Father David Kennerley – Looking to the Future.
Dave was made the Provincial of the Society of Mary, New Zealand, beginning in 2014.
“What do I say about the feeling of becoming the Provincial?” He chuckles and exhales deeply, his smile turning into a look of concentration: “Well I guess I had never seen myself as a leader. I am someone who supports the leader, but not the leader himself. I suppose I was, and still am to some extent, a reluctant Provincial. However, given it was the task I was given, I was determined to do the best I can in it. I didn’t go looking for the job, but once it was mine I decided that I would make something of it, and create steady leadership for our men. If you are given a role, to some extent you need to see that God and grace has provided it, the call of God and the grace of the role. And then I was re-elected for another three years!”
He laughs and rocks back in his chair. “I went on a renewal course that described grace as “God Revealing And Calling Endlessly,” so to be in this role and have the opportunity to do the things I am doing, and share a relationship with my men where I can openly and honestly sit down with them and be alongside them in their journey, is a real moment of grace.”
However it hasn’t always been easy to be the Provincial, especially in a time where the call to religious vocations seems to be muffled by an ever busy world.
“One of the challenges of this role has been to tell guys what the current situation is, that realistically we are faced with serious diminishment, but that, however, it is not all bad news. I am surrounded by men who still believe with all their hearts in who we are, and that we still have a role to play today, but that we just have to adapt the role to our changing situation.” He pauses, and relaxes back into his seat. “One of the main priorities in this role has to be listening, so the challenge is to create a situation where the province and administration talk and listen to each other and own together the new reality that is upon us, and adjust to the appropriate way for a vibrant future for those who remain and those who are yet to come. And that is all put into perspective when I see such things like the Fouvière event last year with a hundred young people, back in the Hokianga where it all began in Aotearoa, who were energized by our story, and that gave me great hope.”
Dave stares at the picture of Jean Claude-Colin positioned in the corner of his office: “The only images of Colin we have are of him as an old man,” he remarks. “In many ways he wasn’t all that inspirational as a person from the images we have of him, but in reality he was a man who responded with zeal and energy to the challenges that faced him. Throughout our history we have been blessed with so many examples of leadership. The challenge for us, is how do we emulate them?”
He looks away from the picture, in deep concentration, his voice suddenly quickens, full of passion as he begins to speak again: “I was given a definition of leadership awhile back, and it is something that has stuck with me: a leader is someone who, when the job is done, the rest of the people look back on and say ‘look what we achieved.’ It’s about quiet achievement together. You need a vision, and an ability to sell it to others. It requires honesty and openness, but ultimately, growth together. One person has the responsibility of putting the vision out there, but unless others buy into it, share it, develop it and be true to it, it is not going to grow.”
“What we are on about isn’t making people Catholic. It’s great if that happens, but the first thing we are on about is giving people an experience of the gospel in a way that changes lives. If we offer that experience then people might realise, ‘wow there is something more here, something real,’ and should that happen then we have achieved the best we can for God. We are workers for God but that doesn’t mean we have to be overtly shoving God into people’s faces. The Gospel is powerful enough on its own. It should be our guideline for ministry, not a tablet of stone to hit someone over the head with.”
He smiles, and his eyes light up as he thinks about the future.
“My hope for the Society going into the future is to make sure we have works in place that continue to give people that experience of what it really is to be Marist, and what does that really mean? It’s learning from Mary a way of being in the church that is not about drawing attention, being the leader up the front, shouting, but being in the midst of people, tapping into them, encouraging them to keep the journey going and taking risks of growth.”