CRANSTON — The Rhode Island State Council of Churches honored Father Eugene J. McKenna with the George Dickson Kenney Stewardship Award during its eighth annual ecumenical Heroes of the Faith Breakfast on November 2 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet.
Father McKenna, a senior priest of the Diocese of Providence, has served for many years on the Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission. As its longest-serving member, he has been actively involved in Council activities, such as participating in the Poverty Institute and promoting a dialogue of faith at the Statehouse and among government representatives.
He was nominated for the award for the stewardship of his life and the way he’s invested his life in the lives of so many other people.
“The Rhode Island State Council of Churches is indeed thankful for Father McKenna and his steadfast contributions to Council ministries over the years,” said the Rev. Dr. Donald C. Anderson, executive minister of the RISCC.
“Father Gene is so genuine about his faith, he’s just the real deal. When he talks about his faith, he doesn’t talk about it only in terms of the theoretical, he talks about it in practical ways that affect people’s lives.”
Father McKenna said he was most honored to be recognized for his service to the RISCC — a personal ministry that he finds very rewarding.
“The devotion, friendship and sincerity of so many members of RISCC and the Faith and Order commission have long been an inspiration to me and my ministry,” he said.
He attributed his interest in such ecumenical work to his priestly formation.
“I give sincere thanks to Professor Canon Gustave Thils, who in my first year of seminary theological studies at the University of Louvain turned us on to ecumenism,” Father McKenna said, of the professor who later was named a peritus, or expert, at the Second Vatican Council and served as a distinguished member of the Secretariat for Christian Unity.”
Father McKenna said he was also inspired after attending a public lecture by Father Yves Congar at the University of Louvain while he was passing through on his way home from Rome after one of the sessions of Vatican II.
“He was quite an inspiration for patience since he had humbly obeyed a Church mandate not to publish anymore and yet he continued his theological thinking,” he recalled.
“He eventually became a peritus and arguably the most influential theologian of Vatican II. Perhaps these two priests were the cause of my getting involved in the ecumenical and interfaith movements, work which has been very rewarding for me.”
Ordained in 1963, Father McKenna began his career as a teacher at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and as a parish priest that same year. He has served as a pastor at Our Lady of Mercy, Brussels, Belgium, and on staff at American College, University of Louvain, Belgium.
He also served as auxiliary military chaplain for U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in Brussels, an experience that he ranks as one of the most fascinating he has had in his life.
From 1983-2008, he served at St. Lucy’s Parish in Middletown, and since then has served in senior priest ministries in various parishes in South County and Aquidneck Island.
Since 1990, Father McKenna’s passion has been his work with Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling, serving as president of the organization from 2004-2008.