Young MaristsComment

David Kennerley Part I

Young MaristsComment
David Kennerley Part I

The following is a two-part series on the Provincial of the Society of Mary in New Zealand, David Kennerley. Dave has a wealth of experience in various ministries throughout the world, including within our National Network of Marist Schools. He shares with us the stories of his vocation and experiences throughout the world whilst serving others, but also offers challenging thoughts as he speaks of his vision for the future of Marists in Aotearoa.

Dave stretches back into his blue office chair, arms resting behind his head as he looks up at a picture above his desk. On one side of the picture, is St Mary’s of the Angels, a church right in the heart of central Wellington, staffed by his men, whilst on the other is a towering grey concrete sky scraper. “I spent two years there,” he says. “I like to think it’s a symbol of what we are about, something that offers something more, that offers peace right in the heart of the craziness that is modern life.”

David Kennerly has been a Marist for over 30 years, and is in his second term as the provincial, or leader of the Society of Mary in New Zealand.“Part of my role is care of the men,” he explains, “appointing them to Marist places and hopefully doing that with a keen interest in the men themselves, whilst looking at the needs of the people.  But it is a very complex province -- we have the management of schools, parishes, the co-ownership of Good Shepherd College, working with Bishops -- it’s a lot of work, so we have a great team supporting me with this.”

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His office in Thorndon, Wellington, seems a long way from the small country town of Clive, in the central Hawkes Bay where he grew up. “No church really could survive on its on in a little place like Clive, and with my parents coming from different faith backgrounds, it became normal that we, like the rest of the town, would get involved in each other’s church events. It was a wonderful time to grow up, a time where it was all about people chipping in, caring, supporting and realising that we have to rely on each other, so I was surrounded with that from a young age.”

 He recalls seeing the Marist presence as a constant throughout the Hawkes Bay. “You had the school, the seminary, the parishes, so I was always surrounded by it. I began to think about becoming a priest when I was nine or ten.  A young man was being ordained and we were chucked in a car from primary school to go and watch, and I can remember vividly saying to the women driving us back to school, that’s what I want to be when I grow up!”

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He laughs as he tells the story of breaking the news to his mother: “I was going duck shooting and as I was going out the door I asked her, ‘Mum what would it be like to have a priest in the family?' I quickly walked out. Well, pandemonium reigned!  She rang a woman who had a son in the seminary saying, ‘What am I going to do?’ Then she rang up our priest and said ‘I've got a problem, a big worry, David wants to become a priest!’ To which he replied, ‘Oh is that it?  I thought you were going to say he has a girl in trouble!’ So it was something she struggled with I think.”

Dave’s eyes light up as his talks about his time in the seminary: “I never had any real doubts in the seminary, but talented men all around me in my own band ended up going their own way, which forced to me to ask the question ‘What am I doing here, why me?’”

After being ordained, his first appointment was to St Patrick’s Silverstream. “I started there with dreadlocks, and ended up leaving bald!” He chuckles rubbing the top of his head. “Everything was done by us, there was a lot of pressure. It wasn’t just about teaching maths and coaching rugby, we were there and continue to be there to help young men discover what a relationship with God is, and what it can be for them. It isn’t about teaching catechism and reading rules out of books, it’s about living out the gospel, showing an example to those young men about how real that relationship can be.”

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 His voice grows quieter as he thinks for a moment: “Times have changed from then, and so the challenge for Silverstream, for all our schools, for myself as Provincial and for our leadership into the future is this -- When we have to pull out of a place and all it has left is a mosaic of the Marist crest on the floor, how do we keep it inherently Marist? How do we make sure it remains true to everything we are, everything we are on about, and what will we do to ensure that something profound in terms of the gospel and relationship with God is still present?”

 Dave pauses and crosses his arms and looks out the window on to the busy street below. “There was a feeling that just kept coming back when I first thought about this life, I couldn’t walk away from it,” he sighs. “I think it was what I experienced from the Marists as a young man that got me over the line.  I remember young priests always taking an interest in what I was doing, something as small as that. I think you fall in love, not so much with the concept of being Marist, but with an example of someone who is grounded in what it is to be Marist, and living it out full of warmth and the spirit.  I hope that is what we can continue.”