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Edward Phillip Kennedy (1931-2005) was a prominent Australian clergyman and activist.


Early life and ordination

Ted Kennedy was known throughout Australia as the priest of St Vincent’s Roman Catholic church in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Redfern. He arrived there in 1971, appointed to head a team ministry by the then Archbishop of Sydney James Freeman (later Cardinal). He served also as presbyter in Redfern continuously under Archbishops Edward Cardinal Clancy and George Cardinal Pell. This remains unusual by contemporary diocesan standards which limit the duration of tenure.

Work with aboriginals

The area has a significant Aboriginal population, and Kennedy identified with the many social problems and challenges the Aboriginal community faced. He worked to bring justice for Aboriginal Australians. His presbytery and church community became a place of refuge for Indigenous Australians travelling from all parts of the nation. He befriended Aboriginal activist Mum (Shirl) Smith, and worked closely with her until she died in 1998.

Personal poverty and commitment

His example of personal poverty and commitment influenced other individuals and organisations. In 1975 Frank Brennan S.J. worked at Redfern with Ted, and thus began a lifelong connection and influence. While he was priest at Redfern, South Sydney Uniting Church donated property to the Black Theatre and the Sisters of Mercy gave property to the Redfern Aboriginal community in 1978 in which the Aboriginal Medical Service was established. The service now provides medical, dental, aged care, drug and alcohol services to around 55,000 patients each year.

Activism in conflict with Church hierarchy

Kennedy was a controversial figure, not all Catholics or all Australians supported his radical views, and he was often in conflict with the Church hierarchy for his activism – though in 2001 his work received direct support from Pope John Paul II with the reception of a letter to Dr Naomi Mayers, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Service supporting their work at the Aboriginal medical centre. On 22 November 2001, the Pope issued in Rome the document Ecclesia in Oceania , in which he referred to "the shameful injustices done to indigenous peoples in Oceania" and to the "special case" of the "Australian Aborigines, whose culture struggles to survive".

Role of conscience

He wrote his book Who is Worthy, The role of conscience in restoring hope to the Church in response to controversy in the Archdiocese of Sydney over the proper role of individual conscience, a debate triggered through comments by Cardinal George Pell, who had argued that the "doctrine of the primacy conscience should be quietly dropped" largely because of his concerns that too many liberties were being taken in a society that unduly emphasised the philosophy of individualism. Kennedy disagreed that this was the central problem. Rather (and perhaps unusually for a priest) Kennedy was very focussed on what he considered was the chief problem of clericalism.

Reparation and reconciliation

Kennedy promoted reparation and reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. Through his personal contacts, he established networks of influence through the local community, and through the indigenous communities of the nation. Kennedy preached and taught against what he perceived as exclusion and marginalisation of all kinds, whether because of race, income or sexual orientation, and progressive Catholics from all over Sydney travelled to Redfern weekly to be part of the parish community Kennedy led.

Sydney parishes

Ted's national connections and influence were not confined to Indigenous activism. Before he went to Redfern, he worked in a number of Sydney parishes, and he was also chaplain to the University of Sydney. He befriended, influenced and introduced artists and intellectuals such as Australian poet James McAuley and musician Richard Connolly.

Catholic hymnody

Partly through Ted’s introduction and encouragement Connolly and McAuley became the most significant duo creating Australian Catholic hymnody to date. Ted Kennedy asked Richard Connolly to consider composing some Australian hymns to sing at various parts of the mass[1]. Thus began one of the most successful hymn-making teams of the twentieth century, McAuley and Connolly.

In 1960 their work would anchor the Living Parish hymnbook, edited by Tony Newman and published by a group round Roger Pryke, which would sell one million copies over the next decade, enabling congregations to sing worthy hymns in an Australian voice. Kennedy also collaborated in partnership with Fr Roger Pryke to produce the important ‘Living Parish’ hymn book for Australian Catholics.

2001 award

In 2001 Ted Kennedy was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the Aboriginal community.


  1. ^ cf. Fr Edmund Campion's online article in Catalyst for Renewal


  • Kennedy, T. Who is Worthy? The role of conscience in restoring hope to the church, Pluto Press, 2000, ISBN 1-86403-087-9

External links



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