Sabbatical Stirs Priest's Desire To Make God More Real

'Perspective'gained From Study In Europe

January 20, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The new pastor of Our Lady of the Chesapeake Catholic Church just returned from a year's study in Europe, but he doesn't talk much about the streets of Paris or the bells of Oxford.

Instead, he talks about God and how to make God real in Pasadena.

"I gained perspective from (religious workers) from all over the world," while on sabbatical studying the sociology of religion overseas, says the Rev. Edward Kenny, 43.

His research -- in France and England -- involved learning how to help a religious community determine its own mission and translate that mission into programs with budgets and staffing.

But the real lesson came from the people he met, such as the missionaries from Africa who refined his concept of religious community.

"They have much larger parishes in Africa and Latin America than here, and they help villagers become a place where people consciously minister to each other. We're looking at the possibility here of networking with neighborhoods," explains Kenny.

In the scenario, each residential community in the greater Pasadena area would have a contact person to connect the community and the church, letting the church know about social needs and concerns of their neighbors, and letting their neighbors know about church programs and help.

"A more immediate connection," the priest adds earnestly, his face lighting up at the thought.

It's not the first time Kenny has gotten excited about helping people.

Growing up in Towson, he taught religion classes for mentally handicapped children at his home parish. In high school, he worked at a deaf camp as an archery instructor. He also worked in Baltimore in low-income housing areas.

While a student at Loyola College, Kenny became convinced that the priesthood was the one calling that would "let me continue to do ministry with people." He graduated from St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park in 1970, worked as a pastor in East Baltimore and Ellicott City, and then became pastor for nine years at the Church of All Saints off Liberty Road.

Last year, he took a sabbatical in Europe, studying in Parisand then at England's Oxford University as a research fellow of the Woodstock Theological Institute at Georgetown University, where he continues to attend seminars.

Two months ago, Kenny came to Pasadena.

"Our lives can be a constant series of epiphanies," he told the 1,100-family parish yesterday.

"We can live our lives with long stretches that are cold and wintry like our weather. Or we can allow the warmth of God's Spirit to break open our hearts, no matter how icedover they may feel."

Later during the Mass, Kenny stood in a shaft of sunlight and distributed Communion with a smile that seemed to warm those to whom he ministered, said one woman.

"He's a very gracious man," said Virginia Lacey, who helps direct the church's music program. "He's terrific. Our former pastor, who retired, was a truly wonderful man, but we needed someone young and energetic and different-- and we got him!"

A couple who have attended the church since its inception 13 years ago, Ann-Marie and William Bond, also praised him. "He seems to be interested in the parish, and he's very friendly," she said. "We're very pleased with him."

Added her husband: "He's involved in all sorts of things here and also in the diocese. He's off doing things regularly."

For Kenny, the church's activism is one of his biggest blessings. "The community is really hospitable, anda lot of people are involved in social ministries," he says.

The priest works with a housing corporation in Baltimore that builds homes for low-income families and also serves with a Catholic program called the Campaign for Human Development that gives grants to communities to help poor people take control of their lives. Members of Our Lady of the Chesapeake had joined that program several years ago, so Kenny wasn't a complete stranger there.

"A lot of people are really committed to service," he says. "I really think the church has so much in resources to share with the wider community. And that's what we're going to try to do."

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