Remembering Colin McKenna

The death last week of Rev. Colin McKenna on the train tracks of his native Westport shook his many friends and admirers. 

David Pettee graduated from Staples High School in 1981, the same year Colin graduated from Fairfield Prep. David is now a Florida-based software developer. He sends along this tribute to his friend:

Many of us who grew up with Colin McKenna in Westport are shocked and reeling from the public tragedy that took him from us last week. Colin and I grew up off South Compo Road, across from Longshore, during the 1970s. We went to Saugatuck Elementary (at that time on Bridge Street) and Bedford Junior High (on Riverside Avenue).

Colin McKenna in Ireland, in 1981.

Colin McKenna in Ireland, in 1981.

He was a swimmer, skier, soccer player and neighborhood pal to everyone on Compo Parkway and Round Pond Road. We had so much fun “hacking around” our neighborhood during the summer months. Too many laughs and neighborhood pranks, which went on day and night, to list.

All the kids in the neighborhood took turns riding his homemade go-kart. It was powered by an old lawn mower engine that we kept running, providing hours of fun. In the winter there were snow ball fights and outdoor hockey, day and night, on a frozen Round Pond

I spoke to Colin last July. For those in and around Westport who are wondering what happened and why, there are no easy answers. He died of a difficult brain disorder, a painful and dark reminder of someone who tried to overcome a psychological disorder.

He was well-meaning in his Catholic ministry, and reached out to hundreds in ways that only a priest can. As a former Westporter, I want to acknowledge Colin’s life and the many great memories he made for us.

At the same time, I want to thank all the first responders — Westport Police, Fire and EMS — who tried to save his life.  In addition, thanks to the MTA and its employees, who handled this tragedy with dignity and also tried to save him.

I will remember Colin for a very long time.

8 responses to “Remembering Colin McKenna

  1. Dan, I did not know Colin. but you wrote a super nice memoir of him. I only wish I knew him. I was touched by your writing. Thank you. LuAnn

  2. Colin came into our lives some years ago during his journey to the priesthood. He was assigned to the Church of the Assumption and became an active part of the Assumption Family. Funny and vibrant, he engaged easily with all of us; little did we realize his inner struggles. I remember his wishing me a “Happy Birthday” during the middle of a Mass one year…imagine that!
    Colin was ordained and moved on but, happily, we’d see him from time to time and, as a contributing writer in the Fairfield County Catholic Magazine, I enjoyed his pertinent and spot-on words of insight, always faith-filled. He concealed his struggles to all but those closest to him.

    He’s home now…but will be missed here.

  3. What a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to Father Colin McKenna, bringing up the joyous memories of growing up in Westport, especially in the Longshore neighborhood. He and his family generous and thoughtful souls.

    During our formative years, he often took me water skiing on a boat he maintained at Compo Beach Marina. And we, along with my twin Dave and others, attended major league baseball games in New York City with great reverie and camaraderie. Regarding go-karting on Round Pond Road, I have vivid memories of Father McKenna racing by a neighbor spraying him with a garden hose, to reduce the noise level of his machine, while he so steadfastly and fearlessly steered, dodged and shook that water like a duck. We often had great laughs like that.

    I reunited with Father McKenna when he was in his mid-30s, in 2007, presiding over a sermon at Sacred Heart Church of Georgetown, just off route 7 near north Weston, where he was an assistant priest or vicar. He spoke so softly yet confidently, and passionately to his mass attendees. Before that mass I had the occasion to share dinner with Father McKenna at Chuck’s Steakhouse of Danbury where very earnestly ministered to me with great compassion. At that time he did share with me, with great pride and satisfaction, that he enjoyed positive and successful relationships with his parishioners, and also enjoyed and esteem and regard of his fellow priests.

    Another aspect to Father McKenna that is notable to share is that he assembled a collection of more than 50 op-eds he submitted to the New York Times is an 88-page print-on-demand book called Never Published (available for $6.95 plus shipping at blog dot com).

    It is my understanding that burial mass is tomorrow, Tuesday April 15 at 11 am at Saint Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport. I wish I could be there yet
    I extend my condolences at this time to his family, Gene and Dr. Tona, friends, and fellow priests.

  4. What a tragedy! So sad.

  5. To my old friends and childhood neighbors, Brian and David Pettee, thank you both for honoring Colin’s memory, and all of ours, with your wonderful memories, and kind, eloquent and thoughtful words.

    While I had not seen Colin since those days of our youth, on and around Round Pond Road and Compo Parkway, I was deeply saddened to learn of his death, buoyed to hear of his meaningful and significant life, and crestfallen to hear of the struggles that lead to his unfortunate and untimely death.

    My deepest sympathies to his family and dear friends. May he Rest In Peace.

  6. I moved to Westport in the summer of 1975, and started at Saugatuck Elementary that Fall. In Mr. Bayus’s 6th grade classroom, Colin sat to one side of me, and Jimmy Freehill, the other. I had an instant friend in both of those guys and the pranks pulled were countless. All of us that knew Colin in our youth recall our memories with a smile, as to be his friend meant you were going to laugh until it hurt. Somewhere in a discarded box of photos, is one of me and Colin dressed up for the 9th grade Holly Ball at Bedford Junior High. I can still picture the grin on his face in that photo. Round Pond Road stories ALWAYS involved Colin’s mischief, and I’m grateful for the memories we all share of such a wonderful friend.
    The kids of the early 80’s in Westport have lived through some unique tragedies that could not be imagined in today’s world. Our losses at such a young age and in such cruel abundance make the untimely loss of yet another loving kind, childhood friend that much more heartrending. There is not one among us that wouldn’t want to share another laugh, smile, day with Colin. Soar Ever High. He Will Bring You Home.

    Dr Tona, Gene, my prayers are with you.

  7. Dr. Damian Stone

    09/21/2015, Monday

    The following tribute I wrote and shared on the Spear Miller Funeral Home Guestbook, where Colin’s funeral was conducted; and upon finding this webpage commemorating Colin McKenna, I thought that I would share it here as well. Thank you.

    I knew Colin quite well since his days at Pope Saint John XXIII Seminary in Massachusetts, in the late 1990s, and he and I enjoyed many discussions regarding Theology, and The Sacraments, and Ecumenism. Colin, [or as most people referred to him; Father McKenna] was Intelligent, Knowledgeable, Spiritual, and Gifted. May he finally be released from his Earthly pain as he enters his Eternal Reward in Heaven.

    The Rev. Dr. Damian Stone.