John James Kavanaugh was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 2, 1931, son of John George and Anna Marie (Bradley) Kavanaugh. He passed away in the comfort of his home on Wednesday, September 13, 2023.
He received his early education at Christ Our King School, Wilmington, and at St. Charles High School and College, Catonsville, Maryland. He continued studies for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland. He was ordained on June 8, 1957, at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Wilmington, Delaware, by Bishop Hubert J. Cartwright.
He was first assigned as Associate Pastor to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Liftwood, Wilmington, Delaware. In 1958, he was transferred to Holy Rosary Church, Claymont, Delaware. In 1961, he became Associate Pastor to St. Matthew Church, Woodcrest, Wilmington, Delaware. In 1967, he was transferred to Immaculate Conception Church, Elkton, Maryland. In 1969, he was appointed Pastor to St. Edmond Church, Rehoboth, Delaware. In 1971, he was transferred as Pastor to Holy Cross Church, Dover, Delaware. In 1978, he was named Pastor to St. Peter Church, New Castle, Delaware. In 1985, he became Pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church, Easton, Maryland. From 1987 until 2005, he was Pastor of St. John the Beloved Church, Wilmington, Delaware.
He also served as Associate Pastor of St. Luke, Ocean City, Maryland, and, after retirement from full time ministry, served as Administrator in turn to Corpus Christi, Elsmere, Delaware, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Wilmington, Delaware, St. John Neumann, Berlin, Maryland, and Christ Our King, Wilmington, Delaware.
At this 60th Anniversary Mass, Father Kavanaugh said, “As a young boy, I dreamed of serving God as a priest. I had a dream and I followed it. I’ve never regretted my decision to follow my dream and I would certainly do it all over again. You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Father Kavanaugh was also well known in Delaware’s athletic community, where he worked as a referee for high school competitions throughout Delaware and Cecil County, MD. Many athletes were surprised to discover that the umpire behind home plate also wore a collar. He could be found on the soccer field in the fall, the basketball court in the winter, and perhaps his favorite, behind home plate in the spring.
His love of sports was evident when he arrived at a new parish and would enhance the playing fields and facilities for the children. An avid sports fan, he attended many events, including an NCAA Basketball championship, an NCAA Softball Championship, Navy Football games, and countless other competitions.
Father Jack’s greatest gift was his capacity to see the good in everyone. He was the “go-to” person for his nine nieces and nephews, developing into the patriarch of a grateful extended family. Whether it was advice, a car, or a little something in a secret handshake, his family knew that Father Jack was there for them.
Father Kavanaugh is predeceased by his parents; his sister, Mary Kavanaugh Szymanski; his nephew, Joseph Szymanski.
He is survived by eight nieces and nephews: Annmarie Heisler, James (Gael), John (Christine), Kevin (Mary), Karen, Timothy (Marci), Christopher (Magdalena), and Matthew (Trish); 15 great nieces and nephews, and several “great-great” nieces and nephews.
Services will be held on Thursday, September 21 at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 831 Aiken Avenue, Perryville, Maryland, with Visitation beginning at 10:00AM followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 11:30AM. Committal Services will take place the following day, Friday, September 22 at 9:00AM at the Chapel of Our Lady, Cathedral Cemetery, 2400 Lancaster Avenue, Wilmington.
Donations in memory of Fr. Kavanaugh may be made to the Fund for Retired Priests, Diocese of Wilmington, P.O. Box 2030, Wilmington, DE 19899.
Fund for Retired Priests
Diocese of Wilmington, P.O. Box 2030, Wilmington DE 19899