Tom Kenny

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FATHER Tom Kenny, who has died at the age of 84 and who served as a parish priest for almost 60 years, was educated at St Bede’s Grammar School, Bradford, before entering the seminary at Ushaw.

He was ordained at St Walburga’s, Shipley, on July 24, 1954. His first appointment later that year was to St Catherine’s in Sheffield where he remained until May 1960 when he was transferred to St Augustine’s parish in Leeds.

In the five years at St Augustine’s, he developed his golfing prowess along with his involvement with the Scout movement. This involvement with the Scouts continued while Curate at St John’s, Normanton, 1965 to 1971, and also, at the same time, as School chaplain at St Wilfred’s, Featherstone.

From Normanton, he became parish priest of St Paul’s, Grimethorpe, where he built up the Catholic community as well as a new church, replacing the rather dilapidated building which he had inherited with a dual purpose building.

While in Grimethorpe, he attended a charismatic conference in Hawkstone Hall as a sceptical participant. He was “zapped” – overcome by the Spirit. On return from the conference his comment was: “I’ve said my prayers in the past – but I’ve never prayed.” This was a life changing experience which became the source and energy for his priestly life and ministry, his personal spirituality, preaching and enthusiasm.

On his next golfing day off, after a marvellous drive on the second tee he was heard to exclaim: “Praise the Lord! That’s how good my golf will be this coming year.” On topping his next shot, his partner exclaimed “Praise the Lord!” – with great joy and relish!

Father Tom was a man of generous hospitality by which he was able to demonstrate his cooking ability in his belief that sharing a meal is one of the building blocks of Christian community.

He was a committed supporter of the RCIA – Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – methodology and the importance and passion for Scripture in the individual’s faith journey.

During his 10 years as parish priest of St Matthew’s, Bradford, from 1978 until 1988, he built up a strong faith-based community along with a new church building and in developing his involvement with the RCIA he became aware of the need for continuing evangelisation.

On moving to English Martyrs, Wakefield, from 1988 to 2014, he felt a personal need to develop a deeper understanding of evangelisation and this led him to undertake an evangelisation course in America and he he instigated the training and practice of door-to-door evangelisation.

Subsequently, through the Charismatic Renewal he became aware of the Church of England’s Alpha course in Brompton, London, and he recognised the possibilities Alpha offered to the Catholic Church – hence “Catholic Alpha”.

Again he was instrumental in encouraging the development of Alpha in a Catholic context. In parallel with this, he was involved in the production of audio-visual material for teaching the Catholic Faith.

In the midst of all this he was aware that his own spirituality needed to be deepened by regular retreats. He was supported in this by the monthly meeting of the “Jesus Caritas” group to which he belonged.

Father Tom will be recognised by all as a forceful and determined character: a proverbial “bull in a china shop” with a heart of gold experienced by many who looked to him for healing, spiritual direction, support and guidance for the difficulties of life.

The past 14 years, including his time of retirement, 1988 to the present, saw another radical change in his life due to unsuccessful knee operations and subsequent amputation.

The forceful and determined character became the man of patience and equanimity who continued his ministry by continuing to offer guidance and spiritual direction up to the end.

Fr. Tom died suddenly on April 26 three months short of what would have been his diamond jubilee of ordination.