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Rev. Robert M. Kearns

Deceased: 2008-12-06


ICTE Fall: 2003

Josephite Father, the Very Reverend Robert Michael Kearns S.S.J., age 72, died Saturday December 6, 2008.

Father Kearns died of complications from cancer in a Mobile, Alabama hospital. He was a previous Superior General of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Josephites.

Father Kearns, affectionately known by all as “Rocky,” served most of his career in Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland, but also served Los Angeles and in the Mobile Archdioceses. While a student in Chicago he also worked in local parishes, and later on Archdiocesan projects.

Following Masses in Prichard, Alabama, his last assignment, he was transported to Baltimore, Maryland. There the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Peter Claver church, his previous pastorate. He was interred in New Cathedral Cemetery in the Josephite plot in Baltimore Saturday December 13, 2008.

Father Kearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, known as “Southey”, the son of John Kearns and Mary Ellen Keane Kearns, on March 19, 1936. The seventh of eight children, John, Francis, Clement, Mary Elizabeth, Doris, Rosemary and Arthur, he is survived by Clement Kearns, Doris Kearns and Rosemary Kearns McDaniels.

Father Kearns was educated at the catholic Nazareth School before beginning studies for the priesthood with the Josephites. He completed his High School at Epiphany Apostolic College, Newburgh, New York, the Josephite minor seminary, and completed college at St. Joseph Seminary, Washington D.C. where he received a BA in Philosophy. He was ordained to the priesthood June 8, 1963. Father Kearns attended the University of Minnesota and Loyola University Chicago, receiving an MA in Urban Studies. He lectured in Sociology and did community work there while serving as an associate at Our Lady Gate of Heaven church, as well as helping develop the Chicago Archdiocesan Urban Commission.

In 1968, Father Kearns became Dean of Studies and Registrar at St. Joseph Seminary, the Josephite center for studies in Philosophy and Theology. Most of his career will involve numerous Josephite and Diocesan administrative and pastoral assignments in the Baltimore-Washington area. He directed the Josephite Pastoral Center for ten years while at the same time an associate at Our Lady of Mercy Parish and a staff member of St. Joseph Seminary. He was Director of the Permanent Diaconate Program for the Archdiocese of Washington and its president in 1978, the Archdiocesan TaskForce of Justice and Corrections, and Administrator of St. Joseph Seminary.

In his spare time, he directed the Family Life program at Clayton Delaware at the St. Joseph Center for Prayer. He was on the Diocesan Senate of Priests, Dean of the Northeast DC Archdiocesan Deanery, and was on the Catholic Charities Search Committee. He worked in youth and social ministries, ministry formation for Laity, the Dismas Program, Parish Council leadership training and Black Arts materials with the Josephite Pastoral Center.

He was for years a valuable partner and contributor to many Josephite and Diocesan committees. His leadership was well known and respected. In 1979 he shifted his focus to become Pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington, but he was also the Josephite Area Director for the North East at the same time, which meant a seat on the Josephite Administration. He was deeply involved in a multitude of Josephite initiatives and government structure. The Development committee, Committee for the Aged, associate editor for the Josephite magazine, the Josephite Harvest, were some of his activities. He was often a delegate or administrative member of the General Conference held for society governance and elections.

1983 saw a major scene change as he became Pastor in Baltimore, Maryland in St. Pius V parish. Lest he become used to ease and leisure, he became the area Pastor for both St. Pius V and St. Peter Claver Parishes. In 1990, his responsibilities were reduced to simply Pastor of St. Peter Claver Parish until 1995. His pastoral efforts helped some major advances in the rehabilitation of housing for the poor in Baltimore. He was active with the Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and its spin-off, the Build Enterprise Nehemiah Development Corporation (BEND C), a housing initiative, and the Catholic Committee for Urban Parishes with a host of other Diocesan and Civic organizations. All this and more was in aid of the Baltimore Urban Parish Study and Planning Process. He was president of the Board of Quarterway House; and many other civic and ecclesiastic organizations.

In 1995, life as he knew it was changed irrevocably when Father Robert Michael Kearns was elected Superior General of the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Josephites. He would serve two terms until 2003, exercising his indomitable energy in several important ways. Not the least of which was his deep compassion and fraternal care for the members of the Society. He knew instinctively that the Society’s true assets are its members and he took particular care in supporting them. All this, as he oversaw the building of a retirement and recuperation facility in Baltimore and a new business and technology center for the St Augustine High School in New Orleans. In collaboration with the Missionaries of St. Paul, he established a Josephite Formation Program in Nigeria which has resulted in twenty-one seminarians studying for the priesthood in the Baltimore-Washington area.

When his final term ended in 2003, Father Kearns turned afresh to a new pastorate, this time in Los Angeles, California, at St. Brigid Parish where he had his first encounter with cancer. From there in 2007 he went to the center of Josephite mission life, to the South, to Alabama, to Pritchard, Alabama, to the Archdiocese of Mobile, to St. James Major Parish. Within a year the parish of Most Pure Heart of Mary in Mobile proper was added to his pastoral reach, just down the road. It was not to be. Within four months he fell ill and suffered a rapid cancerous spread intervened which took him within a week.