Father James Patrick Kelly
CINCINNATI (March 26, 2012)—Father James Patrick Kelly, 95, a native of Sidney, Ohio, and a Glenmary Home Missioner for 62 years, died peacefully March 22 at Mercy Franciscan Terrace, a health care facility in Cincinnati, Ohio. Father Kelly worked as personal secretary to Father William Howard Bishop, Glenmary's founder, from 1949 until Father Bishop's death in 1953.
Father Kelly also helped guide Glenmary in a wide range of other key positions—as treasurer, vicar general (first vice president), seminary professor, director of research, and director of the promotion and mission office. In addition, he pastored missions in North Carolina and Virginia.
"Father Kelly was a profound link to our beginnings because of his close working relationship with Father Bishop," said Father Chet Artysiewicz, president of Glenmary. "As Father Frank Ruff commented, ‘he was living history.'"
Until the end of his life, Father Kelly was totally dedicated to Glenmary, Father Artysiewicz said. "He was deeply interested in our mission activities and made creative suggestions about how Glenmary could carry out its mission. And he stressed the importance of being a community of missioners."
Besides his Glenmary work, he was also involved in Catholic charismatic renewal prayer groups as well as spiritual counseling-and was an avid hiker and confirmed outdoorsman and camper.
Jim Kelly was born and raised in Sidney, Ohio, the eldest of nine children. After graduating from high school in 1935, he spent five years working as a licensed electrician, house painter, paper hanger, and office employee/foreman for a manufacturing company. But during this time he also felt a call to the priesthood.
"We had a pretty rough crowd at the plant where I worked," he remembered while being interviewed for a Glenmary oral history project. "And I felt that they needed the Lord. So how were they going to get the Lord if somebody did not preach to them? And who was that somebody? It had to be me."
In 1940 Jim entered St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati as a diocesan student and completed four years. He then continued his studies at nearby Mount St. Mary Seminary, where he first inquired about Glenmary. With Archbishop John McNicholas' approval, Jim was accepted by Father Bishop in 1945 as a student for Glenmary. "The archbishop asked me why I wanted to join Glenmary," Father Kelly remembered, "and I told him I thought that the people who did not hear about the Church or did not know much about it deserved to be reached." (Father Kelly's brother Tom entered Glenmary three years later and became a Glenmary brother.)
After his ordination in 1948, Father Kelly served as assistant pastor at Glenmary's Norton, Va., mission, while completing his novitiate in Cincinnati. A year later he was called back to Glenmary Headquarters, where he became Father Bishop's personal secretary in 1949 and Glenmary treasurer in 1951, with many diverse responsibilities. He continued as treasurer until 1965. After further studies at Fordham University, he also served as a professor of missiology at Glenmary's Our Lady of the Fields Seminary (1956-1963).
He later served Glenmary in the other high-level administrative positions he held. "The years of close association with Father Bishop," the now-deceased Father Bob Berson once said, "enabled Father Kelly to capture the founder's dream as he struggled to shape it into reality."
A 1973 Glenmary Challenge article stated that Father Kelly's "keen analytical intellect has helped formulate Glenmary policies and procedures....His concern and conviction that all Glenmary activities must be zeroed in on the rural and small-town missionary apostolate helped lead to Glenmary's clear vision of purpose," in line with the aims and ideals of Father Bishop.
He received his first pastorate in 1975 in Jackson County, N.C., where for five years he led Glenmary's Sylva mission and served as Catholic campus minister at Western Carolina University.
In the process, he became deeply involved in the county and campus ministerial associations and their ecumenical and social outreach activities—including Operation Warmth (blankets and emergency fuel for needy families); an ecumenical Marriage Encounter initiative; rotating devotional radio preaching on a local station; and joint worship services and minister retreats.
In 1980 he became pastor of Glenmary's Gate City, Va., mission. He remained there until 1985, when he became a senior member and returned to the Glenmary residence in Cincinnati. In 1987 he voluntarily agreed to serve as treasurer for four more years.
In his senior-member years, he stayed involved in charismatic renewal activities; continued his hiking, which later evolved into walking around Glenmary's campus; and, with other senior members, became a source of wisdom and inspiration for both fellow Glenmarians and men discerning a Glenmary vocation.
In reflecting back on Glenmary's home mission ministry, he said "we are trying to make the Church available to every American, and that means we have to cover the territory. We succeeded, I think, in improving it. It is better than it was. The Church is more available to more people than it was when we first started."
Father Kelly is survived by his brother Jerome R. (Barbara) of Costa Mesa, Calif., sister-in-law Geraldine (Kelly) Bodnar, nephews, nieces, cousins, fellow Glenmary missioners and friends. He was preceded in death by five brothers and two sisters.
Memorials may be made to Glenmary Home Missioners, P.O. Box 465618, Cincinnati, OH 45246.