Remembering Jesuit Father T. Frank Kennedy

Aug. 23, 2016 - T. Frank Kennedy was born in Providence, R.I., on Sept. 12, 1948, and grew up in North Smithfield, a town northwest of Providence. He was the second of six children of T. Frank and Katherine (Tracy) Kennedy. Like his father and grandfather, he was christened Thomas but like them was usually called T. Frank. His father worked in the industrial jewelry business and his mother taught Latin and Spanish in the local high school. He attended public schools and Classical High School, academically the top school in Providence, where he had four years of Latin and three of Greek.

His interest in music developed when he was quite young. His grandmother taught piano and he began lessons with her at the age of four. In high school he added lessons on the organ and the cello. The seeds of his vocation were also planted at an early age because of his mother’s friendship with Fr. James Duffy, SJ, a Jesuit economist she had met when both were graduate students at Clark University, who became a family friend and baptized the younger Kennedy children.

In 1966, he entered the College of the Holy Cross intending to study classics. There he encountered charismatic younger Jesuits like Bob Lindsey and “Giovanni” Walsh who were leading exciting liturgies and older Jesuits like Joe LaBran who was organizing intensive student retreats at the Shadowbrook novitiate. On one of these retreats T. Frank made the decision to apply to the Society and, after his freshman year, in August 1967, he entered the novitiate.

The late 60s were years of tumult and change in the Church, in U.S. society, and in the Jesuits. Almost half of the novices who entered in T. Frank’s class left before vows. Nonetheless, the young novice director who took over that year, Raymond Bertrand, created an atmosphere of stability and normality that greatly supported the spiritual growth of those who remained. After first vows, in 1969, T. Frank lived for two years at Newbury Street, in Boston, while doing philosophy and graduate studies in classics at Boston College; in the second of these years he also filled in teaching Latin at B.C. High, after the sudden death of a Jesuit there.

A fortuitous confluence of events in these years had a significant effect on T. Frank’s future. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, U. S. Jesuit superiors had not encouraged many Jesuits to go into the arts. However, the 31st General Congregation (1965-1966) had spoken positively about the role of the arts in Jesuit ministry and in the U.S. a group of Jesuits in the arts organized summer programs that gathered Jesuits in a variety of creative fields to explore how these interests related to their vocations. Two Jesuit musicologists, involved in these workshops, became T. Frank’s mentors and close friends: Fr. Tom Culley, SJ, of the Holy Cross faculty and the charismatic Fr. C. J. McNaspy, SJ, of Loyola New Orleans. As a result, superiors approved his spending two years (1971-73) studying for an M.F.A. in music at Tulane and living in the Loyola community, focusing on harpsichord and baroque performance.

Though he expected a period of regency the provincial wanted him to go directly to theology studies and, because of a shortage of rooms in U.S. theologates, asked him to go to Europe. T. Frank suggested Heythrop in London. There he benefited from a solid theology faculty and was the first non-Brit elected head of the student body. Also he was able to continue his harpsichord studies and make professional connections with leading figures in the rich early-music culture of London. His diaconate ordination, in Farm Street Church, by the legendary Archbishop “Tommy” Roberts of Bombay (who died two weeks later), got him his one and only mention in the Court Circular of the Times. He was ordained a priest at the College of the Holy Cross in May 1976, and spent his fourth year of theology at Holy Cross, teaching music and assisting with chapel liturgies.

When he finished theology studies his academic future was still under discussion, whether it would be in music or, as the formation vice-provincial proposed, patristics. While the question was being settled, he spent the year studying music theory at Harvard, living in the Back Bay novitiate and doing some vocation work. In 1978 he began doctoral work in musicology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, living at the novitiate there. Here the focus on Jesuits and music that marked his academic career began to take shape and he was able to do research in Jesuit archives in Rome. His dissertation dealt with the music associated with European Jesuit colleges and churches in the first decades of the Society’s history.

In 1982, he joined the faculty of the College of the Holy Cross, where he taught music, directed a liturgical schola, and served as acting department chair. In 1988 Boston College recruited him to be one of the first two tenure-track faculty in a new music department. The department offered programs in music history, ethnomusicology, composition, and performance. In 1992, when the chair left to become dean of the school of music at a West Coast university, T. Frank was appointed chair and served in that capacity until 2008, adding course offerings, raising the professional level of the faculty, and expanding the schedule of concerts and performances offered by students and professional artists to the public. In 2002, he was also named director of the Jesuit Institute, a scholarly center at B.C. that sponsors conferences, research, and visiting scholars in areas at the intersection of faith and culture. In this position, in 2006, he was named Peter Canisius Professor of Humanities and Music.

Three notable accomplishments marked his years in these positions. One was the ground-breaking scholarly work he did in South American and European archives to bring to light the rich history of “mission music” and its diverse musical forms, associated especially with the Jesuit settlements in Paraguay and Brazil. His work established this genre as a subject of research interest separate from European “cathedral music” long studied by musicologists. One of the operas from the Paraguyan missions, “San Ignacio de Loyola” by Domenico Zipoli, was produced by T. Frank in Rome in 2006, in the historic Jesuit Church of Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale, at the request of Fr. General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, as part of the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius.

A second accomplishment was his scholarly contribution to expanding knowledge of the larger field of “Jesuit music”—the oratorios, operas, and musical dramas commissioned by early Jesuit colleges and churches from prominent composers of the day and the elaborate performance tradition often associated with these works. In addition to uncovering original manuscripts and writing about these compositions, he prepared scholarly editions of several of the operas, oversaw productions of them at Boston College and elsewhere, and produced CD recordings of the works. 

A third accomplishment came as a result of his collaboration with Jesuit historian Fr. John O’Malley, SJ, and the support of the Jesuit Institute at B.C. In two multi-day conferences, they brought together from around the world scholars from a variety of disciplines whose work touched on the early Society. The conferences resulted in two hefty volumes published by the University of Toronto Press (in 1999 and 2006). These volumes—connecting studies of early Jesuit culture and practices in the sciences, medicine, mathematics, music, visual art, publishing and communications—demonstrated the coherence of what would otherwise have been scattered pieces of research and, in effect, defined a new field of “Jesuit studies.”

In addition to his academic work, T. Frank undertook several assignments in the Jesuit Community at B.C.—as prefect of St. Mary’s Chapel (where he began a tradition of presenting well-received concerts of songs, choral, and instrumental music), as sub-minister overseeing various improvements of community space, and as Rector (2008-2014). In the last office, he had to oversee the community’s part in the renovation of St. Mary’s Hall and the two-year sojourn of the community in temporary quarters a half-mile away. One of the happy souvenirs of this upheaval is a new community chapel dedicated to the first companions of Ignatius, on the third floor of the renovated St. Mary’s, ornamented by stained glass windows provided by a family foundation that has given generous support to music at B.C.

For more than three decades he also volunteered his time and pastoral skills to assist the pastor of the parish on Nantucket, during Christmas and Easter holidays and during the summer when the congregation swelled in size. He loved this opportunity to exercise priestly ministry and he quickly discovered that it enabled him to stay in touch with countless Boston College and Holy Cross alumni and their families who manifested a strong loyalty to the Jesuits.

In 2004, T. Frank had given the D’Arcy Lectures at Campion Hall, Oxford. When his term as rector at Boston College ended, in 2014, he took up an invitation to return to Campion Hall as a visiting research fellow. Subsequently, he was named senior research fellow and, happily settled there for the immediate future, looked forward to working on a book about the history of Jesuits and music. But, health issues began to bother him and, when he returned to Boston in the spring of 2016 to receive an award from the B.C. Arts Festival, he consulted specialists there. The outcome was an unexpected diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer. In June he decided to forego further treatment and moved to Campion Center for the care he needed. Family and friends visited from nearby and from around the world, their conversations eased by his humor and transparent faith. “I’m enjoying their coming,” he said, “while I’m going.” He died peacefully during the evening of Aug. 19, 2016.



Thurs., Aug 25, 2016
2:00-5:00 p.m. (Prayer Service at 4:30 p.m.)
St. Mary's Chapel at Boston College   
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Newtown, MA 02458


Fri., Aug 26, 2016 
10:00 a.m. 
Our Lady Help of Christians Church 
573 Washington Street
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467


Campion Center Cemetery

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