Opinion » Editorial


Thursday Oct 22, 2015

John Joseph McKenna, III

A true son of Boston, John died peacefully on October x, 2015 after a long illness surrounded by members of his loving family. Born in Roxbury to Evelyn (Howe) McKenna and John J. McKenna, II on April 7, 1944, he lived his adult life in Boston's South End.

John was a man of action whose life was rooted in fairness and justice. In Kathleen (Sullivan) his wife of 49 years, John found a kindred spirit and partner in action.

When they saw men sleeping in doorways in the South End in the mid 1960's, they provided hospitality, inviting men to sleep in their living room. When the need to feed, clothe and shelter homeless men exceeded the space in their apartment on Upton Street, together with like-minded friends, they purchased 23 Dartmouth Street and founded Haley House of Hospitality, named in memory of a social work student and civil rights activist.

The new non-profit now had a home, but it also had a mortgage, so John, with pick and shovel in hand, dug graves at Brook Farm cemetery, giving his paycheck to Haley House. Founded as a simple Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen, Haley House currently serves homeless and marginalized individuals in 100+ units of affordable housing in the South End and two social enterprises in Roxbury, Haley House Bakery Café and Dudley Dough.

While a student at Holy Cross College, and under the threat of expulsion, he joined Dr. Martin Luther King's 1965 Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. While staying with an African-American host family, John was picked up by the police on his way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, locked in a bus with other potential marchers to prevent them from marching.

He and Kathleen honeymooned on James Meredith's "March Against Fear," a 220-mile civil rights march from Tennessee to Mississippi. John's responsibility was to walk the perimeter to intervene with night riders.

John took a firm stance against the war in Vietnam, registering as a conscientious objector in 1967. He was jailed in 1968 and 1969 in anti-war demonstrations.

Later, John became an MBTA police officer, then an attorney, and also an administrative law judge. In addition, he had a long history of providing direct care to homeless individuals and families at Pine Street Inn and Sojourner House.

His South End neighbors often found John sitting on the front steps of his home. Stoop-sitting, a South End tradition, was an opportunity for neighbors to enjoy a sunny place to read or chat. For John, the stoop was his study hall. Having returned from his overnight shifts as an MBTA Police Officer, John could be found with law books in hand preparing for his evening classes at Suffolk Law School or writing a legal brief.

For more than 20 years, John served as an officer and board member for COMPASS. There, his wisdom and integrity helped guide and grow COMPASS from a small struggling school to a multi-service organization, which still serves high-risk inner-city children from multi-generational poor families throughout eastern Massachusetts.

John was an athlete. Be it rugby in Somerville, squash in Roxbury, softball in Brighton or a run around Castle Island in South Boston, there was no need for stretching or warming up, for there was a game to be played.

With multiple jobs and a large family, John was not one to rest. His daughters once posted a cartoon on their refrigerator titled, "Dad on Vacation." It depicted a man watching a TV. On the TV screen was a picture of a beach complete with sand, surf, and an umbrella.

John graduated from Boston College High School (1961), Holy Cross College (1965), Boston Police Academy (1970) and Suffolk Law School (1978).

John's accomplishments are only overshadowed by his love for his family for they were his pride and joy.

In addition to his wife Kathe, John leaves his daughters Tamara McKenna, Johanna McCarthy, Molly Canick and Brigid McCaffrey; his sons-in-law: Thomas Brown, Simon Canick, and Kevin McCaffrey; his grandchildren: Oscar, Lucy, Beatrice, Miles, Sam, Reilly, Finn and Amalia; his sisters Joan Beth Condon and Maureen Horn, and his brothers in-law: Robert Condon and David Horn.

Donations in John's memory can be made to Haley House, 23 Dartmouth Street, Boston, MA 02116.