Father McKenna


Rev. Horace B. McKenna, SJ (1899 – 1982)

The Father McKenna Center, is a place that carries on the work of the late Rev. Horace McKenna SJ who was known as the "priest to the poor." Father McKenna used to say that his role was to hang on to people until help came.

Fr. McKenna was born on January 2, 1899 in New York City as one of 12 children.


  • Educated at Fordham Preparatory School, he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson on July 30, 1916.
  • Between 1921 and 1923, he taught in a Jesuit school in Manila, Philippines. There, he discovered the desperate needs of the poor and oppressed.
  • He was ordained June 23, 1929 and assigned to pastor parishes in southern Maryland amidst poverty and segregation including St. Peter Claver's Church, St. James' Church, St. Ignatius' Church and St. Inigoes'.
  • Fr. McKenna served at St Aloysius in Washington DC from 1953 to 1958. Then he spent six years as assistant pastor at the Church of the Gesu in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1964, he returned to St. Aloysius where he remained until his death in 1982.
  • He was active in civil rights, Vietnam-era anti-war protests and the Poor People's Campaign.

Fr. McKenna worked tirelessly throughout his life in Washington DC for the rights of the poor. He co-founded SOME (So Others Might Eat), a soup kitchen, clinic and jobs center, and Martha's Table which served the needs of homeless and low income families in the lower Columbia Heights neighborhood. He was also instrumental in the development of Sursum Corda Cooperative, a low-income housing project in the block just north of St Aloysius Parish in Washington, DC.

In 1983, in honor of the legacy left by Fr. McKenna, the Father McKenna Center opened its doors in the basement of St Aloysius. His love for those in need is present and active today in the continuing mission and work of the center that bears his name.

Words of Wisdom from Father McKenna

" I really believe that every person is a revelation of God - the joy of God, the love of God. I feel that the human person on the street is the appearance of Jesus Christ consumed with human needs. Christ is in the wretched person, as well as the young person, the young woman or the young child. Their smile is so fresh, like a bud or an open flower that speaks of the wealth of the plant beneath the surface. And that wealth is God. "

" You can't talk to a person about his or her soul if that person has no food"

" In the old days, we would go out in pairs and take care of the Widow Jones who had no bread or the Widow Smith whose rent was due. But now, the poor are a swarm all around us. We can't go out to them. How could you go to sixty homes? How could you go everywhere at once? We have to be ready when they come to us."

" The greatest undeveloped resource of our nation and of our world is the poor."

"The poor can't lift themselves up by their bootstraps because they have no boots."