They came to praise Father Ted Kennedy yesterday, the revered parish priest of Redfern.
And praise him, they did.
The occasion was the launch of Father Ed Campion’s book, Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern.
It opened with a Mass concelebrated by Bishop David Cremin and priests who knew or who had worked with Father Kennedy, including Jesuit human rights advocate, Father Frank Brennan.
After mass, speakers lined up to tell their stories about the man who had been Redfern PP for more than 30 years and had given his life to the Aborigines.
Close friend and collaborator Danny Gilbert, who launched the book, said it was not just an account of “Ted’s providential life” but also a book about the Catholic Church in Australia.
“And it is a book about the attitudes and tone of the Archdiocese of Sydney – certainly as Ted saw it,” Gilbert said.
“Ted’s essential humanity is deeply present throughout the book - his greatest strength according to Ed Campion.
“His weaknesses are there too. But they don’t count for much in the sum of the man.”
As a young priest, Ted’s homilies started to ignite spark plugs all over Catholic Sydney.
“People were hungry to hear the gospel preached in a way that made sense to them,” he said
He talked about the importance of following one’s conscience, at a time when people were anxious about the Vietnam War and birth control.
Gilbert said: “People were hungry for a new church, a less judgmental church, a church more in sympathy with the complexities of modernity and what it is to be a human being.
“The zeitgeist was alive with the hope of a church which might become unshackled from the constraints of petty rules, a church more open to the influences of an educated and sophisticated laity, a church that would embrace literature and the arts.”
He said Ted Kennedy inspired and gave hope to so many.
In 1971 Ted Kennedy and two other priests, John Butcher and Fergus Breslan, moved into St Vincent’s presbytery in Redfern to try something new.
Gilbert said: “It was in this place, where we are now, that Ted began his long and deeply spiritual life with Aboriginal people. They were the poorest of the poor and to Ted they were embodiments of Christ himself.
“How often did we hear Ted say with respect to the poor and the fringe dwellers, ‘They have the lens through which we can see God?’
Ted Kennedy Priest of Redfern by Edmund Campion, David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne
- Barry Morris