Joseph Kenny - “Breaking the Mould: Priest unlike others”

Rev. Fr. [Prof.] Joseph Peter Kenny, OP. [1936-2013] of the Province of St Albert the Great, USA and a missionary in Nigeria.
Fr Joseph Peter Kenny, OP

“Sweet, they say, is the memory of the righteous, and their memory is blessed.” [Cf. Proverbs 10:7]

The renowned Dominican and my namesake, Fr Joseph Kenny lived a meaningful and fruitful 77 years, part of which he spent at St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, Ibadan in Oyo State, Nigeria. These years were lived in the fullness of love and service to God, the Church, and humanity, particularly in Nigeria and in African at large.

On 28 February 2017, a public lecture was organized in his honour by the Nigerian Field Society, with the theme, “Breaking the Mould: Priest unlike others”. The lecture was delivered by Dr. Patricia Oyebola [I was told she is Irish]. During that lecture, a lot was exposed on the life and person of Fr. Joe, both by the lecturer herself and by others who had been in contact with him. Several remarks and testimonies were given to buttress the fact that my namesake Fr Joe [whom I so much cherish, even though I never met him in person] was a good man. Fr Joseph, indeed, was a special creature of God.

Prior to this day, however, I have always felt the presence of Fr Joseph Kenny. In fact, the first time I saw his picture behind the Hall of Martyrs, along the corridor in the Priory, his continence was serene, I sensed that he was a great soul and I felt connected to him. Often times, I hear people say positive things about him, and how he influenced their lives for good. Hence, I sought to know who he really was. One of the Dominican friars once related to me how ‘the great Joe’ made the study of Greek simple and enjoyable for him to understand. I also discovered that he was the type of person that sacrifices his time, amidst his tight schedule, to attend to people who sought his audience, attention or help. Invariably, Fr Joe was a man of the people! Sometimes I do feel that I should have been at the Dominican Institute much earlier so that I could have seen him, meet him in person and have some discussions with him, but providence did otherwise. In any case, I consider those who were able to meet him in person as privileged.

In regards to his nationality, the great Joe who was a native of Chicago, USA is a man of dual citizenship - an American by birth and a Nigerian by naturalization. He came to Nigeria at the request of the Holy See for a resource person knowledgeable in Arabic and Islam. Having studied Arabic and Islam in Rome, Tunisia, and Cairo, he obtained his Ph.D at the University of Edinburgh. He was an eloquent preacher, and academically, he was an erudite scholar and a Catholic priest who sought religious harmony by becoming a scholar in the academic discipline mentioned above. A true follower and son of St. Dominic whom we can call the St. Thomas Aquinas of our time, as I consider him one of the intellectual colossi of the Order of Preachers in the twenty-first century.

Finally, just as the rainbow among other heavenly bodies is bless with beautiful colours, and the peacock among the birds, the humble Joe is blessed with many talents which he offered in his humble service to humanity. Among them is his ability to communicate in about thirteen different languages. According to Dr. Patricia Oyebola, Fr Joseph Kenny translated the psalms into Hausa language and preached in Arabic regularly at the Lebanese Church in Lagos; a typical example of the wise servant whose master rewarded greatly for putting into effective use what has been given to him [ Cf. Mt. 25: 14-30].

Fr. Prof. Joseph lived a worthy life and through his example of love, humility, frugality and sacrificial service has taught us the way to holiness and salvation. Many are the things which could be positively said about him, but I have just poured out few of them here with the hope that it edifies us all. Hoping and praying that one day, the cause for his canonization will be initiated.

By Bro Philomeno Maria Joseph Ishola, a member of the Philomenites of the Immaculate (PI) and a student at the Dominican Institute in Ibadan.



(21 March 2017)