Joseph A. Kelly, S.J.
Born May 27,1931
Entered into the Society of Jesus September 7, 1949
Ordained July 31, 1963
Died December 11, 2008
Wisdom 3: 1-9 The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shaIl touch them. In the eyes of the unwise they did appear to die, but they are in peace. God has put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with him.
Romans 8: 31-39 If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor anything in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 14: 1-6 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places; otherwise how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you. Thomas said, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus told him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
Some years ago, Father Joe KeIly, who had served so well in campus ministry at St. Peter's College, was made an honorary alumnus ofSt. Peter's College. As we drove to Jersey City for the ceremony, I asked Joe what the citation would say. He replied, "That's up to you. I told them you'd say something." When the time came, I found myself saying that while I had enjoyed many good times in Joe's company, I had come to respect and admire his extraordinary gift of pastoral sympathy. In fact, I think I said that Joe had a genius for pastoral sympathy. I had witnessed that genius on different occasions: at a happy wedding, praising with tongue in cheek the groom's preoccupation with physical conditioning and "staying fit." "Fit for what, exactly?" Joe asked. But I had also seen him speak the right words at the graveside of an infant who had only lived a few weeks, words that helped the young parents to live through their terrible loss.
Over the past few days, I have been asking myself what was the source of that pastoral genius, that ability to recognize and respond to the needs of others at special moments in their lives, whether they were moments of high hilarity or moments of unbearable sorrow? I don't pretend to know the complete answer to that question, for Joe, like all of us, was a person with depths of character that we do not fully recognize or understand in ourselves, much less in others. But I do think part of the answer was the kind of God Joe believed in.
We all have different images of God, and they reflect who we are and what we aspire to be. The God in whom Joe believed was a generous God, faithful and forgiving, summoning us to be better than we are, of course, but never deserting us no matter how often we fall short of who we want to be. There was nothing small or vindictive about Joe's image of God, even as there was nothing small or vindictive about Joe. Joe considered it a blasphemy to reduce God to a relentless accountant, as the self-righteous sometimes do. And Joe recognized that self-righteousness was the occupational hazard of religious people, and his own confident religious faith was never compromised by the insinuation of righteousness.
Father Joe Kelly's pastoral genius was rooted in his enthusiasm for life and friendship, but there was nothing pollyannish or naIve about his understanding of people. He recognized our human foibles, large and small, serious and silly; he laughed at some, regretted others, but never in my experience turned his back on those who disappointed him and were the victims of their own mischief. He was a wonderful story-teller, and often his stories turned on the eccentricities of religious experience. I never tired of hearing his story about the town playboy who decided to reform his life but planned to begin his confession with "the small venials," out of a sense of delicacy toward the pastor, then moving on to "the big venials," and finally reaching "the big mortals."
When there was no response from behind the confessional screen, our man inquired, "Are you there, Monsignor." And the Monsignor replied in a weary voice, "Were you waiting for applause?"
Now Joe has gone home, home to the God he believed in with a faith that was constant and generous, the God whose surprises delighted Joe and whose fidelity consoled him. In the Father's house there are many mansions, John's Gospel tells us, and we might wonder what kind of house was reserved for Joe. Somehow I think it must be a house that welcomes friends, a place where good stories can be told, and a decent wine can be served from Joe's select cellar.
Go in peace, my friend, until we meet again.Joseph A. O'Hare, S.J. St. Aedan's Church Jersev Citv. N.J.
Charles Michel's Tributes
Greetings, As a parishioner at St Malachy's Church in NYC, I knew Father Joseph Kelly for many years. I wanted to share a tribute that I wrote for him. Please feel free to share and/or publish it in anyway you might wish.Charles Michel
"Joe ... The Priest"
Thanks to "Joe ... The Plumber", there has been a lot of talk about guys named Joe lately. After our long political season, "Joe" has come to stand for any regular guy who is defined by the job he does. He and his job are almost one and the same. He does his job well because that job is a natural extension of who he is at his core. This was never truer than it was for "Joe ... The Priest". Of all the clergy I have ever known I cannot think of a more priestly one than Father Joseph A. Kelly, S.J.
And here is why ...
Some men become priests because they love God. Some men become priests (especially many Jesuits) because they love to think about God. Some men become priests because they love to wear robes and pretend that they are God. Joe Kelly was a priest because he loved PEOPLE. And for him loving people WAS loving God. And since he lived in a world full of people every relationship in his life was a prayer. He didn't need to fall to his knees to commune with The Almighty. He just needed to pour a glass of very good wine for a friend, cook him a gourmet meal, tell the best story ever, and laugh and cry and ponder life's mysteries with that friend late into the wee ours of the night. Church never got any better than Joe Kelly's dining room table.
Since Joe's God was right in the folks around him and since his ministry was expressed best through the simple joys of life, his pastoral skills seemed to flow from him effortlessly. I have seen other priests struggle for days preparing a sermon and fail. And I have seen Joe snatch a poem out of a book a couple of minutes before Mass and turn reading it out loud into The Sermon On the Mount!
Joe knew how to "Turn on" the Irish Priest routine better than Barry Fitzgerald! It was such a good act, that if I had ever found out that Joe was really Joe Perkowski, a Pole from Chicago, and that the brogue and the Irish lineage were all made up,I would not have been all that surprised. Rather, I would have admired the stagecraft of it! Because you see, in his' heart Joe was sort of a "Catholic Anarchist" who felt that God's plan would eventually mean the end of all the old Church titles and bureaucracies. The marvelous thing is that he got away with his radical views because he always presented them with the stereotypical Irish Priest accent and this confused the hell out of the conservatives listening from the pews. He enjoyed this a lot.
"Do you really think," he would say speaking like a leprechaun, "that God would ban women from the priesthood?" Then he would immediately begin to hum "Tura-LuraLural" so that the "Church Ladies" would smile with approval and forget all about the question he had just posed.
For "Joe ... The Priest" faith was ultimately as simple as an Irish Lullaby. This past Sunday, one of St.Malachy's long time parishioners shared with me her last conversation with him. Joe had said to her, "The only thing I now know is that God is love. Everything else (all the rules, all the theology, all the struggle, all the guilt) is meaningless. " Father Kelly knew God because he knew Susan and Paul and Margie and Sam. He saw God in the face of everyone he knew. He did not look up to heaven to see God. Instead, on countless occasions, he found God across the dinner table and he would simply say to him or her, "Isn't this a fine cabernet?"
PS. On Sunday afternoon Gloria Ross, the ever vigilant "Martha" of St. Malachy's Parish invited me to her place to toast Joe's life with a bit of "Glenfiddich". As we lifted our glasses Gloria, following a Jamaican tradition, poured some out on her brand new carpet. "That's for Joel" she said. A lovely gesture to be sure ... But I couldn't help but hear Joe's voice saying, "What a waste of good scotch!!"
Charles Michel, An old time member of the St. Malachy's Family www.thewinningvoice.com