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Life of a non-conformist priest

  • 17 July 2009

Edmund Campion: Ted Kennedy, Priest of Redfern. David Lovell Publishing, Melbourne, 2009. ISBN: 9781863551298

With profound sensitivity Edmund Campion has crafted a biography that reveals the essence of Ted Kennedy, a man who touched the lives of many and left an indelible mark on the Redfern community.

Campion paints a portrait of a fiercely passionate yet also vulnerable priest, whose commitment to social justice was fuelled by a deep love of humanity and an unwavering faith in the Gospels. Refusing to conform to the mainstream brand of Catholicism, Kennedy's theology was centred on liberating the oppressed by understanding the truth of their situation.

A theme that underpins this book is Kennedy's intense love and appreciation for Aboriginal people. Redfern exposed him to a truth that, sadly, still lies largely unseen: Aboriginal Australians are pivotal to Australia's national identity; their salvation is directly intertwined with White Australians.

And so he became a tireless advocate for Indigenous justice, dedicating more than half his life to their cause. Such a stance did not spontaneously arise. He arrived at this point after years of prayer and contemplation which enabled him to discover his true self.

With a novelist's eye for detail Campion gives a chronological account of Kennedy's life, stitching together a tapestry of events and influences that determined his destiny. The book can be divided into experiences before and after Redfern.

The seeds of social justice were sown into Kennedy's conscience early on. As a child he once asked his mother what the Gospel meant when it said the rich would never go to heaven. Her reply: 'Your father and I have talked about it and we have decided to dedicate our lives to the poor.'

And they did. His father was a local doctor who ran a practice with his wife where the poor were personally welcomed and never charged. This stirred the child's curiosity, as he and his siblings shared in their parents' dedication.

The book guides us through his time at the junior seminary at Springwood before focusing on his stint at the major seminary, Manly College. At Manly he and the other priests participated in the rigid lifestyle while constantly contemplating what type of priests they wanted to become.

He was swept up in the energies that shaped the Second Vatican Council. The fresh approach to Catholicism being practised