December 23, 2011

Reflection / Daniel Conway

An Advent farewell to Archbishop Kelly

The Church in central and southern Indiana has lost a good friend and neighbor. Louisville Archbishop Emeritus Thomas C. Kelly, O.P., died peacefully in his sleep on Dec. 14. He was called home by the Lord after serving as a priest and bishop for more than 53 years.

At the time of his death, Archbishop Kelly was 80 years old and had been retired for five years. He was living at a parish in Louisville and actively ministering to the people of God—celebrating Mass and preaching at Holy Trinity Parish, confirming children throughout the Archdiocese of Louisville and occasionally helping out “across the river” in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Kelly’s career as a priest and bishop followed an unusual path—from service to the universal Church, to the Church in the United States, to the Archdiocese of Louisville to Holy Trinity Parish.

It was in some ways the opposite of the path followed by many Church leaders who start out in parish ministry, and work their way up the hierarchical ladder to service in the wider Church.

Archbishop Kelly, who was known to be impish on occasion, enjoyed the fact that his path was different. He started out serving the Dominican order and the Holy See as an administrator and diplomat.

Then, for five years, he led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as its general secretary. For 25 years, he served as Archbishop of Louisville and then, during his final years, he served in parish ministry.

Archbishop Kelly was a good friend and brother bishop of Indianapolis Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein. The men got to know each other when Archbishop Buechlein was president-rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and Archbishop Kelly was the general secretary of the bishops’ conference.

The men shared a love for the priesthood and for the Church that deepened over the years as Archbishop Kelly was sent to Louisville in 1982 and Archbishop Buechlein served first as Bishop of Memphis from 1987 to 1992 then as Archbishop of Indianapolis from 1992 until the fall of 2011.

I had the great privilege of working for both archbishops. Their leadership styles were totally different, but I learned a lot from both of them. I witnessed firsthand Archbishop Kelly’s compassion, and his concern for the poor and vulnerable. I loved his humor and his powerful preaching.

Most of all, I appreciated his friendship and his support for my efforts to balance the demands of my work for the Church and my primary responsibility as a husband and father.

I think it is fitting that Archbishop Kelly returned to the Lord during the season of Advent. He had little patience for our commercialized celebration of Christmas. He much preferred the hope-filled images and poetry of this season of joyful expectation. I like to think that he was too eager to be with Jesus to wait for the Lord’s coming. Instead, he took the short cut home, bypassing the final shopping days until Christmas.

In that spirit, let us offer an Advent farewell to a good friend and neighbor:

Dear Archbishop Kelly, may this season of joyful hope speed you on your way to heaven. And may our Lord’s coming again this Christmas remind us all of the boundless love that awaits each of us when we meet again on the last day. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

(Daniel Conway is a consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc., and led the archdiocese’s Office of Stewardship and Development from 1993-97.)

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