Although not a relative, a County Cork priest has spent more than half of his time in the U.S. very much a part of the lives of the Kennedy family.
Father Gerry Creedon, a 65-year-old export from Inchigeela, County Cork, first encountered America’s most beloved political family over 23 years ago while doing God’s work.
“It was at Mass where I met the Kennedys,” Creedon told IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice from Arlington, Virginia on Monday.
Creedon first got to know Ethel Kennedy, wife of Robert Kennedy, and Senator Ted Kennedy during their attendance at Mass.
“I was assigned to St. Luke’s Church in McLean where Ethel Kennedy used to come to daily Mass and Ted Kennedy would come on Sunday,” said the Corkman, who has been serving in the diocese of Richmond and Arlington for over 41 years.
Creedon recalls with fondness his first encounter and first impressions of the late Senator Kennedy in 1975.
“You see, I like to preach and this day I was preaching on peace and justice. Now sometimes people sit there not sure what I am on about, and some people just sleep,” he said.
Kennedy was not sleeping.
“When this particular Mass was over Teddy came up to me outside the church and continued to talk to me about whatever issue I was addressing,” Creedon said.
“He backed up what I was saying with statistics and specific policy dimensions to it. He paid attention in a way that surprised me, and took an interest in the gospel and applied it to what was going on in his world. He had this sort of openness and an interest, you know.”
This first encounter was the start of a blossoming friendship. If there was a special Kennedy family occasion, Creedon would always be on the Kennedy guest list.
“I’d often be asked to their home during Christmas or Easter, and Teddy himself would ask me to his birthdays. It was very special to me,” said Creedon.
Recalling fondly his first meeting with Kennedy’s wife Vicki, Creedon says that he was stationed in the Dominican Republic at the time working on a mission near the Haiti border.
Kennedy, who vacationed frequently in the Dominican Republic, would pay for his Irish friend’s fare to fly down to meet him during his holiday.
“On one of these holidays I met Vicki,” said Creedon. He instantly liked her.
“I could see something strong between them. I remarked to Teddy that this was someone special and Teddy said, ‘Yes, you noticed.’”
As time went on Kennedy married Vicki and Creedon was welcomed into their home.
Remembering fondly the banter between himself and Kennedy, Creedon shared a story with the Irish Voice.
“On my first trip to the Dominican Republic I was bringing down everything with me because I was moving there. I stopped off at Cape Cod on my way as I was flying out of Boston,” remembers Creedon.
While in Cape Cod he celebrated a Mass at Rose Kennedy’s home. Teddy was Creedon’s alter server.
“I had all my bags in the same room as I served Mass in. Teddy was sitting beside me. I read the gospel and of course it was about Jesus sending out his apostles on their missionary journeys,” he recalls.
“Teddy piped up during the gospel and said, ‘Carry neither script nor bag,’ and he looked under the table and saw my golf bag in the corner of the room, raised an eyebrow at me and over breakfast he wanted to know how I reconciled the gospel with me taking my golf bag down to the border of Haiti, and how would I get the golf bag up on the back of the mule to go up the hills. He never let me forget it,” laughs Creedon.
Although Creedon was reassigned a few years after his initial encounter with Kennedy in McLean, their friendship stayed strong.
“When I left that parish I still maintained a friendship and he kept in contact with me down through the years. I did a lot of weddings and funerals in particular for Ethel and Bobby Kennedy’s family,” he said.
Creedon, who is extremely saddened by the loss of his good friend, had the pleasure of celebrating Mass with Kennedy five days before his passing.
“I was on my way back from Ireland and stayed in Ethel’s house Monday through Friday, and during that time I got to visit Teddy twice, who lives right next door to Ethel’s house,” Creedon said.
“The Friday before I left I got to spend a little time with him, prayed and gave him a blessing. I was very surprised he passed away so quickly to be honest. He was very much conscious and aware and praying was important to him.
“In fact his son Teddy told me after that that was the most lucid he was that day,” he said.
When Creedon was leaving the Kennedy home, Vicki asked him to choose a few readings for her husband’s pending funeral.
“I didn’t think he would pass away so soon. I didn’t even have the readings picked out when I heard the news on the Tuesday that he had died,” Creedon said.
Like he promised Vicki, Creedon chose some prayers for the services. He also assisted in all aspects of Kennedy’s funeral.
He said the prayer at the vigil the night before the funeral. At the morning service at the Kennedy Library Creedon also celebrated with another prayer, assisted Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the graveside and helped celebrate the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica church in Boston.
Creedon, who was one of the few guests invited to Kennedy’s home the evening he was buried, has kept up contact with the Kennedy family and will do so in the future.
The morning following the funeral, Vicki called Creedon to thank him for his participation, and followed that up with a letter of gratitude a few days later.
“With all that was going on with her she was so kind to have done that,” said Creedon.
Vicki knew that her husband had a soft spot for his Irish friend.