Townsend, Kathleen Kennedy 1951–

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Townsend, Kathleen Kennedy 1951–

(Kathleen Hartlington Kennedy)


Born July 4, 1951, in Greenwich, CT; daughter of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy; married David Lee Townsend (a professor), November 17, 1973; children: daughters Meaghan, Maeve, Kate, and Kerry. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (cum laude); University of New Mexico School of Law, J.D., 1978. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home— Baltimore, MD. E-mail— [email protected].


Attorney. U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, deputy assistant attorney general; Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, 1995-2003; Georgetown University, Washington, DC, adjunct professor of public policy; Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA, visiting fellow; also taught at University of Pennsylvania, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and at Essex and Dundalk Community Colleges. Chair for External Advisory Board, Early Infant Transition Center, and the Kennedy-Krieger Institute; Radcliffe College, board of partners; Maryland Student Service Alliance, founder, director; Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, chair, board of advisors; Operation Respect, president.

Member of the board of directors for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, Inter-American Dialogue, Center for American Progress, Points of Light Foundation, National Catholic Reporter, Character Education Partnership, and National Institute for Women's Policy Research.


Visionary Leadership Award, Healthy Families America, 2000; Clinton Center Award for Leadership, Democratic Leadership Council, 2002; Hollander Award for Women's Leadership, 2003. Has received twelve honorary degrees.


Maryland Crime Control and Prevention Strategy, Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention (Baltimore, MD), 1998.

Moving Maryland Forward: 2002 and Beyond: A Strategic Direction for Maryland State Government, Office of the Governor (Annapolis, MD), 2002.

Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God with Politics and Lost Their Way, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles to periodicals including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Monthly.


Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was born July 4, 1951, in Greenwich, Connecticut, the latest member of the Kennedy family and political dynasty. The daughter of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy, and granddaughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Townsend lived her private life in a public arena, as did her aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins. She was just a teenager when her father was assassinated in 1968. In 1973, when she married David Townsend, it was her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, who gave her away, despite the fact that his own son was having his leg amputated the same day. Other cousins were lost to accidents, including John F. Kennedy, Jr., whose plane went down while Townsend and her family prepared to celebrate her sister Rory's wedding. But the Kennedy legacy consists of far more than a series of tragic, early deaths. Townsend earned her undergraduate degree at Harvard University, then went on to become an attorney. She has taught at the university level, and has both written and spoken regarding the ways in which faith can be connected to justice. In that same vein, she founded the Maryland Student Service Alliance, which made it a requirement for Maryland students to perform some type of community service in order to be eligible to graduate. She first tried her hand at politics in Maryland, running for the congressional seat in 1986, and doing so under her married name. She lost, making her the only Kennedy ever to lose an election at that time. Townsend picked herself up and kept going, spending two years as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton. However, in 1995 she became Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, which then made her the first Kennedy woman to hold office. She held the post until 2003, when she ran for governor and lost. At that point, she moved on, and was named an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Public Policy. In addition, she has been a visiting professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and at Essex and Dundalk Community Colleges. Her other commitments include sitting on the boards of numerous organizations, such as the Council of Foreign Relations, Inter-American Dialogue, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Center for American Progress, the Points of Light Foundation, the National Catholic Reporter, and the National Institute for Women's Policy Research. She is also the chair for the External Advisory Board, the Early Infant Transition Center, the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Townsend is also the author of several books, most notably Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God with Politics and Lost Their Way. The book, which met with a great deal of praise from critics, looks at the connection between faith and politics, faith and the common good, and addresses the need to separate overzealous religious ideas from the way people conduct their lives. Townsend uses examples from her own childhood and the ways in which her understanding grew of her own place in society and how her faith made her better able to make decisions and act in accordance with her beliefs regardless of how public her interactions. Many of her personal experiences are real-life reminders of how to treat one's fellow man, and she continues to encourage others to consider more than their own personal agenda when making choices each and every day. In Failing America's Faithful, Townsend points out ways in which she believes that churches and organized religion are failing to work for their members on a practical level, as they have become more of a politi-cal stomping ground than religious organizations geared toward serving individuals. While churches fight for rulings and laws on the governmental level, they are ignoring the needs of real people who are homeless or starving or suffering in some other way. Ted G. Jelen, in a review for Conscience, remarked: "This work is an acutely perceptive description of the current state of religious politics in the United States, as well as an inspiring call to action to those of us who occupy the political left." Lisa Miller, reviewing for Newsweek, commented that "the most moving sections of the book are those in which she remembers her religious upbringing: the evening rosary, the daily mass her mother mandated in the summer months, the wise nuns who taught her in school." In a review for Publishers Weekly, one contributor stated: "Townsend makes a valid point: in America, faith is no longer about community."



California Bookwatch, June, 2007, review of Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God with Politics and Lost Their Way.

Conscience, autumn, 2007, Ted G. Jelen, review of Failing America's Faithful, p. 50.

Library Journal, March 15, 2007, Leroy Hommerding, review of Failing America's Faithful, p. 77.

National Catholic Reporter, May 25, 2007, Paul Wilkes, "Moving Americans from ‘I’ to ‘We,’" p. 8.

Newsweek, March 12, 2007, Lisa Miller, "Belief-Watch: Good Word," p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, November 27, 2006, review of Failing America's Faithful, p. 46.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2007, review of Failing America's Faithful.

Washington Monthly, May, 2007, Kukula Kapoor Glastris, "Of Them Much Is Expected: Many Liberals Fear Mixing Their Religious Convictions with Their Political Ones. Not Kathleen Kennedy Townsend," p. 68.


Chiasmos: University of Chicago Web site, (April 27, 2007), Susan Thistlewaite, author interview., (July 26, 1999), Sally B. Donnelly, "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend: Just Like Her Father?"; (May 14, 2000), Kyra Phillips, interview transcript.

Faithfully Liberal, (December 6, 2007), author interview.

Festival of the Arts, Boca, (December 6, 2007), author profile.

Future of Science, (December 6, 2007), speaker profile.

Georgetown Public Policy Institute Web site, (December 6, 2007), faculty profile.

Internet Movie Database, (December 6, 2007), author biography.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Home Page, (December 6, 2007).

Maryland State Archives Web site, (December 6, 2007), "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."

Post-Gazette Online, (May 5, 2003), Patricia Sheridan, "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."

Public Broadcasting Service Web site, (December 6, 2007), author profile.

Star IQ, (December 6, 2007), author profile.

Time Online, (August 2, 1999), Sally B. Donnelly, "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend."