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After Wall Street and business world, over past 25 years Father Kennedy has served as parish priest and teacher

Father Kevin Kennedy greets a family after his 2016 installation as the new pastor at St. Gabriel Parish in Washington, D.C. This year, the parish marks its centennial, and Father Kennedy is celebrating his 25th anniversary as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. (CS file photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

As he marks the 25th anniversary of his priesthood, Father Kevin Kennedy could say that God had a “business plan” for his life, because his road to the priesthood wound through working as a trading supervisor on Wall Street, earning an MBA and partnering in a successful business before ultimately feeling a call to be a priest while volunteering at a parish. 

Along the way, Father Kennedy, now the pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Washington, D.C., gained skills that he has used as a parish priest and in teaching at The Catholic University of America.

“When I first felt called to the priesthood, I asked God why I had wasted so much time, money, and effort to develop a business career when God knew I was destined for priesthood. God’s wisdom is such that those experiences of entrepreneurial spirit and leadership were a preface for my vocation,” said Father Kennedy, who after his 1995 ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington earned a doctorate from Catholic University in the combined disciplines of theology and organizational development. 

A native of New York City, he grew up as the youngest of eight children of Veronica MacGuire and Matthew Kennedy.

“We were a typically big Irish Catholic family. We attended Saint Francis de Sales Parish and School,” he said. “We always had to take a bath on Saturday night to get ready for church on Sunday morning. Sunday Mass was followed by a big Irish breakfast, complete with blood pudding and rashers.”

After earning a finance degree from Baruch College in New York in 1982, he worked as a supervisor for NASDAQ on a new electronic, inter-market trading system. “I did not realize I was on the cutting edge of a technological revolution in the securities industry,” said the future priest, who later worked for an investment firm. 

Reflecting on those years, he said, “While working on Wall Street, I was keenly interested in advancing my career, dating, traveling, the arts, and horseback riding. There was no consideration of church.”

Then when he was studying for his master’s in business administration at Purdue University in Indiana, a friend invited him to attend Mass at the parish on campus. At that point, he had stopped going to Mass for about 10 years.

At that parish, he said he found a church full of young people, and a priest who preached with excitement about the Scriptures. “It was a vibrant community, and I felt a spirit of joy emanating from them,” he said. “Eventually I realized that the people of that parish led me to the person of Jesus.”

Then he moved to the Washington area as a partner in a medical research firm that was using new technologies to advance the development of cardiovascular medicines, and he said that business offered “a great experience of working with a very committed team.”

At that time, he had a home built in the Potomac area near Poolesville, and he attended Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Maryland, where he volunteered teaching religious education classes and serving as a Eucharistic minister.

“Ministry at Mother Seton Parish was my entree into applying some of my talents to pastoral life,” he said, adding that he had to study the faith to teach it to fourth graders. 

After reflecting on how much he enjoyed parish life, he decided to enter the seminary. As a seminarian, he spent summer months in Mexico in 1990 and later in 1995 just before his ordination, he spent a month visiting a parish and refugee camp in Guatemala on the border with Chiapas, Mexico.

In 1994, he had spent a summer with a small group of priests and religious sisters in El Salvador, an experience that he said “changed my life.”

“They had incredible courage and joy even though they had ministered during the 10-year civil war when every day their lives were in jeopardy. A few years earlier, two religious sisters from that parish where I worked had been raped and murdered,” he said. “Despite whatever fear they had, every day those priests and sisters went out and cared for people. The was an incredible witness of the Gospel in flesh.”

In a Catholic Standard profile for his ordination, Father Kennedy said that summer in El Salvador offered “an experience of the love of God in my life that I wanted to share with other people.”

Father Kennedy preaches at a 2018 Mass at St. Gabriel's Church in Washington, D.C. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

After his 1995 ordination to the priesthood, he served as a parochial vicar at Holy Redeemer in Kensington and St. Martin of Tours in Gaithersburg and as an administrator at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac. “The main benefit of each was the people who taught me how to be a priest in different circumstances,” he said.

In his first two assignments as a pastor, at St. Paul’s in Damascus from 2004-08 and then at St. Ambrose in Cheverly from 2008-16, Father Kennedy drew on his pastoral abilities and his business experiences. At St. Paul’s, which had a new church building but faced financial challenges and construction problems, he worked with parishioners to get the church finished and the parish on a sound financial footing. Within a few years, “ministries were flourishing (and) the parish was growing rapidly… It was a great experience.”

Then at St. Ambrose, he said the parish and its school were struggling financially, but that community likewise rallied and solidified its resources. That marked Father Kennedy’s first experience pastoring a bilingual community, and he expressed admiration for the “wonderful people” there.

Since 2016, Father Kennedy has served as pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Washington, which this year is marking its 100th anniversary. He praised the “beauty of diversity” there, saying the parishioners of different races, languages, cultures and ethnicities reflect how the diverse members of the early Church came together to form the Body of Christ.

For the past 12 years, Father Kennedy has been teaching two graduate seminar courses at Catholic University’s School of Religious Studies as an adjunct professor.

“We talk about the spirituality of leadership,” he said, noting that the seminars address pastoral skills such as team building, strategic pastoral planning and collaborative ministry. The priest who has an extensive business background added, “The foundation of every principle I teach comes from our faith.”

Father Kennedy turned 60 in March, the same month that as pastor he grappled with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown and its impact on parish ministry. During that time, the parish’s IT manager and volunteers helped him record bilingual Masses that are posted on the parish website, and the parish began putting out an e-bulletin three times a week with bilingual “video podcasts” from Father Kennedy. St. Gabriel’s also revved up its communications on social media and began holding virtual parish meetings.

“The world and the Church will never be the same. A disruption of this proportion will permanently change us,” he said. “I believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church to use this crisis as a conduit for renewal and vibrancy. We have to be attentive to opportunities and not just try to go back to the way things were before the pandemic.” 

For the former Wall Street trading supervisor, becoming a priest has offered spiritual dividends these past 25 years, for himself and for those he has been blessed to serve.

“Two things about the priesthood amaze me. The immediacy within which I enter into people’s lives. Whether it is celebrating the anointing of the sick with someone who is dying, dealing with a tragic event in a family, or helping a couple prepare for marriage, a priest is deep into people’s lives without much prologue. Secondly, I never would have imagined the experiences that I have had and the diversity of people that I have encountered,” Father Kennedy said. “It’s an incredibly rich life.”