Vol. 17, No. 16 July 29 - Aug. 25,  2004


Hennessy Remembered at St. Brendan's and Beyond 


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 priest."

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 birthday.

"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 life."

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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