Brother Tom Kelly: A Man at Home in the Missions
Brother Tom remembered as faithful, genuine, congenial, a true gentleman
By Father Bruce C.H. Brylinski
When remembering Brother Tom Kelly, Brother Curt Kedley called to mind a biblical image of the apostle Nathanael: "Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him ‘Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.'" (Jn 1:47)
What Brother Curt experienced while working with Brother Tom in Georgia was also the experience of the many people who met, worked and lived with Brother Tom.
He was a very simple, uncomplicated and straightforward man of tradition and prayer, in whom there was no pretense. He was honest and true in sharing who he was, with no mask or hidden agenda. This is not to say that Brother Tom was perfect, but more correctly, that he was genuine. What he knew in his heart he tried to express in his actions. Brother Tom, 81, died on Feb. 13, 2011.
When I served as pastor of the Glenmary mission in Vanceburg, Ky., I experienced brother Tom's genuine kindness as he began his senior member years living at Green Street Senior Apartments in town.
He was very gracious in inviting and welcoming me to his new apartment. He was also eager to introduce me to his new friends and neighbors. He showed sincerity in getting to know people, sharing in their stories and learning how they came to live in the area.
Brother Tom always demonstrated an ability to be congenial with people throughout his over 60 years as a Glenmary missioner. Father Bob Dalton recalls that a parishioner in Alabama remembered Brother Tom as a true gentleman—he was someone who had good manners, was easygoing and was conscientious in his work.
Brother Tom's mission work took him to Appalachia, Va.; West Union, Ohio; Manassas, Ga.; and Russellville, Ala. He was intelligent, diligent and devoted to details in his skills of carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and construction. For Brother Tom, it was not simply a matter of doing things correctly but also fulfilling the purpose behind his work.
Brother Tom honored the presence of Jesus in his mission work. He prayed over his work. He prayed with the traditions of the Church, nurturing himself and his talents through his love of the Eucharist. He spent his ministry helping people-alleviating problems or bringing services that had not been available before. He brought joy to people in need and worked to bring about the Kingdom of God.
It also needs to be remembered that although Brother Tom left his family to join Glenmary, he did not forget them. He possessed the family gift of laughter and the awareness that a cold beer was good on a hot day. Yearly, he went to family reunions with his brother, Glenmary Father Jim Kelly, enjoying time with his siblings and their extended families.
Brother Tom had a rich life as a Glenmarian. He sought the goodness of using his talents to serve the needy who live in the missions. Like Nathanael, once he met Jesus, Brother Tom faithfully followed him all of his life.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 Glenmary Challenge.