Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Joseph Kennedy (1881–1957)

by Michael McKernan

This article was published:

John Joseph Kennedy (1881?-1957), priest and military chaplain, was probably born on 28 October 1881 at Dingle, Kerry, Ireland, son of John Kennedy and his wife Johanna, née Lynch. He was educated at the Christian Brothers' School at Dingle, went to a seminary at Killarney, and studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College, Drumcondra. Ordained on 24 June 1904 he volunteered for the Australian mission and became assistant priest at Wangaratta, Victoria. He later worked in several north Victorian towns including Heathcote, Shepparton and Yarrawonga.

Kennedy was appointed a chaplain captain in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 December 1915, saying that 'his duty called upon him to offer his services'. He sailed on 29 December from Melbourne and was posted to the 14th Infantry Brigade headquarters in Egypt. He was attached to the 53rd Battalion and, as was the case with many other chaplains, identified closely with 'his' battalion even though his duties extended to the whole brigade. He reached France in June 1916. The battalion's first engagement was at Fromelles on 19-20 July when severe losses were suffered. Kennedy wrote of 'scenes of carnage'. He worked with the doctors in an aid-post and was astonished by the bravery and generosity of the wounded. The battalion, he wrote, 'failed to see the meaning of the task allotted to us at Fromelles. It was hopeless from the very outset'.

For his part in the battle Kennedy was awarded the Distinguished Service Order 'for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He carried wounded men from the front trenches to the dressing station under very heavy shell-fire throughout the whole night, returning repeatedly to the firing-line'. He also assisted in dressing wounded men and, with Chaplain Maxted who was killed doing similar duties, was a conspicuous example of practical Christianity. Kennedy absorbed the Australian soldier's hatred of sectarianism and made no distinction between men. Of a Methodist in the battalion he wrote: 'I say of him most sincerely that he is one of the most perfect Christians I have ever met'. In December 1917 ill health forced him to leave the 53rd Battalion and he was posted to the 3rd Training Brigade. In April 1918 he returned to Australia; his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 31 May.

Kennedy honoured the gallantry of the men with whom he had served in The Whale Oil Guards (Dublin, 1919). One of the first battalion histories published, it was far from the best, concentrating on one or two officers and containing no detailed accounts of operations or of the life of the battalion. He had previously written three novels: Carrigmore (Wangaratta, 1909), The Inseparables (Wangaratta, 1910) and Gordon Grandfield (Melbourne, 1912). Carrigmore, or Light and Shade in West Kerry, is a sentimental, melodramatic story written by an apparently homesick author about Ireland and its saintly people.

Kennedy continued to work in Victorian country parishes until in 1936 he migrated to the United States of America. He died at Augusta in Georgia, on 18 February 1957.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. KcKernan, Australian Churches at War (Syd, 1980)
  • London Gazette, 26 Sept 1916
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 27 Nov 1915, 30 Sept, 23 Dec 1916
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 12 Oct 1916, 29 July 1920.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael McKernan, 'Kennedy, John Joseph (1881–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 October, 1881
Dingle, Kerry, Ireland


18 February, 1957 (aged 75)
Augusta, Georgia, United States of America

Cultural Heritage

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