Sister Christine Francis Kennedy spent two decades teaching, then went into a new line of work: She received a master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University and played a key role in forming what became a noted alcohol rehabilitation center.
Kennedy, who also served on the leadership council of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville, died June 20 at the order’s motherhouse there. She was 86 and had served as a Dominican sister for 64 years.
Sister Marie Rabuse, who entered the order on the same day Kennedy did in 1951, said she was a quick-witted nun with a “tremendous dry sense of humor — good, sharp, clever.”
She taught at all levels of school, from elementary to college, including a stint in Puerto Rico.
Kennedy was raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, and about when she was 10 her father died, Rabuse said. That left her mother as the sole breadwinner with five children.
Kennedy was the oldest and became something of a mother figure to her younger siblings, Rabuse said. “She was absolutely devoted to her family” throughout her life.
She attended Dominican Commercial High School in Jamaica, where she got to know some of the nuns, and a few years later — after working as a secretary — she joined the order. She received her habit and name in religion of Christine Francis in 1952.
From 1953 to 1960, she taught elementary school at St. Agnes Cathedral School in Rockville Centre, Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians School in Woodside, and Sacred Heart School in East Glendale. In 1960, she was assigned to teach business subjects at St. Michael’s High School in Brooklyn. By 1962 she began teaching at All Saints High School in Brooklyn. From 1964 to 1971, she taught business administration at Catholic University in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
She then returned to New York, where she obtained her master’s from Yeshiva, and embarked on what the order in a statement called “the highlight of her professional life.” Along with other nuns and a layman, she helped found Veritas Villa, which the order said turned into “a nationally known and acclaimed alcohol rehabilitation center.”
Initially located on the grounds of St. Joseph in upstate Monticello, it is currently in Kerhonkson, New York. Kennedy once commented in an oral history for the order that “this work was a testimony to grace, a testimony to a work that is so of God, so of healing.”
By 1977, she was elected regional superior and served on the Executive Board of the Congregation – the order’s leadership council — until 1981. She then ministered as a counselor at Dominican Commercial High School and at Bishop Kearney High School, served as a supervisor for Alcoholism Serve—Stop DWI, and was a social worker at St. Gregory Service Center in Bellerose.
She is survived by a brother, Jack. Kennedy was buried in the sisters’ cemetery in Amityville after a funeral Mass.