by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
For half-a-century, Dr. Eugene Kennedy’s books have brought complex mental-health issues to the general public. His classic On Becoming A Counselor (now coauthored with his wife, Dr. Sara Charles) has sold 250,000 copies, has been continuously revised to reflect new findings, and is in print after nearly 35 years at this writing. This book teaches everyone about most major mental-health conditions. Although its subtitle, “A Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors,” indicates a primary audience of teachers, ministers, and others, its wisdom appeals to experienced mental-health professionals and the general public. It is a book for all seasons. Two sequels, Crisis Counseling and Sexual Counseling make these books a much sought-after trilogy.
I would like to express my own appreciation of Dr. Kennedy, my teacher at Loyola University of Chicago, for wisdom imparted and kindnesses given over many decades.
As a college student returning to Illinois, I remember reading A Time for Love as the train ambled toward Chicago. Dr. Kennedy, a priest and clinical psychologist, wrote this and other books connecting the Second Vatican Council with healthy, mature, and satisfying human relationships, both for individuals and the Church. His concern for persons rather than the jot and tittle of bureaucratic rules lessened psychological burdens perceived by many in the Church, and gave greater freedom and peace to their lives. Additionally, his status as a nationally prominent clinical psychologist brought greater acceptance of psychology in the Church and greater recognition within the Church for the profession of psychology. As a professor at Loyola, his personal attention inspired many, both in their personal lives and careers.
In the tradition of G. K. Chesterton and Graham Greene, Kennedy made an impact on the national intellectual scene. Always an avid reader of biographies, he contributed to this genre with a masterful biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Two bestselling novels set in Chicago as well as the University of Notre Dame beautifully illustrate how Catholics with personal integrity struggle to live in the modern world: a theme that has all but disappeared in the literary world at the end of the 20th century and now into the 21st.
Dr. Kennedy has always been there to help the Church. In an unprecedented historical move, the first such request to a clinical psychologist, Cardinal John Dearden asked Kennedy to chair the psychological panel of a multidisciplinary study of the priesthood. One striking finding was the psychological immaturity of many priests, and Kennedy expressed great concern over this. The Loyola empirical study, leading to a book Dr. Kennedy coauthored with Dr. Victor Heckler, was a harbinger of profound problems that came to light in stories of sexual abuse among the priesthood; Kennedy’s concern was that this problem was not being dealt with appropriately at administrative levels, leading to another book exemplifying his own personal and professional integrity. This book was titled The Unhealed Wound and again brought his talents as a clinical psychologist to large numbers of the public.
Dr. Kennedy’s close colleague, Dr. Frank J. Kobler, was a special consultant to the project, which also yielded a lengthy study on the United States Bishops completed by Kobler ten years later.
Eugene Kennedy has displayed a great gift for friendships and these brought the Church into the world and the world into the Church. Norman Mailer, Jacqueline Onassis, Theodore Hesburgh, the Daley family, Joseph Bernardin, John Cheever, John Gregory Dunne, and Joan Didion, along with the publisher Michael Leach, and even Tracy and Hepburn benefited from his comradeship.
Eugene Kennedy married Sara Charles, M.D., in 1977 and as shown above his talents contributed to a unique ministry, one that continues in the 21st century.
On a personal note I have been and continue to be very grateful as well as very humbled by his support throughout my career, from encouraging notes to a masterful introduction to a book I wrote to introductions to others in the publishing world. My introduction to AMHF came through two publishing executives to whom I was introduced by Dr. Kennedy in the mid-1980s. I hope in some small manner that I bring some of his integrity to these tasks.
Pope John XXIII had a favorite saying. The priest is also a teacher, and his lips must guard the truth. How fine it would be to begin all sermons, discourses, and all forms of teaching thus: “Lord, thou wilt open my lips.” Gene has lived these words and Pope John now surely smiles down on him, recognizing that he has been a good priest forever, like Melchizedek, despite whatever earthly rubric is in fashion right now. And who else but Eugene Kennedy could write a beautiful screenplay about the beloved Pope? You might enjoy reading the following article as it says quite a lot about both the good Pope and Gene:
Speaking for myself, thank you, Gene…for past and ongoing help, not only to mental health in the traditions of AMHF, but for so many kindnesses given to me over so many years.