In Memoriam

Former Boston College Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, S.J., '71, an internationally recognized scholar of the Jesuit music tradition and a founding member of the University’s Music Department, died on August 19. He was 67.    

T. Frank Kennedy, S.J.
Rev. T. Frank Kennedy, S.J.

An accomplished keyboard player, Fr. Kennedy – who also held the position of Peter Canisius Professor of Humanities and Music at BC – was a music historian with a keen interest in the growth and development of Jesuit early music and its role in the early Jesuit missions to various far-flung new lands.

He was known in particular for his groundbreaking scholarly work in South American and European archives to unearth the rich history of “mission music” and its diverse musical forms, associated especially with the Jesuit settlements in Paraguay and Brazil. Fr. Kennedy’s research established this genre as a subject of research interest separate from European “cathedral music” long studied by musicologists.

It also led to his transcription of one opera from the Paraguayan missions, “San Ignacio de Loyola” by Domenico Zipoli, which he staged at BC during a 1997 conference on early Jesuit contributions to culture and art. In 2006, at the request of Jesuit Superior General Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, Fr. Kennedy produced a performance of the opera at the historic Jesuit Church of Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale during the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the death of Society of Jesus founder Ignatius Loyola. 

In 1991, Fr. Kennedy had staged another Jesuit opera, "The Apotheosis or Consecration of Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier” – first performed in Rome in 1622 to celebrate the canonization of the two Jesuit saints – as part of the 1991 Ignatian Year.

The two Jesuit operas exemplified Fr. Kennedy’s contribution to expanding knowledge of the larger field of Jesuit music – the oratorios, operas, and musical dramas commissioned by early Jesuit colleges and churches from prominent composers of the day and the elaborate performance tradition often associated with these works.  In addition to uncovering original manuscripts and writing about these compositions, he prepared scholarly editions of several of the operas, oversaw productions of them at Boston College and elsewhere, and produced CD recordings of the works.

As a board member and then director of the Jesuit Institute from 2002 to 2014, Fr. Kennedy played a major role in promoting and supporting the emerging field of Jesuit studies. He and Jesuit historian John W. O’Malley, S.J., organized two international conferences that brought together scholars from across the disciplines whose work touched on the early Jesuits. The conferences, and the volumes these produced, connected studies of early Jesuit culture and practices in the sciences, medicine, mathematics, music, visual art, publishing and communications, demonstrating the coherence of what would otherwise have been scattered pieces of research.

"Jesuit. Catholic. Faith. Culture. Those are important words for the mission of the institute," said Fr. Kennedy, in an interview with the Boston College Chronicle upon his appointment as Jesuit Institute director. "I hope to broadcast a message of openness that the Jesuit Catholic tradition has always meant to BC, the kind of openness that encourages finding answers to the eternal questions of the human identity."

A native of Providence and North Smithfield, RI, Fr. Kennedy began playing piano at age four, and added organ and cello in high school. In 1966, he entered the College of the Holy Cross, and as a result of his friendship with Jesuits he encountered there as well as a student retreat at the Jesuits’ Shadowbrook novitiate, he decided to enter the Society of Jesus after his freshman year. He studied philosophy and classics at BC as part of his training.

Fr. Kennedy’s entry into the order coincided with a Vatican II-inspired emphasis on the arts in Jesuit ministry, and he met and was influenced by Jesuits interested in exploring how artistic interests related to vocation. He went on to earn a master’s of fine arts degree in harpsichord and baroque performance at Tulane University, then did his doctoral dissertation in musicology at the University of California-Santa Barbara on the musical traditions of early Jesuit colleges and churches in Europe.

After six years on the College of the Holy Cross music faculty, in 1988 Fr. Kennedy returned to BC as one of the first two tenure-track faculty members in the University’s new Music Department. Four years later, he became the department chair and during his tenure – from 1992 to 2003, and again from 2005-08 – he was credited with adding course offerings, raising the professional level of the faculty, and expanding the schedule of concerts and performances offered by students and professional artists to the public. 

Fr. Kennedy also filled important roles in the Boston College Jesuit Community. As prefect of St. Mary’s Chapel, he began a tradition of presenting well-received concerts of songs, choral and instrumental music, and as sub-minister oversaw improvements to community space. In 2008, Fr. Kennedy was appointed rector, and during his six-year term he administered the community’s relocation during the renovation of St. Mary’s Hall.

In 2014, Fr. Kennedy became a senior research fellow at Campion Hall in Oxford University, where he continued his studies on the history of Jesuits and music until health issues forced him to return to Boston.

At the BC Arts Festival this past spring, Fr. Kennedy was presented with the BC Arts Council Faculty Arts Award, which recognizes faculty who have made outstanding contributions to the arts at Boston College through scholarship, the presentation of artistic work, teaching and/or community engagement. Praising his “profound” efforts to promote Jesuit culture in Western artistic practice, the council pointed to Fr. Kennedy’s Jesuit opera projects as having “reinvigorated a tradition of Jesuits in music.”

Fr. Kennedy served as a member of the University Board of Trustees, the Provost Committee on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, The Church in the 21st Century “From Crisis to Renewal” forum, and the Religion and the Arts editorial board, among others. He also chaired the University Commission for Christian Art, which commissioned mosaics of Pedro Arrupe, S.J., and Dorothy Day in Lyons Hall; four outdoor sculptures, including one of St. Ignatius Loyola; and the crucifix, tabernacle and stained glass windows for the new Jesuit Community chapel in St. Mary’s Hall.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on August 26 at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton, Mass., followed by a burial at the Jesuit Cemetery at Campion Center in Weston, Mass.

Fr. Kennedy is survived by his two brothers, Peter and Steven, and three sisters, Kristin, Tracy, and Isabel. Expressions of condolence may be sent to them via his brother:     

                    Mr. Steven Kennedy
                    177 Conanicus Avenue        
                    Jamestown, RI 02835

–Sean Smith | News & Public Affairs