Father Robert P. Kennelly, MM
Born: February 7, 1900
Ordained: June 13, 1926
Died: July 10, 1981
Father Robert Patrick Kennelly (Special Society Unit) died on Friday, July 10, at the rectory of Immaculate Conception Church in Kona, Hawaii. He had gone to Kona only a few weeks before for a brief vacation at the parish where he had served for over 25 years. An all-night vigil was kept on July 13 at Immaculate Conception Church and next morning a Requiem Mass was concelebrated by Bishop John Scanlon, Bishop of Hawaii, with many Maryknoll Fathers from the Islands. Burial was in the cemetery next to the church.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on February 7, 1900, Bob was one of three children born to Rose McKeever and Robert Kennelly. The family later moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where Bob attended St. Mary’s School. In 1916 he applied and was accepted for Maryknoll at the Venard. His hopes were to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, a Jesuit with the same name who had served many years in Shanghai and whose hope was to “see his nephew on Chinese soil to continue the name in missionary work.” Bob did well in his studies and received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree from Catholic University in 1925. Ordained on June 13, 1926, he left for Kongmoon, China, the site of Maryknoll’s first mission, for what was to be a long and varied career of service to God and people. He began his work in the Loting Orphanage with a confrere, Daniel McShane who died shortly after in 1927. His correspondence during that time reflects a warm and on-going friendship with James A. Walsh, the co-founder. In 1936 he considered it a great privilege to accompany the body of Father Price back to Maryknoll to be buried alongside Bishop Walsh. He returned in 1937 to Kongmoon as Society Superior of the mission, a role he held until 1948. Often under attack by bandits, the Loting Mission was also bombed by the Japanese in 1939 and Bob was wounded by flying shrapnel. He wrote: “My experience, which indeed was terrifying, seemed to fade when I learned of so many others much worse off than myself.” He spent the war years in South China, working as best he could in the restricted circumstances. In 1946 he came home briefly for the Chapter, returning to work in Kongmoon until his arrest by the Communists in 1951. A few months later, after interrogation and imprisonment, he was expelled and arrived in Hong Kong. Thus ended abruptly 25 years of work among the Chinese people whom he loved so dearly.
In September 1951 Bob arrived in Hawaii to begin another quarter century of mission work, most of which was spent at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Kona. In 1954 he wrote: “This is nice country here, much easier than China physically; however lacking a lot of the consolation of China. But, regardless, there is plenty of work to do, with 70% of the population who are non-Christian.” In 1976 Bob returned to the mainland to celebrate his 50th Ordination anniversary with his family and friends. In 1979 he was assigned to the Special Society Unit but continued on assignment in the Hawaii Region. In 1980 he took up residence at Los Altos, remaining active right up to his final trip.
The funeral and burial took place at Kona. A Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated at Maryknoll on July 16, with Fr. Robert Sheridan as Principal Celebrant, Fr. Francis MacRae as the Homilist and the Biography given by Fr. William Bergan.
Although ‘Ox’ was his nickname because of his stature, strength and determination, yet his heart was soft and his manner gentle. He touched many people during his 55 years of active ministry, from the orphans at Loting to grandparents at Kona. Many lives are different because of him. Like St. Paul, he was in danger often, from bandits, from wars, from disease, from wounds, from prisons, from floods. But he counted all of those as nothing. He ran the full distance; and now the price of victory is waiting for him, the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Just Judge, will give him on that day — and not only to him but to all those who wait for Him to appear. (2 Tim. 4, 608)