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Rest in Peace: John McKenna

In 1984, when COMPASS was a small non-profit in Roxbury fighting for its existence, John McKenna, a Boston attorney, volunteered to join our Board of Directors.

On Saturday, October 17, 2015, John died in his home surrounded by Kathe, his wife of 49 years, his four daughters and eight grandchildren. John was born in Roxbury on April 7, 1944.

John was a man whose life was rooted in fairness and justice. For 22 years, he volunteered his services to COMPASS. Thanks in large part to John’s integrity and wisdom, COMPASS a vibrant non-profit, with a $7M budget exists today.

The entire COMPASS Community mourns his passing and remembers, with deep appreciation John’s commitment to creating quality educational and social service programs for high-risk children and their families.

John had a long rich history of helping others.

When John and Kathe saw men sleeping in doorways in the South End in the mid 1960’s, they provided hospitality, inviting men to sleep in their living room. When the need to feed, clothe and shelter homeless men exceeded the space in their apartment on Upton Street, together with the assistance of like-minded friends, they purchased 23 Dartmouth Street and founded Haley House.

The new non-profit now had a home, but it also had a mortgage, so John, with pick and shovel in hand, dug graves, giving his entire paycheck to Haley House. Founded as a simple Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen, Haley House currently serves homeless and marginalized individuals in 100+ units of affordable housing in the South End and two social enterprises in Roxbury, Haley House Bakery Café and Dudley Dough.

While a student at Holy Cross College, and under the threat of expulsion, he joined Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1965 Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. While staying with an African-American host family, John was picked up by the police on his way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, locked in a bus with other potential marchers and prevented from marching.

He and Kathleen honeymooned on James Meredith’s “March Against Fear,” a 220-mile civil rights march from Tennessee to Mississippi.

Later John became an MBTA police officer, then an attorney, and also an administrative law judge. In addition, he had a long history of providing direct care to homeless individuals and families at Pine Street Inn and Sojourner House.

John graduated from Boston College High School (1961), Holy Cross College (1965), Boston Police Academy (1970) and Suffolk Law School (1978).

John’s accomplishments are only overshadowed by his love for his family for they were his pride and joy.


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