Saturday, December 10, 2016

RIP | Damian A. Kearney, OSB

Rev. Dom Damian Kearney, OSB (1928-2016)
Rev. Dom Damian A. Kearney, O.S.B. has been a fixture of Portsmouth Abbey School for so long that his death did not fully register with me. 

I heard news of it while I was traveling in England, but I somehow expected to see him this week at the annual New York City Portsmouth reception. He died at 87 on Sept. 8, 2016 and his funeral Mass was on Sept. 14 in the Portsmouth Abbey Church in Portsmouth, R.I. He is buried in the Abbey’s cemetery.

Born Allan Peter Kearney on Nov. 28, 1928, in Rockville Center, Long Island, N.Y, he was the son of Edward and Louise Keefe Kearney. Fr. Damian had five brothers and a sister, of whom his brothers David and Andrew survive him, along with many nephews and nieces. I met his younger brother David Q. Kearney at the Vero Beach, Fla. Portsmouth reception in the spring of 2016.

Portsmouth Abbey Cemetery
Fr. Damian entered Portsmouth Abbey (then Priory) School in the First Form in 1940, graduating early as a Fifth Former in 1945 because of the war. He earned a B.A. degree from Yale University in 1949 and entered the monastery in 1950. Fr. Damian was ordained to the priesthood on May 26, 1956. I believe I was the first at Portsmouth to be Fr. Damian’s altar boy in 1956. The monks said mass early on a weekday morning and, as I recollect, one signed up to be the altar boy.

Fr. Damian taught in the English Department for more than 50 years and chaired the department ion 1974-88. I took his English course in the Fifth Form and was impressed with his dedication to teaching, to the English language, and to Portsmouth:
  • When I wrote to him about some great calligraphy I found in Estonia, he reminded me of the great calligraphers over the years at Portsmouth.
  • When I told him that I had written an article about heraldry at Oxford, he reminded me that Fr. Wilfred Bayne at Portsmouth must have kindled my interest–quite possibly true. 
He was the house master of the largest boys' dormitory, St. Benet's, in 1960-74. I was at St. Benet’s in 1955-58 when his predecessor Cecil Acheson was the house master.

Fr. Damian was Prior of the monastery and thus acting Superior whenever the Abbot was away during the 1974-90 period. He was a member of the Abbot's advisory Council starting in 1964, with hardly a break. He directed the monastic education of the Novices and Junior monks, and toward the end of his life was Director of Oblates.

Fr. Damian was the Abbey’s historian and archivist. He was strong in his teaching of Shakespeare’s plays. He met my mother on one of her visits; she has published two dozen books for children at Viking and Farrar Straus, under the name Hilda van Stockum. She argued strongly with Fr. Damian for the case that the Earl of Oxford was the real writer of the Shakespeare plays, making the point that Shakespeare didn’t travel and could not have known about foreign countries and their  manners. Fr. Damian initially dismissed the idea, but then found the subject interesting and pursued it, although he continued to support the authenticity of the Shakespeare authorship.

His ordination card reads: “One thing have I asked the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life.” He surely found what he was seeking. May he dwell now with the Lord now that the days of his life have ended.