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Catholic University of Angola building dedicated to Michael Kennedy

Brian Wright O’Connor
Catholic University of Angola building dedicated to Michael Kennedy
Michael Kennedy, Jr. tours the Catholic University of Angola campus with Rector Sister Maria da Assunção. PHOTO: ERINT IMAGES

LUANDA, Angola — A new $25 million academic building in this capital city was dedicated last month in the memory of the late Michael L. Kennedy Sr., a former Boston energy executive who helped launch Angola’s first private university.

Half the national cabinet, church leaders, students and staff attended the inauguration of the “Edificio Michael Kennedy” at the Catholic University of Angola and the unveiling of a bust of the former Citizens Energy Corporation president.

Kennedy’s son, Michael L. Kennedy Jr., who directs business development at the Boston-based nonprofit, spoke at both the dedication and the university’s commencement the day before.

Kennedy Sr. began his efforts assisting the university after serving as an election observer in Angola’s first democratic balloting in 1992. A friendship he formed with Angolan Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento led the young executive from the famous political family to direct revenues from oil deals in the petroleum-rich country to flow to the nascent university. Kennedy subsequently pushed for a national law that set aside a penny from each barrel of oil sold by the national oil company for the university.

Kennedy also established the U.S.-Angola Chamber of Commerce and continued supporting the Catholic University through the Angola Education Assistance Fund until his death in a skiing accident in 1997 when he was 39.

“My father’s been gone now for more than half my life,” said Kennedy’s son at the dedication event in the gleaming ground-floor auditorium of the six-story building overlooking the Luanda skyline. “It’s very special to me and the rest of my family that this building exists today, in part because of the things that he accomplished so many years ago. This building is not just a place where we store books and have offices, but a sanctuary of knowledge present and future, where students will come to learn, grow and explore.”

Angola, a former Portuguese colony that for centuries supplied the trans-Atlantic slave trade, plunged into civil war after winning independence from Portugal in 1975. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, eventually prevailed over Jonas Savimbi’s U.S.-backed forces.

Michael Kennedy, Jr. tours the Catholic University of Angola campus with Rector Sister Maria da Assunção and others. PHOTO: ERINT IMAGES

But the conflict left the oil-rich country, with a population of 12 million spread over a coastal West African land mass the size of Texas and California combined, in ruins.

Citizens Energy’s first involvement in Angola began with Kennedy Sr.’s older brother, the company founder, current chairman and former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, working as an independent lifter of crude oil from Angola in the 1980s.

The country was still locked in combat mode, with offshore oil exploration and drilling almost entirely financing the nation’s operations. The brothers, sons of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, initially reinvested profits from oil deals in fish-drying facilities along the coast, following the company’s pioneering model of using revenues from successful energy ventures to support social programs wherever they do business.

When Michael Kennedy Sr. took over Citizens Energy after his brother left the company to serve in Congress, he looked for new ways to help Angola diversify its economy.

“I remember a few things most vividly,” said Michael Jr., 40, at the dedication. “One was how much he loved Africa and the country of Angola. You could feel his excitement and enthusiasm when he spoke about it. He loved the continent’s history, its natural wonders, and he loved its people — how friendly and optimistic so many of them were despite what were frequently difficult circumstances.”

When the Catholic University finally opened its doors in 1999, the country’s only other institution of higher education was the public Agostinho Neto University, named for Angola’s founding president. Focusing initially on business education and accounting, the Catholic University has expanded into law, theology, energy studies and research centers and now has an undergraduate and graduate student body of over 5,000.

Citizens Energy has continued to provide books, computers, technical and grant assistance to the Catholic University over the last 25 years.

The university rector, Sister Maria da Assuncao, has guided the school’s recent expansion and traveled to Boston last year to establish ties with Boston College and Harvard University. She invited Kennedy during the 2022 visit to dedicate the new academic and administrative building.

“We give heartfelt thanks to Michael LeMoyne Kennedy for his work to make the dream of the Catholic University a reality,” said the rector at the dedication. “It would not have been possible without finding a way to give us a start.”

During the dedication, Professor Nelson Pestana spoke more broadly about the Kennedy family history in Africa and in particular President Kennedy’s directing his United Nations ambassador to vote with Angola’s bid for independence and against the objections of NATO ally Portugal.

Michael Kennedy echoed the point in his remarks. “On taking office, President Kennedy emphasized through words and policy that the United States too frequently attempts to help developing nations with war, violence and weaponry. Through actions and policies like the Kennedy academic airlift — that brought President Obama’s father to the U.S. — and the creation of the Peace Corps, and support for the end of colonialism throughout the continent, he showed that the real solutions were found in books, medicine and knowledge, not bombs and bullets,” said Kennedy.

Brian Wright O’Connor, a frequent Bay State Banner contributor, is vice president of public affairs for Citizens Energy Corporation.

Angola, Catholic University of Angola, Citizens Energy Corporation, Michael Kennedy