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Downtown park dedicated to late Juneau Bishop

Posted: September 24, 2012 - 12:01am
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Juneau residents listen to Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau speak during a dedication ceremony of the city park at the corner Seward and 3rd Street in honor of the late Bishop Michael Kenny on Friday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau residents listen to Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau speak during a dedication ceremony of the city park at the corner Seward and 3rd Street in honor of the late Bishop Michael Kenny on Friday.

Roughly 100 people gathered Friday to dedicate a downtown park at the corner of Third and Seward Streets in honor of a late bishop.

The Bishop Michael H. Kenny Memorial Peace Park officially got its name back in 2009, upon approval by the Assembly, but the formal ceremony was held Friday to christen the site with holy water and to unveil a colorful, abstract sign, created by local artist Aaron Elmore, bearing the park’s name.

“My friends, I ask that you join me in asking God’s blessing upon this peace park, that it may be a sign for all in this community and a remembrance to work for peace,” said Edward Burns, the current Bishop of Juneau.

Burns sprinkled water from an aspergillum and led the group in prayer, saying  “Bless this peace park in the name of the father, and of the son and of the holy spirit.”

Philip Smith is the president of the nonsectarian nonprofit organization — Veterans for Peace, Chapter 100 — that spearheaded the naming of the park. He said they originally planned on simply naming the spot “Peace Park,” but discovered the city does not allow parks to be named after concepts or ideas. It must be named after a person, he said.

“It didn’t take us long to settle that Bishop Kenny would be a marvelous candidate,” Smith said, noting Kenny was a personal role model and friend of his, despite separate faiths. “There is no other memorial in town to him — I think within the church there is, but not within the community. And he was a such a strong community figure. He was a vigorous supporter of the arts, and things like that. So this just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Kenny was the Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau, which covers all of Southeast Alaska, stretching from Yakutat to Metlakata, from 1979 to 1995. He died unexpectedly while abroad in Jordan from an aneurism at the age of 57. He is buried at The Shrine of St. Therese.

Smith says the late bishop was a leading advocate for peace and nuclear disarmament, “to the extent that he was known amongst his many colleagues as ‘No Nukes of the North.”

“He was always an inspiration to us trying to seek some ability to understand the nature of the world around us and why war continues,” Smith said.

During Friday’s dedication, the Alaska Youth Choir performed, and bagpipe music filled the street. Mayor Bruce Botelho said a few words, as did Brent Fischer, the director of City and Borough of Juneau’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Fischer said the “pocket park,” which is located behind Dimond Courthouse, used to be the site of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau Information Center building, which was torn down last fall.

A public art sculpture designed by local artist Jim Fowler, titled “Growing Peace,” will be installed in the park next spring. Veterans for Peace kicked off the fundraising effort for its completion and installation with an event at Silverbow Bakery after the dedication.

Several people took the microphone to share their memories of the late bishop; Burns was one of them ­— he said he never had the pleasure of meeting the late Bishop, but that he was grateful to Kenny for his hard work for the diocese.

“He stood up for the marginalized and defended the vulnerable,” Burns said. “He worked for peace, he prayed for peace, he wrote about the need for peace.”

Burns read aloud an excerpt of Kenny’s writing from November 1980. It reads:

“In childhood days centered in the 1940s, pacifisits seemed a small albeit respectful group: Quakers and a few select others whose religious convictions forbade them that they participate in war. Without agreeing with or even understanding their position, I admire them for their sincerity and fidelity for what they believe.

That was a long time ago. The bomb with its potential for mass annihilation, the nonviolence of the civil rights movement in the early 60s and the long bitter agony of the Vietnam War disturbed me. Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, Martin Luther King’s steadfast adherrence to nonviolence and the writings of Thomas Merton and Daniel Berrigan gave me further pause for thought, as the awful power to inflict instant death on whole populations and the possibility of ultimate world destruction mushroomed, falling into hands of more and more nations as the way of violence became more and more inevitable the way to solve problems and disputes.”

“As ‘limited wars’ continued to ingite here and there around the globe, more and more people began saying it’s time to make peace — not wish for peace or call for peace, but act for peace.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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