Kennedy came to St Vincent’s in 1971 committed to a radical vision of Christianity that was centred on the struggles of the poor. When he arrived with a small band of other progressive priests, the outgoing priest left a comfortable rectory complete with leather furniture and shagpile carpets. Kennedy sold the expensive furnishings and installed beds for the homeless, who came in their hundreds.
Rapacious landlords were driving Redfern Aborigines from their homes at the time and Kennedy identified with the Aborigines’ struggle. His example inspired others: South Sydney Uniting Church donated property to the Black Theatre and the Sisters of Mercy gave property in which the Aboriginal Medical Service was established.
Progressive Catholics from all over Sydney travelled to Redfern weekly to hear Kennedy’s sermons. His sermons, peppered with poetry, were of the highest theological level and often angry if dealing with racism or the Redfern Police. One of his sermons was published in an early edition of Green Left Weekly.
However, the Catholic hierarchy hated what Kennedy was doing.
In later years, Kennedy was forced into retirement by a series of strokes and right-winger George Pell, now a cardinal and heading Sydney diocese, got his revenge — he installed members of the peculiar Catholic secret society Neocatechumenate Way in the parish. The “Neo-Cat” priests, as they are known, after saying the mass each week literally flee so as to avoid contact with Aboriginal people who may be on the street outside.
St Vincent’s now has two conflicting congregations within it. Progressive parishioners maintain the Church Mouse website, to uphold the legacy of Kennedy’s mission.