Since my appointment as a bishop and moving to Juneau three years ago, I have been touched by the deep affection so many people in our community have for my predecessor, Bishop Michael H. Kenny. His memory remains strong and alive, not only among our Catholic people but for so many others. Over these past three years I have listened to many stories about him that have helped me to better understand why so many people held him in such high regard and continue to have such affection for him. He was a very public person and his positions on war and peace, poverty, the nuclear arms race as well as certain aspects of church teaching were as well known as they were, at times, controversial.
But the reason so many people loved him was not because of his public positions, important as they were to him, but because of his character. It is clear to me that Kenny was a man filled with joy and enthusiasm that expressed itself in his life of prayer, in how he celebrated Mass and in his unabashed love of cooking, riding his bicycle or running and the theatre. Although he appeared to effortlessly live life to the full, he was a man who deeply sympathized with the struggles of those weighed down by life’s burdens and was an advocate for the forgotten and marginalized.
Unfortunately, I never met Kenny. But for those who knew him personally, I am sure he continues to remain for them the vibrant and youthful man whom they knew and loved. For many it is difficult to believe that it has been 17 years since his untimely death at age 58. It is even harder to believe that if he were still with us he would be celebrating his 75th birthday this June 26th. As we approach this important anniversary, the Diocese of Juneau, along with other groups here are organizing events to commemorate and celebrate his life.
I was also pleased earlier this month to be able to write a letter to the CBJ Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee expressing the support and appreciation of the Catholic diocese for the “Bishop Michael H. Kenny Memorial Peace Park”.
In my letter I wrote:
“As leader of the Catholic Diocese in Juneau and Southeast Alaska, I am writing to express my support for naming the downtown park adjacent to the Dimond Courthouse after the late Bishop Michael H. Kenny. We are honored that the City and Borough of Juneau desires to recognize Bishop Kenny and his lifelong commitment to the Gospel values of peace and non-violence. We appreciate the efforts of everyone involved in dedicating this park to his memory, especially the members of Veterans for Peace. Be sure of my prayers and support for your good work.”
Kenny’s public advocacy of nuclear disarmament was controversial in its time but following the end of the Cold War dramatic cuts in the enormous stockpile of the nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union and the United States have been greatly reduced. Both Russia and the United States are committed to continue the work, in cooperation with the other nuclear states, of reducing and eventually eliminating their remaining nuclear arsenals. Kenny’s focus was not only on international peace and reconciliation however.
Here in Juneau, Kenny publicly apologized, along with the leaders of other churches, for the past harm inflicted on Native peoples in Southeast Alaska by Christian missionaries and institutions. He sought not only forgiveness for past wrongs but to create a new relationship of respect and understanding between his beloved Catholic Church and Native people in Alaska.
On June 23, the diocese will be hosting a reception in honor of Kenny at St. Ann’s Parish Hall next to the Cathedral. The reception from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. is a fundraiser for the diocesan Bishop Kenny Memorial Fund and will feature food, beverages and both a silent and outcry auction. Tickets for this fundraising event will soon be available from Hearthside Books.
At 1:30 p.m. on June 24, the Diocese will remember Kenny with the celebration of the Mass at the Shrine of St. Therese. There in the Shrine Chapel which Kenny loved and where he is buried, the Catholic community will gather to thank and praise almighty God and to remember with joy this good and holy man. Immediately following Mass there will be a community barbecue and potluck. All are invited to come and celebrate a summer afternoon at the Shrine and commemorate the life of a man dedicated to serving others in the spirit of the Gospels.
P.S. – If you would like to help with the efforts, call 586-2227 x25.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.