Type of entity
Authorized form of name
Kenney, Peter J, 1779-1841, Jesuit priest and educator
Parallel form(s) of name
Standardized form(s) of name according to other rules
Other form(s) of name
Identifiers for corporate bodies
Dates of existence
07 July 1779-19 November 1841
Born: 07 July 1779, Dublin
Entered: 20 September 1804, Hodder, Stonyhurst, England - Angliae Province (ANG)
Ordained: 04 December 1808, Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Final vows: 16 June 1819
Died: 19 November 1841, Professed House, Rome, Italy
Superior of the Jesuit Mission in Ireland : 30 September 1812- 28 September 1817; 29 September 1821- May 1830;
Visitor to Maryland Mission : 1819 - 1822; 14 November 1830 - 1833;
Vice-Provincial: April 1834 - May 1836;
Vice-President Maynooth College : 1813 - 1814;
Peter Kenney was an Irish Jesuit credited with restoring the Society of Jesus in Ireland after their suppression, as well as with establishing several colleges and devoting much of his life to the education of youth.
There were seventeen Jesuits at the time of the suppression in Ireland. No longer members of the Society, they were forced to act as diocesan priests. One of these last remaining Jesuits, Fr Thomas Betagh, taught children of poor families in Dublin. One of his students was Peter Kenney, the son of a coachmaker. Sponsored by Betagh, Kenney entered Maynooth College. From here he travelled to Palermo in Sicily to continue his religious training, as Sicily was allowed to maintain its branch of the Society of Jesus. Here in 1808 he was ordained as a priest.
Kenney travelled back to Ireland in 1811, the same year that Fr Betagh, the last remaining Jesuit in Ireland, died. Kenney arrived intent on re-establishing the Jesuits in his home country. Using money that had been put aside by the previous Jesuits, he bought Castle Brown in 1813. This would become the site of a new Jesuit school, Clongowes Wood College, which opened the following year. In 1818 a further school was opened in Tullabeg, Offaly. Tullabeg College was originally planned as a noviciate for the Society but became in time a proper college.
In 1822 Kenney travelled to America to visit the missions. In Missouri he met Jesuit farmers and was appalled that they owned slaves, ordering them to set their slaves free. Back in Ireland, Kenney and three others founded the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier in Dublin after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was passed. For his remaining years, he continued his work across Ireland, both as a preacher and as an educator, until he passed away in 1841, worn down by constant toil and travel.
◆ Fr Edmund Hogan SJ “Catalogica Chronologica” : :
Early education in Humanities at Carlow and Stonyhurst. Father Betagh was the first to discover his abilities. Priests used to go listen to him teaching Catechism while he was an apprentice coach-builder. Betagh and O’Callaghan, ex-Jesuits, sent him to Carlow College, and he was loudly applauded by fellow students, and even the venerable President. In the Novitiate - as per fellow Novice Father Postlethwaite - he was asked to leave the Refectory pulpit by Father Charles Plowden, as the Novices interrupted their meal as they were spellbound and astounded by his exordium. At Stonyhurst, he distinguished himself in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
He completed his Higher Studies and Theology at Palermo, where he defended his theses of Divinity with applause, and was Ordained there. In a letter from the Procurator General to Father General, he calls him “l’incomparabile Kenny”. Father Angolini writes to Father Plowden from Palermo in 1809 “in the public disputations vel maxime excelluit P Kenny”. In 1810 he says “P Kenny excellit supra omnes; dona habet ingenii, virium, zeli animarum, activitas et efficaciae in agendo simulet prudentiae vere insignia. Deus illum ad sui gloriam Hibernorumsque Missionis incrementum conservit”. Father Provincial writes in 1810 “P Kenny ingenio pollet prompto et acri”, and again in 1811 “P Kenny acerrimi et ingenii, studiique amans, ut optimam de se spem faciat. Tum religiosum colit disciplinam, ingenio ipse nimis vivido, quandoque judicii, sui tenacior apparet”.
1811 Sent to Ireland in November, and served at the Chapel of St Michan, Dublin, the ancient Residence of the Society. He was vice-President of Maynooth for a short while at the request of Archbishop Murray, and his portrait is preserved there.
1815-1817 Destined by Providence as an instrument to revive the ancient Irish Mission SJ, he was joined by four Fathers and several Scholastics from Stonyhurst, and was Superior until 1817. He bought Castle Brown, or Clongowes Wood Co Kildare, and took possession 04/03/1814 and opened it as a school on 15 May 1816, himself being the Rector.
1819 He was sent as Visitor to the American Mission SJ, and returning again to Ireland, was declared Superior of the Mission, 27/08/1822, and its first Vice-Provincial, in its being erected into a Vice-Province in 1829. He remained Vice-Provincial until 1836.
1830-1833 He was again sent as Visitor to the American Mission SJ, where he rendered signal services, and in July 1833, published the General’s Decree for constituting the American Mission into a Province, installing Fr William McSherry as its first Provincial. During his years in America, he was constantly Preaching and Confessing, kept diaries of his travels, and had a very extensive correspondence with people of all ranks and conditions. His Retreats and Sermons were spoke of by Priests fifty and sixty years later, and long eloquent passages quoted with enthusiasm.
Tullabeg, and St Francis Xavier’s Residence Dublin are principally indebted to him for their foundation and erection.
Recommended by medical men to winter in warmer climates, he made his way to Rome with great difficulty, and died at the Gesù of an attack of apoplexy aged 62. He is buried at the Gesù. (Oliver, Stonyhurst MSS). Archbishop Murray of Dublin was overwhelmed with grief at his passing, and considered him a national loss. He and the other Bishops celebrated High Mass and said the Office for the repose of his soul.
He tried several times to write the history of the Irish Mission. Of his own life, short sketches have been written in Oliver, Stonyhurst MSS and Foley’s Collectanea, as well as Mgr Meagher in his “Life of Dr Murray” and by Father Hogan in some numbers of the Limerick Reporter.
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
His mother was said to have been a woman of remarkable piety and high intellect. She trained him in piety. he soon proved himself an apt scholar of virtue. Even as a young boy, he joined one of the sodalities for young men, which, in spite of Penal times, were flourishing in Dublin at the time. Their custom was to gather after nightfall, say prayers together and listen to a pious reading. It was Peter’s custom to regularly give ferverinos to his young companions which moved them so much, and even the priests - encouraged by Father Betagh - would stop to listen to him. This was a forerunner perhaps of his reputation later on as one of the foremost English speaking pulpit orators of his day.
1802 he was at Carlow College studying Logic and Metaphysics, and here too, his oratory was highly thought of, as it was usual for the students to preach in turn to each other. A famous talk he gave was on “The Dignity of the Priesthood” which was met with applause, even from the Superior.
1804 He went to Stonyhurst and completed his Noviceship. After First Vows he remained and studied Mathematics and Physics. His health troubled him, especially his eyes, and his Superiors decided to send him to a milder climate in Sicily for Theology. He duly completed his Theology to much acclaim and graduating DD (document of record of achievement from the University of Palermo preserved at Clongowes).
After Ordination he offered some support to Irish and English soldiers stationed at Sicily. At the same time, the King of Sicily was anxious to give refuge to Pope Pius VII, and Cajetan Angiolini SJ was commissioned to negotiate the matter with the Pope. He chose Peter Kenney as his assistant. The Pope refused to leave Rome.
1811 he left Sicily for Ireland. On the way he spent some time at Malta, ministering to English soldiers there. His name remained for a long time in fond memory.
1812 He arrived in Ireland to begin his long and fruitful career. The timing saw a Catholic Church beginning to emerge from the strictures of Penal Laws, though they were still in force.
He is described as the “foundation stone” of the Restored Society in Ireland. Father Betagh had just died the previous year, and since he was so beloved, Kenney was received with open arms by the Archbishop and priesthood in Dublin. He quickly earned a reputation as a great Preacher, and on all the great occasions, was called upon, including the funeral of the Archbishop and the Jubilee of 1825. He was then asked by Maynooth College, supported by the Archbishop to become the President. He accepted, only on condition that the Archbishop should be declared President, and he the Vice-President, but only for one year. His real desire was to found a Jesuit College.
1814 He purchased Clongowes. The money used to purchase it had been carefully handed down from the time of the Suppression. The College opened that year, and students flocked from all parts of the country. Due to overcrowding, a fever broke out at the College, and it had to be disbanded for a while.
1817 He left Clongowes to Bartholomew Esmonde, and took his place in Hardwicke St, Dublin, and he remained working there until 1819.
1819 Fr General Thaddeus Brzodowski entrusted the task of Visitor to the new Maryland Mission to Peter Kenney. It was a difficult task, but his work was approved of by all.
1821 He returned to Ireland, and initially back at Hardwicke St, but was then appointed Rector of Clongowes again, and later Mission Superior. This was a difficult period for the Church in the country, and some focus was on the Jesuits, with the old accusations of intrigue etc, being spoken of to the point where a petition was sent to Parliament by a group of zealous Irish Protestants asking that measures be taken to check the dangerous machinations of the Jesuits. Kenney’s diplomatic skills, particularly among influential Protestants in the Kildare area resulted in Lord Leinster moving a counter petition, suggesting the opposite, and this position was supported in the Irish press. Nonetheless, the Government set up an inquiry on the influence of the Jesuits, and Peter Kenney was summoned before the Chief Secretary and Privy Council. Again his skills won the day and the admiration of the Council which had summoned him.
1829 He went to a General Congregation, and there it was announced that Ireland would become a Vice-Province, and he the first Vice-Provincial. He was again sent as Visitor to American Provinces, and achieved much in that position, to the point where there were efforts to keep him in the US.
1833 On his return, his health was beginning to suffer, to the point that he found it difficult to be about, but he nonetheless stuck to his task to the end. He ran a Provincial Congregation in 1841 and he was even elected himself as Procurator of the Vice-Province to go to Rome. In spite of appalling weather conditions which made travel very difficult, especially for one in such health, he made the journey, but once in Rome succumbed to a fever. He is buried in the Gesù in Rome.
News of his death was issued at Gardiner St, and vast crowds assembled there in sorrow. The Archbishop wrote of the great loss to the Society and Church, in a letter of condolence. Many clergy and bishops attended his funeral, and a similar memorial event at Maynooth.
He was a man of exceptional powers as an administrator and Superior. In addition, he was known as a remarkable Preacher.
Note on excerpts from Mgr MacCaffrey, President Maynooth, “The Holy Eucharist in Modern Ireland” at the International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin 1932 - Book of Congress p 160 :
“There is not wanting evidence to indicate that even in the lifetime of St Margaret Mary (Alacocque) devotion to the Sacred Heart found many warm adherents in Ireland, and amongst them ...Blessed Oliver Plunkett. But whatever about individuals, the first Sodality of the Sacred Heart in Ireland of which we have an authentic record was founded at Maynooth College in the year 1813 by the eminent Jesuit Father Peter Kenney, Vice-President of Maynooth and founder of Clongowes. This new Society was regarded as important and so dangerous that it was denounced in English newspapers and reviews, was warmly debated in the House of Commons, and was even deemed worthy of investigation by a Royal Commission. But that Father Kenney’s work bore fruit in spite of much hostile criticism is proved by the fact that when years later Pope Gregory XVI granted an extension of the Mass of the Sacred Heart to Ireland, he did so, as he says, in consequence of the great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that prevails in that Kingdom.”
◆ Fr Joseph McDonnell SJ Past and Present Notes :
16th February 1811 At the advance ages of 73, Father Betagh, PP of the St Michael Rosemary Lane Parish Dublin, Vicar General of the Dublin Archdiocese died. His death was looked upon as almost a national calamity. Shops and businesses were closed on the day of his funeral. His name and qualities were on the lips of everyone. He was an ex-Jesuit, the link between the Old and New Society in Ireland.
Among his many works was the foundation of two schools for boys : one a Classical school in Sall’s Court, the other a Night School in Skinner’s Row. One pupil received particular care - Peter Kenney - as he believed there might be great things to come from him in the future. “I have not long to be with you, but never fear, I’m rearing up a cock that will crow louder and sweeter for you than I ever did” he told his parishioners. Peter Kenney was to be “founder” of the restored Society in Ireland.
There were seventeen Jesuits in Ireland at the Suppression : John Ward, Clement Kelly, Edward Keating, John St Leger, Nicholas Barron, John Austin, Peter Berrill, James Moroney, Michael Cawood, Michael Fitzgerald, John Fullam, Paul Power, John Barron, Joseph O'Halloran, James Mulcaile, Richard O'Callaghan and Thomas Betagh. These men believed in the future restoration, and they husbanded their resources and succeeded in handing down to their successors a considerable sum of money, which had been saved by them.
A letter from the Acting General Father Thaddeus Brezozowski, dated St Petersburg 14 June 1806 was addressed to the only two survivors, Betagh and O’Callaghan. He thanked them for their work and their union with those in Russia, and suggested that the restoration was close at hand.
A letter from Nicholas Sewell, dated Stonyhurst 07 July 1809 to Betagh gives details of Irishmen being sent to Sicily for studies : Bartholomew Esmonde, Paul Ferley, Charles Aylmer, Robert St Leger, Edmund Cogan and James Butler. Peter Kenney and Matthew Gahan had preceded them. These were the foundation stones of the Restored Society.
Returning to Ireland, Kenney, Gahan and John Ryan took residence at No3 George’s Hill. Two years later, with the monies saved for them, Kenney bought Clongowes as a College for boys and a House of Studies for Jesuits. From a diary fragment of Aylmer, we learn that Kenney was Superior of the Irish Mission and Prefect of Studies, Aylmer was Minister, Claude Jautard, a survivor of the old Society in France was Spiritual Father, Butler was Professor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology, Ferley was professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Esmonde was Superior of Scholastics and they were joined by St Leger and William Dinan. Gahan was described as a Missioner at Francis St Dublin and Confessor to the Poor Clares and Irish Sisters of Charity at Harold’s Cross and Summerhill. Ryan was a Missioner in St Paul’s, Arran Quay, Dublin. Among the Scholastics, Brothers and Masters were : Brothers Fraser, Levins, Connor, Bracken, Sherlock, Moran, Mullen and McGlade.
Trouble was not long coming. Protestants were upset that the Jesuits were in Ireland and sent a petition was sent to Parliament, suggesting that the Vow of Obedience to the Pope meant they could not have an Oath of Allegiance to the King. In addition, the expulsion of Jesuits from all of Europe had been a good thing. Kenney’s influence and diplomatic skills resulted in gaining support from Protestants in the locality of Clongowes, and a counter petition was presented by the Duke of Leinster on behalf of the Jesuits. This moment passed, but anti Jesuit feelings were mounting, such as in the Orange faction, and they managed to get an enquiry into the Jesuits and Peter Kenney and they appeared before the Irish Chief Secretary and Privy Council. Peter Kenney’s persuasive and oratorical skills won the day and the enquiry group said they were satisfied and impressed.
Over the years the Mission grew into a Province with Joseph Lentaigne as first Provincial in 1860. In 1885 the first outward undertaking was the setting up of an Irish Mission to Australia by Lentaigne and William Kelly, and this Mission grew exponentially from very humble beginnings.
Later the performance of the Jesuits in managing UCD with little or no money, and then outperforming what were known as the “Queen’s Colleges” forced the issue of injustice against Catholics in Ireland in the matter of University education. It is William Delaney who headed up the effort and create the National University of Ireland under endowment from the Government.
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Patrick Maume
Kenney, Peter (1779–1841), Jesuit priest and educationist, was born in Dublin, probably at 28 Drogheda Street, on 7 July 1779, the son of Peter Kenney, a businessman, and his wife, Ellen (née Molloy). He had one sister (who became a nun) and a much older brother (possibly a half-brother by a previous marriage of his father). Kenney attended schools conducted by the former Jesuit Thomas Betagh (qv), who became his principal mentor, at Saul's Court and Skinner's Row; after being briefly apprenticed to a coach-maker, he became Betagh's assistant in his schools. In 1799 Kenney took a leading role in the foundation of the first Young Men's Confraternity in Dublin.
On 6 June 1801 Kenney entered St Patrick's College, Carlow, to study for the priesthood. He was one of a group of young men who had their fees paid from the residual funds of the Irish Jesuit mission (administered by Irish former Jesuits) in return for a commitment to enter a revived Society of Jesus. The Jesuit order had been suppressed by the papacy in 1773, but survived unofficially in Russia. In 1801 the holy see granted official recognition to the Russian province of the order and allowed Jesuits elsewhere to attach themselves to it. Former Jesuits in England took advantage of this dispensation to reestablish the English province of the society under the jurisdiction of the vicar general in Russia, but the legality of this remained uncertain until the formal restoration of the society in 1814.
In September 1804 Kenney went to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire (founded 1794), to undertake his novitiate. He was recognised as an outstanding student, particularly in theology and philosophy. After developing asthma and eye problems he was sent to Palermo in April 1808 to complete his studies. This also allowed him to take his vows with the surety of being recognised as a Jesuit by church law, since the society had been formally reestablished in the kingdom of Naples in 1804. Shortly after his arrival Kenney served as interpreter on a secret and unsuccessful mission to persuade Pope Pius VII to leave French-occupied Rome and place himself under the protection of British forces in Sicily. Kenney received his tonsure and minor orders in June 1808, was ordained deacon and subdeacon in November, and received priestly orders on 4 December 1808. He carried on his studies at the Jesuit college in Palermo (completing them in April 1811, though he did not receive a degree for technical reasons), while ministering to catholics in the British garrison, despite obstruction from their superior officers.
Kenney returned to Ireland in August 1811 as acting superior of the Jesuits’ Irish mission (whose independence from the English province he successfully asserted). He ministered in Dublin with three other newly admitted Jesuits, and rapidly acquired a reputation as a calmly eloquent preacher. For the rest of his life he was much in demand as a preacher of charity sermons and as principal speaker on major ecclesiastical occasions; the Maynooth professor Patrick Murray (qv) compared his style and eminence as a pulpit orator to those of Daniel O'Connell (qv) as a public speaker. Between August 1812 and 1813 Kenney acted as vice-president of Maynooth at the insistence of Daniel Murray (qv), co-adjutor archbishop of Dublin, who had been asked to serve as temporary president. Kenney appears to have undertaken most of the administrative duties because of Murray's other commitments, but his principal impact was as a spiritual guide and retreat leader to the seminarians.
In 1813 Kenney used much of the money inherited from the former Irish Jesuit funds to purchase Castle Browne House, Clane, Co. Kildare; in summer 1814 this opened as Clongowes Wood College, which became the most celebrated school run by Irish Jesuits. In managing the new school and overseeing the implementation of the traditional Jesuit curriculum, Kenney showed himself a capable organiser. At the same time he lobbied against calls by ultra-protestant politicians for the passage of new anti-Jesuit legislation, acquired a chapel in Hardwicke Street, Dublin (from which Gardiner Street church and Belvedere College later developed), and negotiated the purchase of the site of the future Jesuit novitiate at Tullabeg, near Tullamore, King's County (Offaly).
In September 1817 Kenney (whose career was punctuated by lamentations over the burdens of leadership and expressions of desire to devote himself to pastoral work) resigned as rector of Clongowes and superior of the mission. The acceptance of his resignation was encouraged by tensions among the Irish Jesuits, which were aggravated by his frequent absences owing to other commitments. He spent the next year and a half at the Jesuit chapel in Hardwicke Street, adding to his lifelong reputation as a skilled (though perhaps somewhat strict) confessor to all classes of penitents and a leader of retreats.
In April 1819 Kenney was appointed visitor to the North American Jesuits. As a preliminary, he took his four solemn vows as a fully professed Jesuit on 16 June 1819 and sailed on 31 July, thereby avoiding an attempt by the secular clergy of Kerry to secure him for their vacant bishopric. During his first mission to America (September 1819 to August 1820) Kenney reorganised the struggling Jesuit college at Georgetown, and reported on the financial and pastoral problems created by the American Jesuits’ badly managed slave plantations in Maryland. His Irish and continental experience enabled him to mediate effectively between older European-born Jesuits and their native American confreres (who combined ignorance of Europe with pride in republican institutions). Evading efforts to nominate him for the sees of Philadelphia and New York, Kenney returned to Europe in August 1820 to participate in the election of a new Jesuit general and report to the general congregation on the state of the order in America.
Kenney returned to Ireland in 1821 and in 1822 was reappointed to the rectorship of Clongowes and the leadership of the Irish Jesuits (whose status had been raised to that of a vice-province in 1819) [This is incorrect Vice-Province 1830; . In this period he experienced tensions with Bishop James Warren Doyle (qv) on such issues as Jesuit social aspirations and the perceived desertion of parish clergy by penitents seeking lenient Jesuit confessors. He testified before a royal commission on Irish education and advised Edmund Ignatius Rice (qv), Mother Mary Teresa (Frances) Ball (qv), and Mary Aikenhead (qv) on drawing up the constitutions of their nascent religious orders. He later experienced tensions with Aikenhead and Rice over disputes within the Irish Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers.
In 1830 Kenney was relieved of his offices at his own request and thereafter the positions of Clongowes rector and vice-provincial were separated. But this respite was brief as he was promptly sent on a second mission to America as temporary Jesuit superior as well as visitor. On this visit, which concluded with his receipt and formal promulgation of the Vatican decree constituting the Maryland Jesuits a full province, covering much of the eastern United States, he implemented further reforms in Georgetown, reclaimed a church formerly run by the Jesuits in Philadelphia, and visited the Jesuit mission in Missouri, which had been founded by Belgian Jesuits in 1823 with the intention of evangelising the indigenous population. In Missouri he greatly raised the standing of the Jesuit college at St Louis, which became the first university west of the Mississippi, and attempted to diminish the harsh discipline exercised by the local superiors. His support for the continuing independence of the Missouri mission from the Maryland province was one of the achievements that mark his two visitations as a watershed in the development of the American Jesuits and, by extension, of the whole catholic church in America. His memory was revered among his American brethren for decades.
After his return to Ireland in September 1833 (having refused the bishopric of Cincinnati on health grounds) Kenney was reappointed vice-provincial in 1834, but stepped down in 1836 as he was no longer able to combine this role with his pastoral duties as superior of the Gardiner Street community, where the Dublin Jesuits had moved when their new church was constructed in the early 1830s; the Hardwicke Street chapel became the site of a school, which later moved to Belvedere House. Kenney remained superior at Gardiner Street until 1840, though he was now suffering from heart problems complicated by asthma, overwork, and obesity. In this period he strongly supported Archbishop Murray's acceptance of the national schools, writing to Rome in rebuttal of the position of Archbishop MacHale (qv).
In 1840 Kenney was relieved of his superiorship, having asked permission to spend some time in southern Italy for the good of his health and to undertake historical research on the history of the Irish Jesuits. He reached Rome in October 1841 but died on 19 November 1841 of a stroke, his condition exacerbated by poor medical treatment; he was buried at the Jesuit church of the Gesù in Rome. Kenney was a significant force in the nineteenth-century revival of institutional Irish catholicism, the key figure in the revival of the Irish Jesuits, and an important presence in the American church; but perhaps his greatest influence was wielded through his labours in pulpit and confessional, which led Archbishop Murray's eulogist to call Kenney ‘the apostle of modern Dublin’.
Louis McRedmond, To the greater glory: a history of the Irish Jesuits (1991); Patrick J. Corish, Maynooth College, 1795–1995 (1995); Thomas Morrissey, As one sent: Peter Kenney SJ 1779–1841, his mission in Ireland and North America (1996); ODNB
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/jesuitica-going-multi-denominational/
JESUITICA: Going multi-denominational
In founding Clongowes, Fr Peter Kenney told Sir Robert Peel that he intended to establish a lay school for education of Protestants as well as Catholics. Jesuits had made such moves before. In 1687, with royal sponsorship, they opened a school in the Chancellor’s House in the Royal Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh. It lasted only a year, but its prospectus is an object lesson in the virtues of religious tolerance and educational opportunity. Its book of rules begins with the welcome news that the scholars shall be taught gratis; nor shall they be at any farther charges or expenses than the buying of their own pens, ink, paper and books. The prospectus was copied in founding other Jesuit schools, and remains instructive today. Read more “Although youths of different professions, whether Catholics or Protestants, come to these schools, yet in teaching all, there shall be no distinction made, but all shall be taught with equal diligence and care, and every one shall be promoted according to his deserts. There shall not be, either by masters or scholars, any tampering or meddling to persuade any one from the profession of his own religion; but there shall be all freedom for every one to practise what religion he shall please, and none shall be less esteemed or favoured for being of a different religion from others. None shall upbraid or reproach any one on the account of religion; and when the exercise of religion shall be practised, as hearing Mass, catechising, or preaching, or any other, it shall be lawful for any Protestant, without any molestation or trouble to absent himself from such public exercise, if he please.”
Behind this were agreed moral norms: “All shall be taught to keep God’s Commandments, and therefore none shall be permitted to lie, swear or curse, or talk uncivil discourse. None shall fight or quarrel with one another.”
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 7th Year No 3 1932
Father Peter Kenney Saves the Scholastic Method
On the occasion of the Congregation of 1829 the Fathers had to deal with the question of the direction of studies, and with the means of bringing the old Ratio Studiorum into line with the requirements of modern times. The principal matter under discussion was the use of the scientific method in dealing with sacred studies. The majority, having completed their studies in seminaries or in lay universities, according to the system then in vogue, showed themselves hostile to the “metodo scolastico” and favored the “metodo dissertivo”.
But Father Kenny, a gifted orator, at that time Superior of the Irish mission, addressing the Fathers, made a spirited and vigorous defence of the Scholastic method. He recalled
how deeply the Church and the Society were indebted to it, how the most distinguished men had been trained on that system, and how the enemies of religion had belittled and assailed it precisely because of its force and perfection. He concluded by affirming that by rejecting the Scholastic method they should not have carried out a work of construction but one of destruction.
All were carried away by the eloquent words of Father Kenny so much so that the Congregation declared unanimously that as in the past, the Scholastic method should remain as a sacred patrimony of the Society, and that the questions of “scientist media” and others commonly held by the theologians of the Society, should be considered as anything but useless and obsolete.
It were difficult to describe with what warmth Father Roothan applauded the eloquent words of the orator, He entertained for Father Kenny such affection and gratitude that he declared him to be a signal benefactor of the Society, and attributed to him the merit of having replaced the Society's true method and, true doctrine in its honoured position. He concluded by saying that were it not contrary to the practices of the Society a monument should be erected to him as a mark of that Society's everlasting gratitude.
The above is taken from a “Life of Very Rev. J. Roothan General of the Society”, written in Italian by Father P. Pirri.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ The Irish Jesuits Vol 1 1962
A MODERN APOSTLE OF DUBLIN
FR PETER KENNEY SJ (1779-1841)
Just a hundred years ago, on 19th November 1841, Father Peter Kenney, S.J., the founder of the Irish Province of the restored Society of Jesus, died in Rome. Few men played so large a part in the Catholic Renaissance which marked the opening half of the nineteenth century in Ireland. On his death Dr. Murray, then Archbishop of Dublin, said that Rome alone was worthy to be the scene of Fr. Kenney's death; some ten years later Mgr. Meagher, in a sketch of the dead Archbishop's life, called Fr. Peter Kenney the Apostle of Dublin.(1) To-day, one hundred years after his death, Dublin has forgotten almost all but the name of her great Apostle.
Peter Kenney was born a Dubliner on 7th July, 1779, just six years after the Suppression of the Society of Jesus. Of his early years we have no very full record; he was already a young man of twenty-three when he entered Carlow College to begin his philosophy in 1802. While quite a boy he was apprenticed to a coach-builder and spent his days in the work-shop. Like many another ambitious lad he profited by Dr. Betagh's evening school in Saul's Court, off Fishamble Street, and every evening when his work was done he took his place in the old cellar where Dr. Betagh taught his free school, and where, as Dr. Blake, Bishop of Dromore, tells us “three hundred boys, poor in everything but genius and spirit, receive their education every evening, and where more than 3,000 have been already educated”. Dr. Betagh, carrying on the work of his confrère, Fr. John Austin, S.J., rewarded the more diligent of his pupils with a full classical education ; his school in fact did duty for a Diocesan Seminary for Dublin and Meath, and besides Peter Kenney numbered among its pupils Dr. Murray, Dr. Blake, Mgr. Yore and many others who did so much for the Church in the early nineteenth century.
The future Apostle of Dublin early showed his marked talent for preaching. While still an apprentice he used to treat his fellow-workers to versions of the sermon he had heard the previous Sunday. One day his master entered the work-shop and found young Kenney, mounted on a chair, preaching a sermon to his fellows who were gathered round him. “This will never do”, cried the master in a rage, “idling the apprentices! You'll be sure to be at it again. Walk off now; and never show your face here again”. Thus a sudden end was brought to his youthful apostolate and poor Peter's zeal had lost him his job. Much put out by his dismissal he stayed away from the evening school. But Dr. Betagh soon missed him and decided to find out what had happened to him. He feared that there had been some trouble at home, but when he questioned Peter the young lad admitted that he had been trying to preach to his fellow-workers and had been dismissed for his pains. From that day Peter and Dr. Betagh became fast friends. Realising the great zeal and ability of the boy he decided to give him every chance to become a real preacher, and, perhaps if God willed it, he might yet become a worker for Christ in Dr. Betagh's old Society now slowly rising from the tomb. (2)
In 1802 Dr. Betagh sent him to Carlow College to begin his higher studies. Here his powers as a preacher were more appreciated. It was customary for the students to preach in turn before their professors and companions. Young Kenney was chosen to preach On “The Dignity of the Priesthood” and so well did he grip his audience that at the end of the sermon they greeted him with rounds of applause in which the President joined heartily.
On 20th September 1804, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Hodder near Stonyhurst. Of his noviceship we have little record; his future life seems to point to the thoroughness with which he made it. But once again his powers as an orator proved troublesome. On the authority of Fr, Postlewhite, a fellow-novice of his, we know that he was told to leave the refectory pulpit by Fr. Charles Plowden, his novice-master, as the novices were spell-bound by his sermon and listened to him intently at the expense of their dinner. After his noviceship he studied mathematics and natural philosophy at Stonyhurst with much success. His health, however, became poor, and he suffered a great deal from his eyes. His Superiors thought a change of climate would prove beneficial and so he was sent to Palermo in Sicily to read his course in theology.
In Palermo he quickly made his mark; in a letter of the Procurator General of the Society of Jesus to Fr. Plowden he is referred to as “l'incomparabile Kenney” and even in his first year's theology he is said to have spoken “da maestro”. At the end of his course he defended his theology in a public disputation with great distinction. And yet while working at his theology he found time also for apostolic work. Ordained in 1808 he was shortly afterwards appointed chaplain to the British soldiers in Sicily. The Governor of Malta objected to this and asked him to give up his work among the soldiers. Fr. Kenney replied that as he was ordered by his General to act as chaplain he could not abandon his work unless he received a written order from the Governor to do so. As the Governor was determined to force him to give up his ministry he wrote the necessary order forbidding him to act as chaplain to the troops. Later Grattan raised the question at Westminster; the Prime Minister, Perceval, denied that any such order was ever given. Fortunately, however, the document had been preserved and was forwarded to the Prime Minister by Dr. Troy. As a result Catholic soldiers were from that time given liberty of conscience.
Sicily at this period was occupied by British troops who were defending it for the King of Naples against the French who had already driven the King out of his kingdom of Naples. The Pope, Pius VII, was a prisoner of the French in Rome and a daring attempt to free him was determined upon in which Fr. Kenney was invited to play a leading part. He was told by his Superior to be ready to set sail within an hour's time on a British man-of-war, bound for Civita Vecchia. When the frigate, which was commanded by Captain (afterwards Admiral) Cockburn, reached the Papal port Fr. Kenney remained aboard while his companion Fr. Angiolini went on to Rome to propose to the Pope that he should leave Rome, come aboard the man-of War and sail for England where the British Government were willing to put a residence at his disposal until the French were driven out of Rome. However, the Pope preferred to remain with his stricken flock and so the project fell through. Captain Cockburn was charmed with his two Jesuit guests and was afterwards fond of recounting that he alone of His Majesty's Navy could boast of the honour of being ordered to hold himself and his ship at the disposal of two Jesuits with a view of bringing the Pope to England.
Dr. Betagh died on the 16th February, 1811; he was the last surviving Irish member of the old Society of Jesus. Towards the close of his life his friends often used to say to him: “Oh! Dr. Betagh, what will become of us all when you go to heaven?” To such questionings Dr. Betagh, it is said, always answered : “No matter; I am old and stupid ; but there is a young cock coming from Sicily that will crow ten times as loudly as ever I could”.
Just ten months after his death in November 1811, Fr. Peter Kenney, accompanied by ty. Dinan and Fr. Gahan, arrived in Dublin from Palermo to prepare the way for the new Irish mission of the restored Society of Jesus. He took a house on George's Hill, beside the Presentation Convent which his old friend and former master in Dr. Betagh's classical Academy, Fr. James Philip Mulcaile S.J., had helped to found ; thus the first Residence of the restored Society was in the middle of St. Michan's parish which had been so faithfully served by the Jesuits of earlier times.
Dr. Betagh had succeeded Fr. Mulcaile as Vicar-General of the Diocese and by his great sanctity, learning and zeal had become one of the greatest figures of the Irish Church. Dr. Troy and his clergy were, therefore, doubly warm in their welcome of Fr. Kenney to whom they looked to carry on the Venerable Betagh's work. On his arrival in Dublin in 1811 Fr. Kenney was a young man of thirty-two. Between 5 foot 7 inches and 5 foot 8 inches in height he looked a good deal taller because of his large build and his majestic bearing. His face was not regular, though some of his features were very fine; his forehead noble, his eyebrows massive, his eyes most brilliant and piercing, though winning, his mouth and the under portion of his face full of strength, it up at times with a sweet smile. Though his limbs were irregularly formed yet few seem to have noticed this so carried away were they by the sweeping effect of his strong personality. Richard Lalor Sheil wrote this description of him ; “His rectilinear forehead is strongly indented, satire sits upon his thin lips, and a livid hue is spread over a quadrangular face the sunken cheeks of which exhibit the united effects of monastic abstinence and meditation”. (3)
Fr. Kenney lost no time in getting to work; preaching, hearing confessions, giving missions, all these he undertook and with great fruit. He was not long in Dublin, however, before the Archbishop, Dr. Troy, and his co-adjutor, Dr. Murray, began to beg of him to take on the Presidency of Maynooth. For many reasons Fr. Kenney was slow to accept this responsible position, in the end he consented to act as Vice-President for one year during which time Dr Murray was to act as President. Writing to the Archbishop in October, 1812, Fr. Kenney pointed out : “Nothing could be more foreign to my intention and to the wishes of my religious brethren than a situation in Maynooth College. I, however, yield to your Grace's desire and opinion that in my actual circumstances, the greater glory of God may be more effectually procured there than in my present situation, Your Grace's anxiety on this head is now removed, since I promise to go for the ensuing year, provided a duty more directly mine does not necessarily call me thence before the expiration of that time. I must, however, earnestly request that if your Grace meet in the interim with a person who would accept the proposed situation I may be allowed to spend in the humble domestic library of George's Hill, not as yet arranged, the hours that I can spare from missionary labours”. (4)
The Archbishop was glad to have Fr. Kenney's services even for a year and he had every reason to be delighted with his prudent and skilful rule which was most fruitful in the fervent spirit of piety and study and in the exact observance of discipline which he instilled into the students. His memory has long been held in grateful and kindly memory in Maynooth where his portrait hangs in the Students' Refectory. Besides his year of office he had frequent contacts with the College in later years giving retreats to the Students and to the Priests from time to time. While Vice-President he proposed points for meditation to the students regularly and these were eagerly copied down and continued to circulate in Maynooth for many years afterwards. I have one copy-book of these meditations before me as I write these lines. Dr. Patrick Murray, the great Maynooth theologian, in some MSS. reminiscences of Fr. Kenney, published after his death, in 1869, states : “The first trace of his (Fr. Kenney's) luminous and powerful mind I saw was in some MSS, meditations which he composed during the short period of his holding the office of Vice-President in Maynooth November, 1812 November, 1813), and copies of which were handed down through some of the College officials. It was in the second or third year of my course (I entered College at the end of August, 1829) that I was fortunate enough to obtain the loan of a copy of some of these meditations - how I now utterly forget. But I remember well that I was quite enchanted with them; they were so different from any thing I had up to that time seen. I transcribed as many of them as I could—they were given me only for a short time-into a blank paper-book which I still have in my possession”. (5)
Fr. Kenney's reluctance to remain longer than a year in Maynooth was due to his anxiety to establish as soon as possible a Jesuit College for boys. The Fathers of the old Society had always believed that the day would come when the Society would once more flourish. To provide for this new dawn they had carefully husbanded the resources of the old mission and these with some legacies and the accumulated interest now amounted to the goodly sum of £32,000. With this capital behind him Fr. Kenney began to look about for a suitable home for his new College. The Jesuit tradition had been to have their schools in the cities or near them, and from this point of view Rathfarnham Castle seemed a good site. However, it was thought that it would be more prudent not to open a Jesuit school so near Dublin Castle. Fr. Kenney wrote to Dr. Plunkett, the Bishop of Meath, about his plans and the difficulties in the way; the following is part of Dr. Plunkett's reply, dated 25th January, 1813 :
"My dear and Rev. Vice-President,
Having been so long honoured with the very obliging letter you were so good as to write to me, I cannot suffer the bearer, Mr. Rourke, who is going to place himself under your care, to withdraw from us without a line of thanks for your late communication. I have been educated in this kingdom by the pious and amiable Mr. Austin. afterwards in a seminary ever attached to your Society, the seminary in Paris which gave you the venerable Mr. Mulcaile. I naturally feel a most sincere desire of seeing your revival commence amongst us in one shape or other, as soon as circumstances will allow. That a combination of such favourable circumstances approaches rather slowly I am not surprised. Few great undertakings advance fast to maturity ; obstacles of various kinds stand in the way. Active zeal is a powerful instrument well calculated to remove them, but must be accompanied with patience, prudence, caution and foresight. Dunboyne Castle, for the reason you mention, cannot be thought of at present; it is perhaps, also, too near Maynooth. Balbriggan, as to situation, would suit you better, not however, without considerable expense. I mean the house at Inch. I saw it some years ago. No striking idea of it remains in my mind. A convenient extensive building would appear there to great advantage. To the price or rent asked for the ground I should not very much object; we pay here higher for chosen spots of land. I should prefer purchasing if it could be done. Building, whatever advantages might attend it, would be tedious. There are in this county a few ancient mansions, some one of which your cordial friend Mr. Grainger, my most excellent neighbour, thinks ere long may be disposed of. It would afford you every thing desirable. Divine Providence is perhaps preparing a place of this sort for you. Your friends in England are, perhaps, waiting to be informed that such a place is attainable. It would, I humbly imagine, be worth waiting for. In the meantime your actual highly respectable occupations do not estrange you from your vocation ; out of your own sphere scarcely could they be more conformable to it. I am inclined to think that the esteem and respect entertained for you in the College, and the reputation you there and throughout the kingdom enjoy, have a closer connection than is apprehended with the designs of the Divine Founder of our holy religion. It has at times occurred to me that the Capital would be the situation most advantageous for your principal residence; because the means of cultivating learning, and kindling the fire of the true religion, which the Saviour of the world came to spread on earth, abound chiefly in great cities. ...” (6)
Towards the close of the same year, Fr. Kenney decided that the Wogan Browne's family seat, Castle Browne, formerly known as Clongowes Wood, would provide a suitable home for the first College of the Society. Details of the purchase were hardly fixed before the alarm that the Jesuits were plotting against the Government went abroad. Fr. Kenney was summoned before Peel, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, to explain his position. Dr. Corcoran, S.J., has printed an account of part of this interview in The Clongowes Record to which we also refer the reader for a full account of the early years of Clongowes, whose history is inseparably linked with that of Fr. Kenney. The following less well-known account of the interview from Lord Colechester's Diary will show how good a match Fr. Kenney was for Peel.
“May 29th, 1814 : Peel called by appointment. Talked over the Church fermentation about Quarantotti's letter and Dr. Kenney's foundation of the school of Clongowes Wood, late Castle Browne. Kenney's conversation with him asserting the £16,000 to be his own funds, though how obtained he refused to disclose and that when his vow of poverty was objected to him in bar of his being the proprietor of such funds he said that his vow was simple not solemn. (7) To all questions he generally answered by putting some other question instead of giving an affirmative or negative. He admitted that he was in early expectation of two Jesuits from Sicily, Wolfe and Esmonde, whose fathers and brothers respectively had been hanged in Ireland as traitors, and that he proposed to employ these two men as Professors in the College. (8)
Despite the refusal of the Protestant Bishop of Kildare to grant a licence for the new school and the lively interest of Dublin Castle in all his proceedings, Fr. Kenney opened Clongowes in May, 1814; by December, 1816, there were 200 pupils in the house. Fr. Plowden, S.J., of Stonyhurst wrote in October of that year: “I must tell you that the most heartfelt comfort which I have enjoyed these many years comes from Mr. Simpson's report (which fills Stonyhurst) of the excellent arrangements, order, progress, and success of your new establishment. It shows what one intelligent and active man can achieve”. (9)
The boys in Clongowes both then and later always called him "”he great Kenney”; his Sunday instructions were indescribably impressive, according to some of his pupils; he seems to have been able to grip their attention completely and to have won their confidence as the kindest of fathers. He loved talking to boys and engaging them in discussions. On one occasion probably after his return from America, “he was heard to give a brilliant exposition of the American constitution, which he very much admired, and he unconsciously delivered for twenty minutes before a large company what might be called a masterly statement that would have carried the admiration of any Senate - all were amazed and enchanted”.
Besides being Rector of Clongowes he was also Superior of the Irish Mission. Plans for a Residence in Dublin and for a novitiate occupied his attention but did not prevent him from satisfying the constant demand from Bishops and priests for retreats, missions, sermons and advice. In a short account like this his varied activities can only be barely indicated, but the reader will easily gather from their mere mention how closely Fr. Kenney was bound up with the life and development of the Irish Church. In February, 1815, Mary Aikenhead and her companion Mother Catherine Walsh returned from the Bar Convent in York to begin, under Dr. Murray's direction, the founding of the Irish Sisters of Charity. In all his plans for this new institute Dr. Murray constantly consulted Fr. Kenney, and when in September 1815, he had to return to Rome to give the opinion of the Irish Bishops on the Veto question he entrusted the care of the infant Congregation to Fr. Kenney. In September, 1817, Fr. Kenney preached on the occasion of the first public clothing of novices of the new Congregation; taking as his text the words of St. Paul : Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor. 7 v14) - “The Charity of Christ urgeth us”. From that day to this the text of that sermon has been used as the motto of the Irish Sisters of Charity. Later on Fr. Kenney introduced Fr. Robert St. Leger, the first Rector of the College of St. Stanislaus, Tullabeg, to Mother Aikenhead; in Fr. St. Leger, Fr. Kenney gave to the new Congregation a staunch and learned friend, to whom the Sisters owe their Rules and Constitutions which he modelled on those of St. Ignatius. (10)
The only criticism levelled against Fr. Kenney was that he was inclined to take on too much work. And yet in this matter of accepting extra work, though Superior of the Mission, he consulted his brethren. Fr. Aylmer records in his diary : “The letter from Mr. Kenney on the 3rd was to desire the opinions of Frs. Ferley, Butler and Aylmer with regard to his preaching a charity sermon in Cork at the request of the Bishop, Dr. Murphy, and, consequent to his accepting that of Cork, another in Limerick. The two former were of opinion that both ought to be accepted; the latter said that he did not entirely agree with them, because he thought that Fr. Kenney's frequent absence from the College, where he had so often declared that all were too young and not to be depended upon, was highly injurious. As to the propriety of preaching both sermons, Mr. Kenney himself could alone determine, as he alone knew the circumstances and situation of affairs”. (11)
Fr. Kenney seems to have followed Fr. Aylmer's opinion and to have declined the sermons but in so gracious a way as to win this reply from Cork : “Your apology (for not preaching for the Poor Schools) was calculated to produce a different effect from what you intended, for the more the Committee heard of it, the more they seemed eager to hear yourself”. However his over-activity was soon forgiven him for, if we may anticipate a little, Fr. Plowden wrote to him when on visitation in America in 1820 :
“The General, or rather Fr. Rosaven remarks as an inconsistency, that while you governed Clongowes complaints used to arrive of your conduct, and that now all Clongowes re-demands you loudly, as indispensably necessary for the support of the Irish mission”. (12)
Before Fr. Kenney left Ireland to make his first Visitation of the Maryland Mission in July, 1819, he had founded besides Clongowes, the Jesuit Residence attached to Hardwicke St. Church and the College at Tullabeg, but we shall have to reserve details of these foundations for some other occasion.
The new Mission in Maryland needed help in its difficult task of reorganisation and Fr. Kenney's great skill as an administrator, coupled with his prudence and discretion, made him ideally suited for the difficult position of Visitor. During the few months he remained in the United States he did excellent work the full fruits of which he was to witness ten years later when Fr. John Roothaan sent him to make a second visitation of the Mission in 1830. Though absent from Ireland for less than a year on this first visitation he was greatly missed. Fr. Plowden writes to him on September 24th, 1819 : “You are much missed and wanted in Ireland. As soon as I heard of your being elected by the diocesan clergy Co-adjutor to Dr. Sughrue (Bishop of Kerry), I wrote to Rome to engage our friends to frustrate the measure by every means in their power. We know now that the Lord Lieutenant has publicly notified that the election of Mr. Kenney to a bishopric is disapproved of by the Government. What a dreadful man you are! It seems your conference with Mr. Peel terrified the Ministers. All this makes me smile....” (13)
But the bishopric of Kerry was not the only honour which Fr. Kenney had to take steps to avoid; later on we shall see how anxious the American bishops were to have him as a confrère. Even now on his first visit to the States many influential people were anxious to keep him there. He wrote to Fr. Aylmer from Georgetown on October 5th, 1819 :
“I arrived at New York on the 9th ult. Matters are not so bad as they were made to appear. The General has been more plagued than he ought to have been.
All parties seem glad that a visitation has been instituted by the General.
I assure you that I have not the least intention or wish that you should take any measure to prevent the success of the Archbishop's efforts. In strict impartiality, after contrasting the wants of this country with my obligations to the Irish Mission, I have resolved to guard cautiously that religious indifference that leaves the subject sicut baculum in manu senis. Were I at my own disposal, I should think it almost a crime to return from any motive of affection or attachment to those comforts and sympathies which I shall never enjoy outside Ireland.
Were a man fit to do no more than catechize the children and slaves he ought to consider his being on the spot, by the will of God, a proof that it is most pleasing to God to remain amongst them, and so sacrifice every gratification under heaven to the existing wants of Catholicity, I shall not even lift my hand to influence the General one way or the other, because I am unwilling and unable to decide between the claims of the Irish Mission and the wants of this, when I am myself the subject of discussion”. (14)
However Ireland was not to be deprived of so valued a son and in the following August (1820) he returned to Dublin. On his arrival he took up duties as Superior of Hardwicke Street; in the next year he was reappointed Superior of the Mission and Rector of Clongowes. His work in Clongowes has been treated of elsewhere, and so here we shall give it scant mention; there were many worrying moments when the old outcry against the Jesuits was raised again, and it took all Fr. Kenney's influence and tact to avert the storm.
It was during this period between his American visitations that Fr. Kenney's greatest work as a preacher was done. On almost every big occasion he was invited to fill the pulpit. Thus he preached the panegyric of Dr. Troy in 1823, the consecration sermon of Dr. Crolly in 1825, the first appeal for the Propagation of the Faith ever preached in Dublin, and the great Jubilee of 1826. Dr. Murray opened the Jubilee on 8th March, 1826, in the new Church of the Immaculate Conception (the Pro Cathedral). Every day for a month Fr. Kenney addressed the faithful with commanding eloquence which achieved the most astonishing conversions. Mgr. Meagher tells us that the confessionals were crowded almost without interruption by unprecedented multitudes. On the first morning of General Communion the Pro-Cathedral presented a spectacle such as Dublin had never before witnessed. The Church was packed to overflowing and every member of the vast congregation received Holy Communion. At the conclusion of the ceremonies Fr. Kenney led the people in a renovation of their Baptismal vows. Beholding the sight that met him as he ascended the pulpit he“burst forth into such strains of jubilation and thanksgiving, as made his overflowing audience almost beside themselves, while with uplifted hands and streaming eyes they literally shouted aloud their eternal renunciation of Satan and his works”. (15)
Dr. Patrick Murray, the Maynooth Professor, has left us his opinions of Fr. Kenney's powers :
“Fr. Kenney aimed not at the ear or the fancy but through the understanding at the heart. Not to steal it; he seized it at once and in his firm grasp held it beating quick in its rapt and willing captivity. ... The only other orator to whom I thought of comparing him was Daniel O'Connell. I recollect that while both were yet living I remarked in a conversation with a very intelligent friend on Fr. Kenney's great powers that he was ‘the O'Connell of the pulpit’. My friend not only agreed with me but expressed his surprise that the resemblance had never occurred to himself. The reason it did not occur to him was, no doubt, that ordinarily men do not think of searching for such comparisons out of the species; but set off pulpit orators against pulpit orators as they set bar orators against bar orators, and parliamentary against parliamentary.
Overwhelming strength and all-subduing pathos were the leading, as they were the common, characteristics of these two extraordinary men. I say nothing of clearness, precision, and those other conditions which must be found in all good composition, whether written or spoken, and especially in oratory addressed to the many; without which all seeming or so-called eloquence is mere hurdy gurdy clattering. Also I say nothing of O'Connell's inimitable and irresistible humour. There are undoubtedly certain occasions on which this talent may be exercised in the pulpit. But Fr. Kenney, if he possessed it, never in the least degree displayed it. I never saw a more serious countenance than his was on every occasion of my hearing him. Not solemn, not severe, but serious and attractively and winningly so. There he stood - or sat as the case might be - as if he had a special commission direct from heaven on the due discharge of which might depend his own salvation and that of every soul present. Indeed so deeply did he seem to be penetrated with the importance of his sacred theme, so entirely did the persuasion of that importance display itself in his whole manner that his discourses appeared to be the simple utterances of what his heart and soul had learned and digested in a long and absorbing meditation before the crucifix. That they were often in fact such utterances I have no doubt whatever ; one instance of this I once, by mere accident, happened to witness with my own eyes.
In another point he also strikingly resembled O'Connell. He never indulged in those poetic flights of mere fancy which delight only or mainly for their own sake. Imagination, of course, he had and of a high order, too; otherwise he could never have been a true orator. But it was imagination subservient not dominant; penetrating the main idea as a kindling spark of life, not glittering idly round about it; the woof interwoven with the warp not the gaudy fringe dangling at the end of the texture. You will find none of these poetic flights to which I allude, in Demosthenes, or Cicero in Chrysostome or Bourdaloue; and where they are found in modern orators of high name they are blemishes not beauties. Of course, too, he had great felicity of diction, which is equally essential - using the very words and phrases which above all others exactly suited the thought and set it off in its best light, so that the substitution of any words would be at once felt as an injury like the touch of an inferior artist covering the delicate lines of a master....
Fr. Kenney, like O'Connell, attained the highest perfection of his art which consists in so appearing that no. one ever dreams of any culture or art having been used at all, according to the hackneyed phrase summae artis autem celare artem. So perfect was O'Connell in this respect that though I heard him very often in the winter of 1837-8 and the following years it never once entered my mind to suspect that he had ever given any great attention to oratory as an art; his delivery always appearing to me spontaneous and unstudied as are the movements and prattle of a child. It was only after his death that I learned from some published memorials of him, and was at the time surprised to learn, that in early life he had taken great pains in forming his manner, and in particular that he had marked and studied with care the tones and modulations of voice for which the younger Pitt was so famous. Fr. Kenney, like O'Connell, hardly used any gestures. His voice was powerful and at the same time pleasing, but I I do not ever remember to have heard from him any of those soft pathetic tones sometimes used by O'Connell which winged his words to the heart and the sound of which even at this distant period still seems to vibrate in my ears.
Fr. Kenney was eminently a theological preacher, and this too without the slightest tinge of that pedantry and affectation always so offensive to good taste, but particularly so in the pulpit. Indeed he was the only preacher I ever heard who possessed the marvellous power of fusing the hardest and most abstruse scholasticisms into forms that.at once imparted to them clearness and simplicity and beauty without in the least degree lessening their weight and dignity.....” (16)
Dr. Murray was not alone in thinking Fr. Kenney an outstanding orator. One old bishop used to recall the over mastering tenderness and vehemence of his apostrophes to the crucifix, which he delivered with streaming eyes on some occasions ; this same bishop declared that his vivid recollection of Fr. Kenney's preaching had made him unable to relish any other preacher however eminent, even Fr. Tom Burke himself. Fr. Aylmer, who was an effective preacher, used to say that his greatest humiliation was to have to preach from the same altar steps from which Fr. Kenney had electrified the congregation on the previous Sunday, So packed was the church when he preached that the congregation overflowed out on to the street; his following numbered all classes. It is said that Grattan used to admire his eloquence greatly and used to attend his sermons at Hardwicke Street.
As this account of Fr. Kenney's career has already grown too long we can make no mention of Fr. Kenney's close connection with the Presentation Convent on George's Hill. We must, however
Functions, occupations and activities
Mandates/sources of authority
Identifier of related entity
Category of relationship
Type of relationship
Kenney, Peter J, 1779-1841, Jesuit priest and educator
Dates of relationship
Description of relationship
Identifier of related entity
Category of relationship
Type of relationship
Kenney, Peter J, 1779-1841, Jesuit priest and educator
Dates of relationship
Description of relationship
Access points area
Subject access points
Place access points
- England » Lancashire » Clitheroe » Stonyhurst College » Hodder Place
- Italy » Rome
- England » Lancashire » Clitheroe » Stonyhurst College
- Italy » Sicily » Palermo
- County Offaly (King's) » Ballycowan (Bar.) » Tullabeg
- County Kildare » Maynooth
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Saul’s Court
- County Carlow » Carlow Town » Carlow College
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Church Street » St Michan's Church (Anglican)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Upper Gardiner Street » St Francis Xavier's Residence
- Italy » Sicily » Palermo » University of Palermo
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Hardwicke Street
- Italy » Rome » Chiesa del Gesù
- County Dublin » Dublin City » George's Hill
- Italy » Rome » Professed house (Rome)
- County Limerick » Limerick City » O'Connell Street (Limerick)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Wood Quay » Christchurch Place » Skinner's Row School
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Upper Gardiner Street » St Francis Xavier's Church (Roman Catholic)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Great Denmark Street » Belvedere College SJ
- County Offaly (King's) » Ballycowan (Bar.) » Tullabeg » St Stanislaus College
- Ireland » Diocese of Kerry, Roman Catholic
- United States of America » Washington D. C. » O Street NW » Georgetown University
- County Kildare » Clane » Clongowes Wood College SJ
- United States of America » Missouri » St Louis » North Grand Boulevard » St Louis University
- United States of America » Ohio » Cincinnati » East 8th Street » Archdiocese of Cincinnati
- United States of America » New York » New York City » Manhattan » 1st Avenue » Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
- United States of America » Pennsylvania » Philadelphia » North 17th Street » Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Authority record identifier