Fr John Kearns CP died peacefully in the company of loved ones in his home city of Birmingham on the evening of Wednesday, 14 April 2021, after a short spell of illness. He was 56 years old.
Born in Birmingham, after completing his “A” levels, John worked for some years at the National Westminster Bank during which time he made good progress on the road to management in that career. However, it was then that he felt a call to religious life. Having been brought up attending the Abbey parish in Erdington it was natural that his initial enquiries in this regard should be directed to the Redemptorists who run that parish. Nevertheless, in response to an advert in a Catholic newspaper, John ended up paying a visit to Fr Timothy Cullen CP, the Passionist Vocation Director at that time, who was based at St Non’s Retreat in Pembrokeshire. That encounter set him firmly on the road to becoming a Passionist.
He began his time of formation at Minsteracres where, on completion of his postulancy and novitiate, he made his first profession of vows on 13th September 1991. Between 1992 and 1995, John studied for a bachelor of divinity at Heythrop College, spending the first year at Cavendish Square before the college moved its location to Kensington Square. John lived with the Passionist community at St Joseph’s, Highgate, during his time of study. It was no surprise to his tutors and those who knew him that he gained a creditworthy degree and a host of friends along the way.
Having made his final profession of vows as a Passionist at Minsteraces on 14 September 1995 (Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross), John returned to Heythrop that Autumn to begin a year’s study for a masters in ethics.
John’s first pastoral placement was at St Anne and Blessed Dominic’s in Sutton, also the location of the shrine to three prominent Passionists, Blessed Dominic Barberi, Venerable Ignatius Spencer and Venerable Elizabeth Prout. He was ordained to the priesthood there by Bishop William Kenney CP on 5th July 1997 and became assistant to Fr Mark White CP as well as working alongside Sister Brigid Murphy CP in the local prison and with Sister Eileen O' Riordan CP on the parish. When Fr Mark moved and the Passionist monastery was demolished, John became Parish Priest and lived with Frs Luke Magee CP and Richard Appleyard CP. John always had a yearning to work with the disadvantaged and found his niche as chaplain to young offenders, notably at Hindley Prison near Wigan, a role he was to enjoy for more than 20 years and at which he excelled.
His commitment to the marginalised was also witnessed in his co-founding of Austin Smith House, Sparkhill, Birmingham where he lived for the last eight years with fellow Passionist Fr Martin Newell CP in a house of hospitality for destitute asylum seekers. John made real the Passionist charism of “keeping alive the memory of Christ’s Passion” by serving the crucified of today and by being a true example of servant leadership and, like Saint Paul of the Cross, founder of the Congregation of the Passion, John saw the name of Jesus written on the forehead of the poor.
At the Passionist province chapter in 2013, he was elected as provincial and was coming to the end of his second term of office when illness struck. As a true Passionist he accepted his diagnosis with admirable equanimity, telling concerned family and friends that he was “at peace” with his situation. John looked on his time of suffering as his small part in the Passion of Christ. His faith was based on the belief that the Passion of Jesus is the most overwhelming example of God's love for each one of us. We pray that John's family, confrères, and friends find consolation and reassurance in knowing that John is now enjoying the risen company of the Lord whom he loved so well and served so faithfully in the least of his sisters and brothers. May he rest in peace.
Fr John's funeral funeral will take place at Erdington Abbey. His body will be received into the Abbey on Thursday 6 May at 5.00pm and his Requiem Mass will be celebrated on Friday 7 May at 1.00pm followed by interment in St. Clements section in the Abbey Church Yard. John will lie in his Passionist grave among the Redemptorist Priests and a hundred yards from his father’s grave. Attendees are limited to 30 but live-stream will be available.