Joseph Mary Patrick Kearney was born in Coalisland, Ireland, diocese of Armagh, on July 15, 1834. He was fourth in a family of five children. His father died while he was still a child and his mother moved to Belfast before emigrating to America a short time after Joseph entered the novitiate in Sicklinghall as a scholastic novice on June 20, 1855. At the end of novitiate he took vows as a coadjutor Brother on July 26, 1856. The novice master wrote at that time: “Kearney has become a coadjutor Brother. He is studying to become a schoolteacher and will supervise the juniorate. He is a very good Brother, devout, punctual and with much good sense.”
He was working in Dublin in 1856-1857 and took his final vows in Inchicore on July 16, 1857. He then left for Western Canada. He spent the winter of 1857-1858 in Saint-Norbert, Manitoba. Then he went to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta (1858-1859), then to Fort Resolution in the Northwest Territories (1859-1861) where he built a chapel in 1960. He spent the rest of his life in Fort Good Hope (1861-1918) and there he died on October 1, 1918 and he is buried there. The Indians gave him the name “Dene Ondie” (little brother). One of the lakes in the Territories bears his name.
During all his time in Good Hope he lived with Father Jean Séguin. He worked at all the trades: builder, gardener, cook, a skilled manager of the dogs that carried the timber for heating, the food, etc. In his biography of the Brother, Father Paul Emile Breton wrote: “His life was a monotonous grind of little actions repeated many times, day after day, throughout the year. No use looking for ecstasies or miracles, for sublime flights of mysticism, nor for some sublime act of blinding heroism. And yet there was heroism. It consisted in the fidelity of a lifetime devoted to the most modest tasks, the perfect submission of his will, the calm acceptance of poverty, of suffering, of the sacrifices to be made. The Brother had no distinguishing feature if not his diminutive height, somewhat less than average. Perhaps God made him small to emphasize the humility which he wished to hide from all eyes.”
Sources and Bibliography
G. A.: about fifty letters.
Missions OMI, 1864-1918, passim.
Breton, Paul-Émile, o.m.i., Au pays des Peaux-de-Lièvres, Joseph M.P. Kearney o.m.i., Edmonton 1962, 182 pp.
Breton, Paul-Émile, o.m.i., Irish of the Arctic, the life of Brother Patrick Kearney OMI, Edmonton 1963, 153 pp.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., “Kearney, Joseph Patrick”, in Dictionnaire biographique des Oblats de M.I, au Canada, Vol. II, Ottawa 1977, pp.190-191. This text in a more completed form has been used here.