Joe Kearney (SPC 1935-39)
February 17, 2021
We have been notified of the sad passing of possibly our oldest Old Boy, Fr Joe Kearney (SPC 1935-39) on May 15, 2020 in Perth, three months shy of reaching 99 years.
Joseph Kearney grew up in a devoted Catholic family in the Melbourne suburb of Moonee Ponds, and at the age of seven, moved with his family to Hepburn Springs. He received his primary education in a convent school and secondary education at St Patrick’s College, starting Year 8 in 1935 and finishing Year 12 in 1939.
He was a boarder and was in the Honours Class, attaining honours in Latin, as shown in the 1939 College Honours Class photo. Joseph was also a councillor of the Sodality at SPC in 1939. Fr Kearney celebrated his platinum jubilee (70-year) anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood in 2016, with a Mass held at Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Shelley, WA, where he was officially congratulated by Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe for so many years of loyal and dedicated ministry.
In a news story written to celebrate his achievements, Fr Kearney reminisced that he contemplated the idea of becoming a priest throughout his teenage years and eventually joined the Pallottines in 1940. A six-year spiritual and academic formative journey with the Pallotines and the help of Franciscans thus began for Fr Kearney as he ventured into philosophy, theology and scripture While undertaking his studies, Fr Kearney also harboured a desire to work in remote parts of Australia, the top-end of Western Australia in particular, and be of assistance to Aboriginal people. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 28, 1946 by then Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix and lived his first year as a priest in Melbourne.
Fr Kearney eventually arrived to WA in 1948 and served in Broome until 1956. During his service, he would visit the small Aboriginal community of Balgo, the first time for six months and the second time for 18 months.
“The fondest memories of my priesthood are those from the time I spent in Balgo in 1955,” he recalled. “There was a mutual trust with the Aboriginal people that made things work. We trusted them and they trusted us. Fr Alphonse and I baptised the first small group of children and did a number of holy communions and confirmations while there.”
In fact, a low mountain range near Balgo in the south east region of The Kimberley, WA were later named the “Kearney Ranges” after Fr Kearney in recognition of his early years at Balgo Mission.
Fr Kearney remained in WA for another decade as he relocated north of Broome, in the town of Beagle Bay, from 1961 to 1969. At the end of 1969, he was voted in as Regional Superior of the Pallottines and moved to the headquarters of the organisation in Melbourne, within the suburb of Kew, to serve two three-year terms. In 1975, he was appointed as rector of a house for students in Box Hill, Melbourne, before returning to the Pallottine headquarters to serve as secretary and bursar for another three years. It was after this final appointment in Melbourne that Fr Kearney arrived to Perth in 1981 and served in Rossmoyne. Fr Kearney was chaplain to what was known as a hostel accommodation for high school and apprentice aged Aboriginal children from the Kimberley and other outback regions. The hostel, which closed in the late 1990s, enabled boys and girls to be educated to Year 12 at local schools or to be apprenticed to local businesses. Fr Kearney was also stationed as a chaplain in Geraldton from 1986 until his retirement in 1996. He remained active, serving various parishes in need of a priest throughout WA, until 2008.
A vigil was held at St Vincent Pallotti Chapel in Western Australia and a funeral Mass was celebrated on May 21 in private due to the coronavirus distancing restrictions, however the Mass was livestreamed.