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A Farewell to Our Beloved Father Joe Kelly

This is a belated posting about a much beloved regular visitor to our community who passed away in 2008. I refer to Father Joe Kelly whose charm, compassion and wit brightened and enlightened Point Lookout during his regular weekend visits as an assistant at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal church. He also served at St. Malachy's in the city and the following comments of one parishioner from that church eloquently describes Father Joe:

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 I

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?I"

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

Recently Father Joe was honored at Sardi's. Click here for the details.