God Is In the Zendo

A profile of Father Robert Kennedy Roshi, a Catholic priest and Zen teacher

Robert Hirschfield

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“It is said,” Father Robert Kennedy began, “that Sanghanandi, the seventeenth Indian patriarch, was born speaking. He spoke only about Buddhism. Someone to avoid.”

Kennedy, a Jesuit priest and a Zen teacher, was giving a dharma talk to a small group of his students in the basement of a Methodist church in Manhattan in 1995. I went because I found the idea of a Jesuit sensei exotic.

Ten years after my first meeting with him in that church, I sit with Father Kennedy Roshi in the lobby of the Jesuit community at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey. Along with being a priest and a Zen teacher, Kennedy, who received his doctorate in theology from Ottowa University, is the chair of the Theology Department at St. Peter’s. A tall, quiet man of seventy-one, his white hair is typical of most of his fellow residents: a species of white-tufted Jesuits.

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