Not Married, Not Dead, Still in the Trenches

A popular pastor
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Liam Kidney Celebrates 50 Years in the Priesthood

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

Monsignor Liam Kidney looks at a 1968 photo of his class and ticks off the fates of the Roman-collared priests who would graduate alongside him: “Married, dead, still in the trenches, retired, married, dead, I think, still in the trenches.”

For Kidney, who celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest at a special mass at Corpus Christi Church in The Village on Sunday, April 29, it is both a somber and joyous reminder of the paths taken both by him and the Roman Catholic Church over the past half-century.

Sad, because of the many self-inflicted wounds that the church has asked followers to forgive. Yet also hopeful because, with the elevation of a “people’s pastor” such as Pope Francis and the winnowing of the priesthood, those who are still standing in the faith are stronger than ever.

At 73, ebullient and practical, Kidney believes he is a more loving priest than ever. And, judging by the mass last Sunday, the parish has responded to that spirit enthusiastically.

He has matured out of the six-year reviews faced by most pastors: He can go on, “so long as the people want me.”

He feels he was given a second chance 18 years ago, shortly after he succeeded Monsignor Mihan at Corpus Christi in July 1999 when he faced a neurological crisis. The paralyzing horror that is Guillain-Barré Syndrome ravaged him for nearly a year.

“But I came back out of it a transformed man: Before I had administered to the sick with understanding,” he told the Palisadian-Post. “After that, having lain in that bed myself for so many months, not knowing what might happen yet, I know so much how that feels.

“It made me more empathetic, more loving—for I have been there and I was no longer the same man after that. I have been a better priest, I think.”

It was an unexpected twist in the story of the man from the “rebel city” of Cork in Ireland—Kidney is a common name in the city, a Gaelic version of the name of a French invader—who always knew deprivation and pain.

“I cannot approve of the version of the Church in [the 1996 best-selling Irish memoir] ‘Angela’s Ashes,’ but I do recognize the poverty and the alcoholism and the traumas of the [1930s Depression] era in Irish life. I saw it all around me.”

The oldest of five boys, he was always a driven leader and fascinated by history, earning a degree in philosophy at a Jesuit school.

He could have remained in Ireland, but, like most Irish, dreamed of traveling.

And, like McCourt, Kidney escaped to the Americas, first to study for the priesthood at St. John’s in Camarillo and then found the Padre Sierra Parish in Camarillo.

He was granted the honorific “monsignor” in 1999. (They don’t give them out any more, unless you are a Holy See diplomat.) More honors have followed.

“I never wanted to rise up the ranks, become a bishop or whatever, but I do enjoy being a pastor and a dean—helping younger priests around the area in other churches.”

With media training and patience, he is also a master of outreach around the Palisades, opening up doors to other faiths. He thinks about an interfaith “festival” shared with all the Palisadian churches and temples where they celebrate their common human values. One day.

“These days I am more selective about which extra tasks I take on outside Corpus Christi, but I am always there for those who need to be seen and understood.

“Dealing with issues, such as divorce and depression, that were maybe not top of the agenda for past generations—reminding a person in trouble that, yes, you are seen, you are fully loved. That is the message of the modern church, and I am very happy to be carrying it.”

 

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