100 not out for Archdiocese's oldest priest

Father Tom Kennedy profile

He celebrated his 100th birthday on 2 July yet Father Tom Kennedy has no plans to stop being an active priest at his parish of English Martyrs in Haydock.

The oldest priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool has one good reason for this, as he explains: "I found out the reason I never retired is I liked the people I worked with and they liked me – at least they said they did anyway!" If that quote tells us his sense of humour is very much intact, the wisdom accumulated during his century on this planet is quite evident also. Consider his key to happiness: "I always found that falling out with people was wrong. If you fell out with somebody it was easier to go and talk to them. I always found that you leave your cards straight on the table."

It is an approach that has obviously served him well. Born in Ireland, in the village of Shillelagh in County Wicklow, where his father was head teacher at the local school, Father Tom Kennedy has been a priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool for 73 years. He arrived here in August 1943, two months after his ordination on 3 June that year, following the completion of his studies for the priesthood at St Patrick's College, Carlow. He served initially as curate at St James', Bootle, then moved to St Luke's, Whiston in 1952, where he had a close association with the hospital during his six years there. "They only had huts in the field for a school," he adds. "The church was only just built at the time."

He has seen so many changes, not least during his initial, ten-year stint at English Martyrs from October 1958. It was during this period that he witnessed the transformation effected by the Second Vatican Council. "We found it very hard at the beginning because we had trained for Latin," he recalls, "but then the changeover to English was a Godsend really because people could understand what you were doing. We said Masses so the people could hear them." His "wonderful" parish priest at English Martyrs was Father Gray  He explains: "When he walked into a house, he'd ask, 'Could I have a cigarette?' and he'd sit down in the house and talk. The parishioners got to love him because he talked to them man to man. He didn't make a matter of religion."

In 1968 Father Tom moved to the new parish of St David's, Newton-le-Willows. "I had no church for a time and had to say Mass in the hall," he remembers before offering a recollection of the pet dog he adopted during that period. "There was a family trying to get rid of their dog so I got it for nowt – she was a Labrador and we called her Snowy. I used to go down the back of the railway line in Newton, and Snowy always came with me wherever I went – she'd be ten yards in front of me if there was anyone in front, or ten yards behind if there was someone following me. The dog would watch them the whole way." Since 1973, Father Tom has been back at English Martyrs – and remains involved in parish life still today. "Oh yes, anything they ask for, they can come and see me," says a priest still reluctant to hang up his bat, despite reaching his century.