Ted the 31 year-old when I first met him. A young priest, inspired by the worker priest movement in France, inspired by Dorothy Day’s soup kitchens for the poor in New York, inspired by the priests and bishops living with and for the poor in Central and South America. Inspired by the theologies of Cardijn, Schillebeekx and Hans Kung. Inspired by the life of John Henry Newman, the English Catholic Cardinal who wrote so powerfully of the primacy of conscience in the life of the Church. Ted was like that Eveready battery advertisement on TV: a bolt of lightning powering up all around him. In second year university, I found myself reading the most difficult of theological texts.
Yet another glimpse was Ted at home on his parents’ property in Araluen on the south coast. We’d all drive down in our beaten up VW-ubs and Holdens and crash at his small family farmhouse in the Deua valley. There Ted was not 31, he was 16. Playing the ghost, with a sheet over him running around in the moonlight; or appearing at the window of candlelit dinner parties with a pumpkin head; or laughing as we thought something moved in the darkness of his wooden house. He loved the fact the hallway was so narrow his old aunt had to turn sideways to get through it. He loved his Irish background. He loved the Kennedy name. He loved the fact he had found the exact plot of land near Thurles where his family had come from in Tipperary.
He loved his Irish poets – Yeats especially – and the true Celtic spirituality, not the one imposed from England or Rome. I think he saw a real connection between what the Irish people had been through – the dispossession of their land by the English – and what the Aboriginal people had been through. At our university camps, Ted and all of us would roar to revolutionary Irish songs.
But there was never a triumphalist bone in Ted’s body. He was never out to “win” over anyone. Never to lecture, to preach, to judge. Simply to read the Gospels, to reflect on ourselves, to love one another and to not stand aside from the world but to live it fully. At university, Ted wanted us to be great Christian historians, philosophers and scientists. Later, he wanted us to be great Christian lawyers, journalists, doctors and artists – not in the sense of following rules and saying Rosaries but in loving one another and engaging with the world we were in.
That was all theory. When we all left university – Ted to suburban parishes, the rest of us to jobs and families – the world changed. Ted hated the boredom of most of his appointments to parishes. He hated the outdated clerical structures of it. And he hated the smugness of many of the parishioners who thought being a good Catholic was turning up once a week for an hour.
And then he found Redfern. And I think most of us whites lost a part of him forever. He fell in love. He fell in love with the Aboriginal people. He took on board their suffering. He would come to our place for dinner just bursting with literally in-credible stories of pain, dispossession and racism. I think he looked for solace among his white friends and, in large part, couldn’t find it. He was on a journey of his own. And he would never flinch in going forward on that journey. He told me many times he thought white people were racist and had to seek Aboriginal help to cure them of their illness. The whites should seek forgiveness from the Aboriginal people.
That’s why Ted was so moved by Paul Keating’s extraordinary speech in Redfern Park in 1992. It was quoted in full earlier in this service so I won’t do it again except to say that there was a crucial line at the end of that quote that Keating said and it was this:
“As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.”
I know Ted would love to know those words were resounding here in Redfern again. Wish that we had such a Prime Minister today!
Ted gave his body, his soul, his heart and every ounce of his resilience, endurance and strength to the Aboriginal people. He was so grateful to have learned so much from them. Like a good Irishman, he knew their family networks inside out. He could simply not have given more.
In doing so, he was the perfect priest. A man who, more than anyone I know or could imagine, lived his beliefs to their fullest. A man with an extraordinary capacity to love. He used to say to me, often: “Peter, I love you very much”. What a man!
He lives on in the thousands of lives he has touched. His radical Christian message – that the Church must side with the poor, and every Christian live that reality in their daily lives – will have its day again. If anyone is worthy of sainthood, however it happens, it is Ted. His time will come!