Marnie Kennedy

I saw Marnie at the Hospice two weeks ago last Saturday. We talked about the gospel for today’s mass. Marnie said she had thought about having the Beatitudes, but on reflection she preferred today’s reading from Matthew. I asked her why.

She said with clarity and purpose, ‘It is more explicit and more demanding’. That’s how Marnie thought.

Ted would often say during his Eucharistic prayer, ‘We thank God for people who come into our lives and challenge us to grow’.

In the more than twenty years that I knew Marnie she set herself this challenge. Her commitment to spiritual and moral growth was through the human face of the ‘other’ – the people in today’s gospel – people with nothing; the naked, the hungry, the sick, the thirsty, the homeless, and so on.

Like Ted and the many religious men and women, as well as lay people, who congregated in and about St Vincent’s Redfern, Marnie had the deepest belief in the sacredness of the poorest person.

She believed with every fibre of her being that the full potential of her moral and spiritual capacities was to be found in giving personal hospitality to the poor.

Marnie had the firmest grip on the demand placed on all of us to welcome the stranger.

The warmth of her welcome was the unfailing confirmation of life’s goodness itself.

We all know about the love that Marnie had for Aboriginal people. She loved what she found in the subsoil of Redfern, and she fought to the end, and with absolute determination, to keep Ted’s legacy alive.

Of course it goes without saying that Marnie was a woman of abiding faith.

She loved the Church, even though she wearied of its leadership, and she loved the beauty and majesty of the Mass. Hers was a loving faith and she had no time at all for talk of sin or the fires of hell.

As large as these qualities were in Marnie, what always struck me above all was the strength of her character.

She understood very powerfully the sovereign duty she had to make something of value of her life. Montaigne said, ‘the greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to yourself’.

Marnie Kennedy belonged to herself.

She said what she thought and she did what she thought was right. She had little patience with closed minds or dull and rigid thinking in the Church or elsewhere. But Marnie treated everyone with a dignified and beautiful gentleness, including of course those whose views she opposed.

Marnie was ever thoughtful of others. Whenever she talked to someone she always asked about the people who were important in their lives and how they were getting along.

She took a lively joy in the happiness of others, and in their achievements, large or small. And of course she gave comfort in their times of sadness and sorrow.

Marnie lived an examined life that was honest and authentic.

That said, she struggled with the question of whether she had fully integrated her life as a religious sister with the demands of the kind we have heard about in Matthew’s gospel today.

When we visited her in Canterbury Hospital, Marnie told Kathleen and me that she was unsure of the answer to this question. But she said she had tried her best and she hoped that this might be good enough.

In the end she was at peace with that humble and simple thought.

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing her have no doubt whatsoever that Marnie’s was a life fully and well-lived in all respects.

As Ted said at countless Aboriginal funerals, and as he would say if he were with us today,

May the black angels lead Marnie into paradise.
May the martyrs come to welcome her on her way
And lead her to the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choir of angels welcome her,
And with Lazarus, who once was poor,
May she have everlasting rest.
21 March 2011
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