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Remembering Brother Steve

In Brother Stephen J. Kennedy, C.M., cheerfulness and charity went hand in hand. His desire to “work with the people” led him to donate countless hours in service to the poor and underserved in the Niagara Falls area, both while working as postmaster at Niagara University, a position he held for 24 years, and after his retirement in 1987. On Friday, Oct. 7, during a memorial Mass in Alumni Chapel, the Niagara University community celebrated the life of Brother Steve, who passed away on Sept. 27 at the age of 84.

A native of Philadelphia, Brother Steve entered the Congregation of the Mission in 1957 after serving in the Navy during World War II and pursuing a career in business. He was assigned to the Vincentian Motherhouse in Germantown, Pa., where he served in a variety of administrative posts. In 1963, he was assigned to Niagara University as postmaster of the university’s Post Office, a position that enabled him to get to know hundreds of Niagara students. “I think I knew every student by their first name,” he once said.

He so enjoyed his friendship with the students that he took advantage of opportunities to work with them in extracurricular pursuits, including coaching the university’s golf team and moderating the men’s and women’s hockey teams. When the women’s team earned a berth into the NCAA Frozen Four in 2001-02, the players received rings for their achievement. Brother Steve received a ring as well and wore it often. “The ring meant a great deal to him,” the Rev. Joseph Hubbert, C.M., ’73, Vincentian religious superior, recalls.

Brother Steve also enjoyed the company of his confreres and would initiate opportunities for them to get together, often over Chinese food or as members of a Thursday night bowling team. The team was “more camaraderie than competition for him,” says Father Hubbert.

But what Brother Steve was most passionate about was helping the less fortunate in his community. “This is what life is all about: Love thy neighbor — not abstractly, but concretely,” he once said, and his life clearly reflected this conviction.

He donated countless hours to a variety of charitable causes in the Niagara Falls area on days off and after hours during his postal career. He prepared meals, attended to clean up and provided hospitality to patrons of Maranatha House and the Lampstead, two projects of the Catholic Worker; tutored disadvantaged elementary and high school students; started a program to teach African American history in local churches and in the Niagara County jail; and helped to bring a literacy program to the area’s maximum-security prison.

Retirement afforded Brother Steve the time to do full time what he had been doing on a part-time basis, and, in 1987, he established the St.Vincent de Paul Center of Niagara University. Under his direction, the center distributed millions of pieces of clothing, furniture and foodstuffs to disadvantaged families in the area and collected toys for needy children each Christmas. He also had a great appreciation for Native American culture and worked with members of the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in Niagara County and the Six Nations Reservation in Canada. His enthusiasm for and devotion to this work inspired hundreds of Niagara University students to follow his example. These charitable deeds, he said, rounds out their education.

For several years, Brother Steve could be found behind the wheel of a 14-foot van that was donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Center. With it, he would make his rounds through the community, collecting clothing, appliances and household goods for the distribution center. Jan Reele, who has worked for the Vincentians for the past 12 years, recalls that when Brother Steve drove his truck onto the Tuscarora Reservation, the children would run toward it “as if (he) were Santa Claus.”

In recognition of his selfless dedication to the underserved, Brother Steve was honored with a number of awards, including the Niagara University Caritas Medal and the President’s Medal from St. John’s University.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, a funeral Mass was held at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Philadelphia. Brother Steve was laid to rest that afternoon at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Princeton, N.J.

“Brother Steve Kennedy was our postmaster for many years, but it was his compassion, service of the poor and his consistent smile and joyful spirit that made him a very special person here at Niagara University; he was indeed a second Vincent de Paul for us and the Western New York community he loved to serve,” said the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., Niagara University president. “Brother Steve will live forever in the hearts of everyone who knew him.”