Have a heart: St. Vincent's fights to keep garden honouring soldier out of church sale

·3 min read
Kevin Kennedy's mother, Kay, says she's heartbroken by the potential loss of the memorial garden. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Kevin Kennedy's mother, Kay, says she's heartbroken by the potential loss of the memorial garden. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)

Residents of a small Newfoundland community are asking the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's to remove a memorial garden honouring a fallen soldier from the sale of their church.

In St. Vincent's, on the southern Avalon Peninsula, the Pte. Kevin Kennedy Memorial Garden sits on the property of Sacred Heart Parish, which is up for sale by the archdiocese as part of a liquidation of assets to settle sexual abuse claims related to the Mount Cashel Orphanage.

Kennedy, who served in the Royal Canadian Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan in April 2007.

Kennedy's mother, Kay, was one of several residents who gave emotional speeches at a rally at the garden Thursday asking the archdiocese to remove it from the land sale.

"This garden really means the world to us because it's a place where you can go and be at peace. To just sit down and remember Kevin and think good, happy thoughts," Kennedy told CBC News on Thursday.

"And not only for Kevin. To think about all the veterans in our community that sacrificed so much. They fought for our freedom. That's why we got an archdiocese today. That's why we got a peaceful country — it's because of our soldiers and our veterans."

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

Kennedy says she's angry and heartbroken over the potential loss of the garden.

She hopes the archdiocese will change its mind and separate the garden from the sale of the church or that whoever buys the property will leave the garden as it stands.

"It's like they don't care. Nobody cares. My son gave his all, along with many more veterans. It's just so sad," she said. "Please, have a heart."

John Sloan, a retired sergeant of both the Royal Canadian and Royal Newfoundland regiments, fought with Kennedy in 2007.

"I'll always remember him until the day I die," Sloan said. "He's a great guy, a patriot for his country, and I'm really disgusted that the possibility exists that this may be taken down in support of Kevin and other veterans from this area."

The sentiment was echoed by John Barnes, a retired chief warrant officer of the Royal Canadian Regiment who visits the garden whenever he returns to Newfoundland.

"We fought in the same piece of dirt in Afghanistan. So he is my brother, and when I heard what was happening here it was devastating," he said.

'We won't go down without a fight'

St. Vincent's-St. Steven's-Peter's River Mayor Verna Hayward said the community has been shaken by the potential sale of the church, but the loss of the garden would especially sting.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

"We just can't sit back on our haunches and hope and pray that it's not going to go. We just have to hope that if someone is to buy that church, that they leave the garden," Hayward said.

"Or the archdiocese see it in their wisdom to take it away from the deal altogether. It doesn't have to be part of the deal."

Hayward hopes the community outcry can appeal to the archdiocese to save the garden, saying a place of peace shouldn't have to be the site of a rally to save the heart of the community.

"We won't go down without a fight," she said. "The garden means a lot."

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