Coming from an Irish-American family, the Catholic Church was always part of Fr. Brian Kennedy’s life, but the universality of the Church eluded him.

April 24, 2018; Brian Kennedy (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

He grew up in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota a city of 2,300 people and didn’t begin encountering religious orders until attending a Steubenville youth conference in high school. He remembers Franciscan Friars of the Renewal being the first religious community he met. Fr. Kennedy also visited the University of Notre Dame, which was founded by a Congregation of Holy Cross priest more than 175 years ago.

“I felt right away there was a certain energy and a zeal,” Fr. Kennedy said. When it came time to pick a college, the only Kennedy boy — he’s sandwiched between two sisters — decided Notre Dame’s Old College would be the perfect place to continue discernment.

“Everything I had read about them and heard were in line with my passions,” Fr. Kennedy said, naming the Holy Cross’s commitment to education and teaching, plus parish and missionary life. “I had great interest in becoming an educator in the faith. That need for Christian catechesis was very important to me.”

Turns out his final year before ordination has allowed Fr. Kennedy to share some of that catechesis in the Diocese of Phoenix. He served his diaconate year at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear where he taught junior high religion, practiced preaching at Mass, baptized a lot of babies and, just a week before his own April 27 ordination, led 44 people into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.

His first priestly assignment has allowed him to continue on at St. John Vianney as one of three parochial vicars. Fr. Kennedy looks forward to further embracing the priesthood, particularly celebrating the sacraments.

“I’ve had some amazing visits with people in the hospital,” Fr. Kennedy said. He presided over a couple of funerals as a transitional deacon and one wedding.

Fr. Kennedy is excited to see what more the Lord has in store for his priesthood. He already was afforded the opportunity to venerate the incorrupt heart of his parish’s namesake when a national tour brought it to Goodyear last month.

Recently ordained Fr. Brian Kennedy, CSC, holds the incorrupt heart relic of St. John Vianney during its stop at the saint’s namesake parish in Goodyear as part of a national tour. Fr. Kennedy is the parochial vicar of St. John Vianney Parish, where he’d served as a deacon prior to his ordination. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“That was a week after my ordination and I was praying with the heart of the patron of parish priests,” Fr. Kennedy said.

He went from there to the priest convocation for those serving in the Diocese of Phoenix. “I feel very much part of the presbyterate here,” Fr. Kennedy said.

And the greater community has every reason to embrace him as a local. He’s an Eagle Scout who enjoys the outdoors, so during cooler temperatures, keep an eye out for him on the trail in any Maricopa County Park. He’s a pass holder.

“Being out in nature, especially in the desert here is invigorating,” Fr. Kennedy said.

The priest is also environmentally conscious. “You can imagine his delight in serving a 100-percent solar-powered parish,” Sarabeth Schmiskie, business manager at St. John Vianney said during his ordination Mass.

Schmiskie and her husband, Jared, served as Fr. Kennedy’s “electors” by testifying that they found him worthy of the priesthood. They each read brief prepared statements. Sarabeth’s statement also touted his thoughtful contributions and feedback on the finance council and spoke in Spanish about the priest’s ability to serve the parish’s distinct cultures and traditions with open arms.

Cued up slightly early to catch a good glimpse of Fr. Tom Eckert, C.S.C., pastor of St. John Vianney, followed by the Schmiskies’ testimony.

Jared Schmiskie served with the then Dcn. Kennedy in the RCIA program.

“He puts his knowledge from seminary to good use as he explains the intricacies of our faith. He is great at addressing even the most complicated teaching in a way that is easy to understand,” Jared said.

Fr. Kennedy said his is the first vocation in the family that members know of and they’re very excited. His grandfather, in particular, encouraged his prayer life and discernment, and his parents journeyed with him, too.

Fr. Kennedy also has a close connection with another well-known Holy Cross priest: Bishop Bill Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who many Phoenicians know from his days as director of André House. Bishop Wack was the ordaining bishop for Fr. Kennedy and four others, but was pastor at an Austin parish when Fr. Kennedy was assigned there for his pastoral year.

Fr. Kennedy was honored to serve holy Communion alongside him during his Ordination Mass. He also noted the laying on of hands as a key moment. More than 100 priests filed past him as he knelt before the altar and laid their hands on his head, invoking the Holy Spirit.

“It was a very powerful moment of prayer. That was one of the moments of the liturgy where I could feel Jesus the most,” Fr. Kennedy said. “Some of them were so gentle and so warm, the touch, it might as well have been the hands of Jesus.”