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RIP – Kenneth SSF

In the May 1991 issue of franciscan we recorded the celebration for the sixtieth anniversary of Brother Kenneth’s profession in vows. now we celebrate his entrance into fuller life.

Kenneth came to Hilfield, or Batcombe as it was then called, to join Brother Douglas in 1925. he was a young man of twenty-two, and threw himself into the work, which in those days was entirely devoted to tramps. but he came with a love of St Francis and a longing to give himself to Christian mission, and it was with this aim that he had served an apprenticeship as a printer in the hope of using his skill overseas. In1931 he took vows along with Brother Douglas and Brother Arthur, the first three brothers in life profession.

When Father Algy came to the Friary to take charge of the noviciate, and later merged his own small Franciscan community with the Batcombe brothers, Kenneth became Algy’s right hand man. Under his influence he not only helped to create the stable community which the Society of St Francis became, but also realised his own potential as an outstanding preacher and missioner and source of inspiration to countless individuals.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939 Kenneth was at the height of his powers. He helped carry the Society through the difficult war years. But during that period he suffered a traumatic personal crisis, which soured his relationship with the brothers for years afterwards. He rationalized it by making himself the champion of the old days against the changes and developments, which he knew at the same time to be inevitable and necessary. Few people knew the real nature or the depth of the wound which this attitude represented. But it explained the ambiguity of his life for the next fifty years in which most people alive knew him best.

From this time his energy was poured into the work outside the Friary. Preaching in parishes and schools, conducting parochial missions, sands missions, and hopping missions, visiting borstals and later prisons, his influence was immense, not only on those who were on the receiving end, but on those who accompanied him. People loved him, and he was warmed by their affection. Many of them became Companions of St Francis, and running the Companions became his special work for the Society. In this connection he set up an enormous personal correspondence. The letters were simple and ephemeral, but they showed that people, once befriended by him, were never forgotten or left unloved.

It has often been hard for the brothers to understand this, for they had to bear, without knowing it, the burden of his wound. Within the Friary he tended to be isolated and uncooperative, and sometimes bad-tempered and gruff. it is cause for gratitude that his long life allowed time to do it’s healing work. Brother Michael in his sermon at the funeral told us of an act of reconciliation which he had taken only a year before he died. The rest of us at Hilfield witnessed the mellowing of his attitudes and his happiness at receiving the Blessed Sacrament frequently.

Kenneth was proud of the fact that, having been warned by Douglas at the very beginning that he must be prepared to end his days in the workhouse, in the end he would become the first brother to do so. But the old workhouse at Cerne Abbas has been transformed into a well appointed old people’s home and here he was most beautifully looked after, when it became clear in the summer that he could no longer be cared for at the Friary. All of us are most grateful that his last days were spent in such comfort, and that the end, for which he felt himself ready, when it came early on 9th October, was swift and free from pain. f