sunday nights. Attendance at this Mass was quickly growing. On one particular Sunday I remember Fr. Dan in such a cheerful mood. It was a very busy morning and there was a lot going on in the Parish and I had to stop and ask him why he was so excited. He answered me: “This morning I woke up and I was psyched. I thought to myself, I am celebrating three Masses today. That is what it’s all about. The Liturgy is so important.”
Fr. Dan was right, that’s what it is all about. The Liturgy, the celebration of our love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even at a young age and such a short time as a priest, Fr. Dan impacted everyone he encountered. St. John’s Youth Ministry continues to speak about him often and pray for him always. We also have a strong devotion to praying for Vocations. Something we know that Fr. Dan is very pleased about. We miss him every day, but we know we have a special angel watching over us. Reminding us to always Keep Christ the Constant.
– written by Erin Flaherty