Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Richard Feeney and Anne Kelly Feeney on the back deck of their Northeast Portland home.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Richard Feeney and Anne Kelly Feeney on the back deck of their Northeast Portland home.
He's off to share wisdom at a meeting about extending the Portland street car. In a few hours, she'll help low-income students as a board member at De La Salle North Catholic High School.  

Years after retirement from careers that focused on the common good, Anne Kelly Feeney and husband Dick Feeney keep calendars brimming with public service. The Northeast Portland couple say they've been invigorated and sustained by being Catholic.

Members of The Madeleine Parish, they came of age during the Second Vatican Council, which explained that the Catholic laity's mission was to order worldly affairs after God's plan. The Feeneys take the calling seriously.

Anne, who retired 11 years ago, served two terms as Multnomah County Auditor — an official who sees to it that the government spends wisely. She was later chief executive of Loaves and Fishes, a senior meal program. She served as a lobbyist in five sessions of the Oregon Legislature, advocating for parents with infants, women’s rights (but not abortion), solar energy and garbage recycling.

Dick, who retired in 2003, served as public affairs director for Tri-Met. He had the difficult task of lobbying for funds to build light rail. He still consults on the Portland street car. Early in his career, Dick was an aide to U.S. Rep. Edith Green, an Oregon Democrat known for her role in passing Title IX to equalize opportunities for girls and women in schools.   

Leadership at their parish, St. Mary Magdalene, trusts the Feeneys.

They were named to a lay panel to give feedback and advice to a seminarian intern. Dick served on the parish council for five years and both are eucharistic ministers. Anne leads a Madeleine group that practices contemplative prayer and also volunteers with adult survivors of sex abuse, inviting them to speak to groups like the altar society.

Inspired by a daughter who taught in Haiti, Anne helped begin an ongoing movement at The Madeleine to support a Catholic school in Port Au Prince.

"They have incredible insight," says Father Mike Biewend, pastor at The Madeleine. "They are very well educated and very committed. They speak openly and lovingly when they have concerns about how we live as church; they are seeking to build up the Kingdom."

Both come from Irish families that immigrated into the U.S. during the mid-19th century potato famine.  

Anne's father was Neil Kelly, who began a Portland home remodeling business still in operation. Her mother Arlene was a Quaker who attended Mass, read the Catholic Worker newspaper and sought social change to fight poverty.     

The eight close-knit Kelly children went to school at All Saints and came to admire Msgr. Thomas Tobin, a champion of church social action and liturgical reform. Anne, second oldest, attended Holy Child Academy and Seattle University. In college while Vatican II was under way, she became convinced that she could help make change in the world. Anne was drawn to the Catholic Worker movement and for a time taught underprivileged children.  

Dick grew up poor in Beaverton, his father having contracted tuberculosis, his mother teaching high school English. He attended St. Cecilia School, then moved on to public education. As a freshman at Portland State, he joined a Young Christian Workers chapter at St. Mary's Cathedral and invited local union and political bosses to speak. Getting involved is the best way to learn what's true and good, he decided. One of the group's mentors was Benedictine Father Bernard Sander, a zealous advocate for lay action and Catholic family life.

Dick edited his school newspaper and helped start what would become PSU's Catholic Newman Club. He obtained a master's degree in public administration from Harvard’s School of Government.   

Dick's mother fervently believed three things: Jesus is Lord and savior, the Catholic Church saved Ireland and labor unions saved America. Feeney's parents backed Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

Dick got his chance to carry on the family political tradition when he was hired as Bobby Kennedy's Oregon press director for the 1968 presidential campaign.

He and Anne met while on opposing sides of the 1968 Democratic primary, Dick keeping the local press posted on Kennedy and Anne managing an Albina neighborhood office for Eugene McCarthy. At a political gathering, the two young Catholics were introduced and found all they had in common, despite differing allegiances. Both attended the Democratic convention in Chicago with all its turmoil.  

Just months after the 1968 election, they were wed during a snowstorm at All Saints Church, with Fathers Tobin and Sander presiding.

Dick started at Tri-Met in 1978, just as Portland was deciding what kind of community it wanted to be. Oregonians rallied for clean air and water and saw public transit as a key. Dick was there to help gain support for the downtown bus mall and then light rail.  

Dick somehow had to keep the region's multiple small governments on board with the transit strategy. In what many see as his master stroke, he'd order large batches of coffee and doughnuts and convene local leaders. From that milieu — sometimes fiery, always candid — consensus emerged.

At it's core, Dick says, planning is a moral endeavor. That's because bad strategies can wreak havoc on the poor, forcing them to live far from workplaces and requiring them to have a car.   

Roger Martin, a veteran lobbyist who serves the Archdiocese of Portland, calls the Feeneys "two of the most enlightening Catholic people I know." Martin has worked with Dick for 30 years and has deep respect for the couple. He and they may not agree on every political issue, but they usually reach accord via Catholic good sense.

"We come from an era when the two parties would get together and solve problems and not start an argument every time someone opens his mouth," says Martin.  
Dick does speak out candidly in the Catholic Conference committee, which Martin sees as "healthy."  

The Feeneys have four daughters, and six grandchildren. The couple has remained in their Alameda Ridge home, where they welcome relatives often. The kitchen walls are decorated with children's art.

Dick, who serves on the advisory committee for the Oregon Catholic Conference, says the Catholic Church in western Oregon is essentially in good shape but could always use more zeal.

"These guys running the show have done a good job," he explains, referring to Archbishop John Vlazny and his cabinet. "But we as Catholics need to be more outgoing."  

Dick, like diocesan leaders, thinks the church is at its best when it leaves its comfort zone and serves the world. For example, Anne likes the idea of the church investing in Catholic schools that reach low-income families — places like De La Salle North and the Jesuits' St. Andrew Nativity School.

The Feeneys envision an increasingly active Catholic Church. That can happen, Anne believes, by training laity in Christian meditation. Prayer will help them encounter Jesus in a personal way and make them energetic disciples in the world.

Dick puts it this way: "Christ is God and man, and this propels us into profound relationship with our brothers and sisters. If you believe God was human, that ought to motivate you."