Msgr. Kennedy celebrated his retirement at the Archdiocese of Toronto Pastoral Centre Aug. 31, 2016. Photo by Michael Swan

Msgr. Philip Kennedy led Catholic Missions in Canada for a decade

  • April 6, 2018

Once a missionary, always a missionary. It didn’t matter whether bedridden with illness or looking off into retirement, Msgr. Philip J. Kennedy kept Canada’s mission territories close to his heart.

“Keep the missions safe,” the former President of Catholic Missions In Canada told his staff upon his retirement last summer, reminding them that their work is never done.

Msgr. Kennedy passed away April 5 at his home in Everett, Ont., at the age of 73 after several years of declining health. But illness was not enough to keep him away from CMIC, which he led for a decade before his retirement in August 2016. He is remembered for his dedication to the job of sustaining and extending the Catholic faith in more than 600 isolated, poor and mostly Indigenous communities in Canada. He spent most of his year travelling to these missions to meet face-to-face with the people of the community.

“Most of them are very happy with what Catholic Missions is doing,” Msgr. Kennedy told The Register upon his retirement. “They’re always happy to see me.”

CMIC’s fundraising efforts provides mission parishes with resources for building maintenance, travel needs for missionaries, faith-based programs, First Nations ministries and the education of seminarians.

Neil MacCarthy, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, gave thanks for all Msgr. Kennedy did for the Church.

“In addition to his pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Msgr. Kennedy was a passionate advocate for the work of Catholic Missions In Canada,” said MacCarthy. “He spent many years ensuring the Gospel message reached many remote areas in Canada. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.”

The news hit hard at the CMIC offices at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Toronto. 

“Our office is understandably in shock and mourning,” said Catholic Missions In Canada magazine editor Jeff Muzzerall.

Fr. David Reilander, who succeeded Msgr. Kennedy as CMIC President, praised his predecessor.

“He will be remembered for his gentle way and pastoral concern,” said Reilander. “Donors often ask of him and tell me stories of how he would patiently listen to their concerns. Bishops and missionaries tell me of his visitations and how he would get personally involved with people in need…. May he rest in peace. He is missed.”

Many in the small office had worked with Msgr. Kennedy during his entire tenure. Patria Rivera, the former director of publications and communications, told The Register at Msgr. Kennedy’s retirement celebration that his dedication inspired the staff.

“He always inspired us to work harder and to focus our strengths on making the job not only a job, but part of our vocation,” she said.

Msgr. Kennedy was ordained a priest in 1983 and appointed to St. Anne’s Parish in Brampton, Ont., before going to the Diocese of Thunder Bay.

After six years, he joined the Pontifical Missions Societies in 1995. 

He also served in parishes in Toronto and Colgan, Ont., before joining Catholic Missions in Canada in 2006. In March 2017 he was made a monsignor by Pope Francis.

"Being with the missions is a wonderful thing and has been for me because you get a glimpse again and again of a completely different way of living, and living out, the vocation of a priest," Msgr. Kennedy once said in video talking about his vocation. "You are working with First Nations people, but also with people in Labrador and Newfoundland, people in the far north, the near north. It's wonderful. It has developed my notion of what it is to minister to people."

Msgr. Kennedy’s funeral Mass was held April 12 at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Alliston, Ont. He is interred at St. James Catholic Cemetery in nearby Colgan.

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