Martin F. McKernan, Jr.
Martin F. McKernan, Jr.
Martin F. McKernan Jr., who dedicated much of his lifelong law career to representing the Catholic Church, died Aug. 3 following a short illness at the age of 75. Mr. McKernan, who was senior partner in the firm of McKernan, McKernan and Godino, had provided legal counsel to the Diocese of Camden and five of its bishops for more than 40 years.  He also served the state’s Catholic bishops in different roles through the New Jersey Catholic Conference for many years.

Camden Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan was principal celebrant of a Mass of Christian Burial Aug. 7 in Christ Our Light Church, Cherry Hill, with several other prelates from the region concelebrating.  Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Newark presided.

In his remarks at the Mass, Bishop Sullivan spoke of Mr. McKernan’s impact, saying, “As a Catholic lawyer, he served with distinction and fidelity to the law, the Church in Camden, the Church in New Jersey and yes, the Church in the United States.”

In addition to his diocesan responsibilities, Mr. McKernan was a long-time advisor and general counsel to the New Jersey Catholic Conference since 2015.  He also served as a member of the Conference’s Public Policy Committee and as a member of the executive committee of the National Diocesan Attorneys Association representing Region III, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Mr. McKernan was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope John Paul II in 2003. In 1982, he received the papal gold cross Pro-Ecclesia et Pontifice.

“He was a man of deep faith, compassion and the highest integrity, a true servant of the Church he loved so much,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of the Trenton Diocese, who said he “came to know and admire Martin Mr. McKernan over the past 11 years through his role as legal counsel and advisor to the NJCC and the Camden Diocese.

“His faith-filled, principled work with New Jersey’s bishops and diocesan attorneys will be greatly missed,” said Bishop O’Connell. “I pray that he will find rest in peace with the Lord. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

James King, NJCC executive director, said Mr. McKernan’s love of God and neighbor is one of the qualities he will remember most.

“I can’t recall a day that I wouldn’t call Martin, in some cases multiple times, seeking his counsel on various issues from legislation to office administration,” said King.

“Understanding how busy Martin was with his responsibilities, I would end these calls with an apology for taking up so much of his time. Without hesitation, Martin would tell me that I should never think twice about calling him. His words provided me with a great deal of comfort … I think the best way to honor Martin’s legacy is to strive every day to emulate his kindness, generosity, patience and respect for others.”

Mr. McKernan, who was a member of Camden’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral, was born in Philadelphia in 1945 and grew up in Haddonfield. He attended St. Mary School, Camden, and graduated from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia, in 1963. He entered St. Francis Seminary, Loretto, Pa., that year but left to attend St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1968.

He earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1971 from Georgetown University, Washington. After Georgetown, he served in the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserves in Trenton. After his discharge in 1974, he became Camden City Attorney. When he left the City Attorney’s office in 1979, he practiced law in his father’s firm.

From 1971 to 1974, Mr. McKernan was general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee, and in 1974, he was a founding member of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment and served as a trustee since that time.

Admitted to the bar of the State of New Jersey and to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey in 1971, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1979 and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, Mr. McKernan served as Camden city attorney from 1974-1979. He has been a member of the Camden County Bar Association for all of his professional life and served as a trustee form 1979-1981. He served as a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court District IV Fee Arbitration Committee from 1995-1999 and was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society.

“I will miss him dearly. He was a man for all seasons and, as a friend, always available,” said Patrick R. Brannigan, retired executive director of the NJCC and a deacon in St. James Parish, Pennington.

“As the executive director, I consulted Martin on every important decision that I made. He was a brilliant observer and legal analyst. If Martin is not in heaven, we all are in trouble,” said Deacon Brannigan, who also served with Mr. McKernan in the Reserves.

Mr. McKernan is survived by his siblings Theresa Donahue of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Regina Harm of Pittsburg, as well as 12 nieces and nephews and 10 great-nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Martin and Monica Mr. McKernan, and a sister, Monica Holland of Alexandria, Va. He was buried in Calvary cemetery and Mausoleum, Cherry Hill.

Memorial donations may be made to Catholic Charities Diocese of Camden, 1845 Haddon Ave., Camden, N.J. 08103; Immaculate Conception Cathedral, 642 Market St., Camden, N.J. 08102, or St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, 1733 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19130.

Parts of this story were taken from the Catholic Star Herald, the Camden diocesan newspaper.