Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kenney, Peter James

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KENNEY, PETER JAMES (1779–1841), Irish jesuit, was born in Dublin on 7 July 1779. While serving as an apprentice to a coachbuilder he attracted the attention of Dr. Thomas Betagh [q. v.], whose evening school he attended, and by whom he was sent to Carlow College. He afterwards went to Stonyhurst College, and entered the Society of Jesus on 20 Sept. 1804. He completed his studies with much distinction at the jesuit college in Palermo, where he was ordained priest. The English, who occupied Sicily at the time, formed a plan, which came to nothing, for liberating Pope Pius VII, then held captive by the French, and Kenney was selected to act as interpreter between the pope and his rescuers. He also ministered as catholic chaplain to the British troops in Sicily, but was ordered to discontinue his services by the governor of Malta, and the prohibition was denounced by Grattan in parliament. He returned to Ireland in 1811, and served one of the parochial chapels in Dublin, where he acquired great renown as a preacher. His friend Dr. Murray, who was then coadjutor to the Archbishop of Dublin, on becoming president of Maynooth College in 1812, nominated Kenney as vice-president, which post he held for about a year. Kenney was mainly instrumental in reviving the jesuit mission in Ireland, and was its superior for many years, becoming subsequently its vice-provincial after the Irish mission was made a vice-province of the society. In May 1814, a few months previous to the restoration of the jesuit order by papal bull, he opened Clongowes Wood College, co. Kildare, which has since been the leading catholic lay school in Ireland, and in later years he aided in the establishment of St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, King's County, and of the jesuit residence of St. Francis Xavier in Dublin; he was also of much assistance to Mary Aikenhead [q. v.], the foundress of the Irish sisters of charity in the institution of her religious congregation. In 1819 and in 1830 he was sent by the father-general of the order as visitor to the jesuit mission in the United States, and in July 1833, during the period of his second visit, he published the general's decree constituting the American mission a province of the society. In Ireland he was constantly employed in conducting missions and retreats. He died in Rome on 19 Nov. 1841, and was buried in the church of the Gesù in that city.

Kenney was one of the most eminent preachers and theologians in the catholic church in Ireland in the early part of this century. His style of eloquence resembled that of O'Connell, and was, it is stated, much admired by Grattan. Manuscript copies of his ‘Meditations’ are preserved. He began several times a history of the jesuits in Ireland, but did not continue it. There is a portrait of him in Maynooth College.

[Hogan's Chron. Cat. of the Irish Province S. J., pp. 85–6; Foley's Records, vii. 414; Oliver's Collectanea S. J.; Battersby's Dublin Jesuits, pp. 113–16; Meagher's Life of Archbishop Murray, pp. 89–93; Life of Mary Aikenhead, by S. A., Dublin, 1879; Eighth Report of Commissioners of Irish Education Inquiry—Evidence of the Rev. Peter Kenney, London, 1827; Irish Monthly, xviii. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10; Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 3rd ser. xii. 794–9.]

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