|Vol. 17, No. 16
29 - Aug. 25, 2004
Hennessy Remembered at St.
Brendan's and Beyond
By MIRANDA KAPLAN
On Friday, July 16, the
entire block of East 207th Street between Bainbridge and Perry avenues
was closed to all motorists - except those headed for the Church of
St. Brendan. Police officers clustered at either end to admit
vehicles, which double-parked in long rows lining the street.
They had all come to honor the life of the Rev. Patrick Hennessy,
pastor of St. Brendan's Roman Catholic Church, who succumbed to a
four-year struggle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma on July 11. Cardinal
Edward Egan presided over the funeral Mass in the company of 110 other
priests. The church estimates that about 1,000 people attended the
service. The pews overflowed, and latecomers had to flatten themselves
against the walls and spill into the vestibule.
Many of those in attendance were parishioners at St. Brendan's, where
Hennessy served for only two years, but scores more who had known the
priest through his dedication to other churches and communities.
"They loved him at St. Brendan's, but they loved him from all
over," said Lois Harr of Bedford Park, a friend and longtime
colleague. "He was respected as a priest, and loved as a
Hennessy was born on July 27, 1945, and raised on Manhattan's Upper
West Side. After being ordained in 1971, he taught part-time at
Cathedral Prep High School and served at a series of churches in
Manhattan and the Bronx, including St. Mary's on White Plains Road. In
1987, Hennessy became the pastor of Christ the King Church in
Morrisania, where he remained for 12 years.
While there, Hennessy gained a reputation for activism through his
work with South Bronx Churches, a grassroots organization affiliated
with the Industrial Areas Foundation. In the early-to-mid-1990s, the
group was committed to strengthening education in District 9, then
infamous for corruption among school officials and poor performance
among students. Hennessy organized rallies and meetings and encouraged
students to attend the Bronx Leadership Academy, a school geared
toward community involvement and a partner of South Bronx Churches.
"He was interested in actions of justice, taking the gospel
really seriously in the present world," recalled Harr, who taught
at Christ the King School.
Harr also said he was passionate about making sure that children in
public school were able to attend religious education classes at
Christ the King.
In 1999, Hennessy left the Bronx to go on sabbatical, studying in Rome
for three months before traveling on to Australia and the Philippines.
He began to feel ill shortly before his return to the U.S. in the
spring of 2000, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Although
the cancer eventually went into remission after a variety of
treatments, Hennessy died just a couple of weeks before his 59th
"He trusted in God's plans for him," while in the hospital,
his sister, Sr. Christine
Hennessy, said in a eulogy. "He taught me a new word
- 'equanimity' - which means patience and calm . . .
Many times he mentioned how blessed he felt, looking back on his
Despite the circumstances, the atmosphere at St. Brendan's Friday
seemed less somber than fondly reverent. Groups gathered around
collages of photos from the priest's life and smiled at a list of
quirky sayings for which he was well known.
For Harr, Hennessy will best be remembered for "his
faithfulness and his generosity - those two things. He was
faithful to the life he had chosen, or probably he would say that it
chose him . . .He lived his whole life for his work."
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