Remembering Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny succumbed to cancer a few days ago. He was a Manchester journalist with broad interests, astringent opinions, and an abiding devotion to the most vulnerable human beings among us. He wrote and spoke in defense of the unborn at every opportunity.

“There are no words to adequately describe the horror of babies being butchered in, or partially out of, their mothers’ wombs. That ‘abortion rights’ have become a cornerstone of the ‘feminist movement’ is not only a crime against God and humanity, it is an intolerable slander against women.(Jack Kenny, Manchester Union Leader, January 24, 1999)

A couple of years ago, Jack invited me to be a guest on his Manchester Community TV show to talk about 40 Days for Life. The opening segment was a current-events monologue from Jack, as was customary. I forget whom he was raking over the coals at the time. I do recall that he was in fine form, working without notes. He was a deadeye shot with his words.

Then he introduced me and began asking about 40 Days for Life, and the lion became a pussycat. 40DFL is all about striving for an end to abortion, meeting violence and injustice with prayer and peaceful witness. Jack was always willing to help get the word out about that.

A classic columnist

Longtime readers of the Union Leader will recall his days as a columnist there. A quarter of a century ago he held his own with editors and writers who made every UL opinion page crackle. He did his keenest work when he wrote about abortion, its effect on public policy, and the people who were on the front lines, pro and con.

“…the right to life is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hell of a subject for neutrality.” (Kenny, UL, 9/13/98)

He once wrote about a Labor Day breakfast at which then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen was featured speaker. A Catholic priest was honored at the event for his work promoting social justice. Jack raised an eyebrow. “If you think this is ‘single-issue’ fanaticism, ask yourself this: Would [the monsignor] share a platform with someone who advocated racial discrimination or espoused anti-Semitism?…Yet Gov. Shaheen supports, promotes and defends as a ‘right’ the killing of preborn babies. No problem. Organized labor doesn’t care and the monsignor pretends not to notice.”

I like to say that “pro-life” isn’t spelled G-O-P, but Jack was beating that drum long before I joined the band. He was driven to distraction by Republicans who failed to highlight their electoral opponents’ abortion extremism. In his columns, he unhesitatingly called out abortion-friendly Republicans. When Republican majorities in Concord failed to pass parental notification legislation, he heaped scorn where it needed to be heaped, and he didn’t let up until a parental notification law was firmly in place.

Long after his days as a regular UL columnist were over, he kept up a stream of letters to the editor, playing familiar themes. From 2019: “I know some will say abortion is not an issue in local elections, but people who do not respect the right to life may not be reliable on other issues, either. The pro-abortion forces seem to think it worth the effort to promote their culture of death candidates in local and state as well as in federal elections. Too many pro-life candidates fail to defend their position for life, leaving many voters as uninformed at the end of the election campaign as they were at the beginning.”

A persistent reporter

Back in the 1990s, “Optima Health” was big news. It was an attempt to link Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center with Elliot Hospital. One of the rocks on which that venture foundered was the revelation of a scheduled abortion at the Elliot, contravening assurances that such things wouldn’t happen under Optima. It was a complex and lengthy story. While all this was going on, Jack wrote about the people who risked jail and loss of livelihood to raise alarms about the danger Optima posed to CMC’s Catholic identity.

“Many ensnared by Optima’s web of deceit” appeared under Jack’s byline in May of 1998. It was written by a professional journalist who patiently worked to untangle the skeins of the story. At the same time, it was commentary with a definite attitude, written by a man who saw good people being given a hard time for doing the right things.

“And it all started because Optima had scheduled a ‘procedure’ its officials were telling the public was not being, and would not be, performed at either of its Manchester hospitals. Unfortunately, some honest and conscientious people have been caught up in Optima’s web of deceit.”

I recall another late-’90s incident that would have been a one-day story if Jack hadn’t helped to keep it out in the open. Pro-lifers were demonstrating peacefully one evening outside a fundraising event for an abortion advocacy group; the Portsmouth police got involved; arrests and a broken wrist ensued. Jack whipped out his pencil and started asking questions of the relevant parties, leading to “Content or conduct: just what upset Portsmouth police?” and “Portsmouth heroic police make protesting perilous.”

“The right to peacefully assemble and protest belongs as much to those protesting abortion as anyone else. Or at least it used to. It can hardly be surprising if a society that no longer respects the right to life becomes indifferent to other rights as well.”

A lighter side

For all his righteous indignation, he had a sense of humor, and he knew how to aim it at himself.

“I regard [a certain Manchester politician] as a good Republican conservative, notwithstanding her support of George W. Bush for President and her fondness for such Modernist heresies as the notion that a ‘qualified’ woman should umpire professional baseball games. I reject, however, her recent assertion that I have a ‘Cro-Magnon mind.’ Flattery will get her nowhere. My mind is orthodox Neanderthal and I intend to keep it that way.”

His faith

Politics might have been a passion, but Jack knew that his Creator transcended such matters.

A few years ago, the long-shuttered St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nashua was revived as a parish where the Latin Mass could be celebrated daily. At the very first Mass there, the place was packed with worshippers. There were old-timers from the days when St. Stan’s had been the ethnic parish in the neighborhood. There were people like me who were curious about the Latin Mass. And then there were the people already familiar with the traditional rite, praying with joy, very much at home. Jack was one of those people.

I hardly recognized him when he sat down near me. I had never seen his face in such repose. He had left his political indignation outside the door in order to put himself at the foot of the Cross.

I trust that in God’s mercy, Jack is now surrounded by the innocent souls he defended so ardently. May his repose be complete.


Jack’s obituary requests that memorial donations be made to Pennacook Pregnancy Center, 657-B Chestnut Street, Manchester NH 03104, or St. Benedict Abbey, PO Box 67, Still River MA 01467. I’ll venture to suggest that time at a 40 Days for Life vigil would be appropriate, too.

Cardinal O’Connor: “Too many people have sacrificed for too long to give up now”

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The brief quotation from the late John Cardinal O’Connor that I used yesterday prompted me to go back and re-read the complete homily from which it was taken. The Cardinal preached this homily on Epiphany Sunday, a little more than a week after the murder of two abortion facility employees in Boston in 1994. Boston’s Cardinal Law had called for a temporary suspension of peaceful pro-life demonstrations in the wake of those murders (and Bishop O’Neil of New Hampshire followed suit). In New York, Cardinal O’Connor took a different approach.

After the recent shootings that killed three people and wounded nine others at a Colorado abortion facility, Cardinal O’Connor’s words sound as fresh as if they were written today. The complete text of the homily is on the EWTN web site. Here’s an excerpt.

It is this sense of the sacredness of every human life that has prompted my very close friend, His Eminence Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston, to denounce unconditionally the recent killings and woundings that took place in two abortion clinics in his archdiocese. I joined him in that unconditional denunciation and expressed my deep sorrow for the victims and their loved ones, as I have done on previous occasions. Indeed, on this current occasion I have repeated publicly what I have said before and mean, with every fiber of my being: “If anyone has an urge to kill an abortionist, kill me instead.” That’s not a grandstand play. I am prepared to die if my death can save the life of another.

Cardinal Law, one of the strongest pro-life leaders in the United States, knows the situation in Boston as I and others do not, and has called for a moratorium on pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics…It is quite possible that were I the archbishop of Boston I would be inclined to call for such a moratorium in the Boston area, at least for a period of time, while trying to sort things out. Indeed, I intend to borrow at least one page from Cardinal Law’s book and ask that every week a different pastor in each of the 19 regions of the Archdiocese of New York schedule a period of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the cause of human life. I would ask, however, that this be in addition to any prayer vigils that responsible individuals or groups believe that they should conduct legally and non-violently within the Archdiocese of New York in the vicinity of abortion clinics.

The rosary vigils led by my brother bishop in Brooklyn, Bishop Thomas Daily, are wonderful examples of peaceful processions and prayers in the vicinity of abortion clinics. I cannot imagine that any people of good will could object to them, and certainly no one would deny their constitutionality. To my knowledge, prayer vigils held here in New York have been equally peaceful and non-violent.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, however, I too would be prepared to call for a moratorium on these peaceful prayer vigils on condition that a moratorium be called on abortions. The first is within my power, to call a moratorium on prayer vigils, although I would respect those who might disagree with me and carry out such vigils anyway.

The second, a moratorium on abortions, is obviously not within my power, but only within the power of those who operate abortion clinics. Perhaps during a moratorium on both abortions and prayer vigils here in New York, both sides could meet to determine whether there is anything that can legitimately be the subject of dialogue.

…The New York Post of Jan. 5, 1995, editorially asked, “Why the readiness to tie the Boston killings to the pro-life movement?” The Post answered its own question: “To marginalize the movement in the eyes of the general public.” And it concluded: “Thus far, moreover, the effort seems to be working—which is a pity.” I would like to believe, however, that the current outcries against the pro-life movement are a reflection of frustration rather than a concerted effort to marginalize millions of non-violent, peaceful people whose only sin is their love for every human life, the life of every baby, the life of every mother. If there is a concerted effort, however, I cannot believe it will “work” for very long. Too many wonderful people in the pro-life movement have sacrificed too much for too long to give up now.

…I do not pretend to have a monopoly on how best to save human life. Only Jesus is the expert, and he did it only by dying on a cross.

“No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!”

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Pope Francis, a man known for putting aside prepared statements in favor of informal Q&A, did just that on April 30 when he met in Rome with members of two Catholic groups. (See coverage at Zenit and Catholic News Service.) Talk turned to the challenge of bringing faith in Christ to the arena of public policy. From the CNS coverage of the event:

Catholics must get involved in politics even if it may be “dirty,” frustrating and fraught with failure, Pope Francis said. Given today’s “throwaway” culture and so many problems unfolding in the world, “Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony? No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!” he said.

Coverage of the same event by Carol Glatz for NCROnline:

One man asked how to keep strong the link between faith in Jesus and the responsibility of building a more just and caring world.

Christians have a duty to work for the common good in the world of politics, the pope said, adding that that does not mean forming a Catholic political party.

“That is not the way. The church is the community of Christians who adore the Father, follow the way of the Son and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a political party,” he said.

However, individual Catholics must get involved and “embroiled” in politics, he said, because it is one of the “highest forms of charity” since it seeks the common good.

…”When you ask me these questions, the danger — danger for the pope, too, you know — is believing that I can answer all your questions. The only one who can answer every question is the Lord. My job is simply to listen and say what comes to me from within. But [it is] insufficient and too little,” he said.

Not an ex cathedra pronouncement, to be sure. Still, “you can’t watch from the balcony” strikes a chord.