Catholic Free Press

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  • Feb
  • 13

Father ‘Jack’ fondly remembered

Posted By February 13, 2014 | 1:00 pm | Lead Story #2
Father Jack Kelley at International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012
Father Jack Kelley at International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012

Father John E. “Jack” Kelley, 78, who died Monday at Life Care Center of Auburn after years of living with cancer, was remembered this week for his faith, friendship and humor.
Bishop McManus was to celebrate Father Kelley’s funeral Mass Thursday at St. Bernard’s Parish at St. Camillus de Lellis Church in Fitchburg, with burial following in St. Bernard’s Cemetery.
Ordained in 1961, Father Kelley continued serving after retirement, celebrating his last public Mass Christmas Day at St. Anne Parish in Southborough, friends said.
“I am the happiest when I am able to preach God’s Word and celebrate the sacraments with God’s people,” he said in his 2013 Advent/Christmas newsletter. “This is why I was ordained!”
He wrote that he was in remission from the multiple myeloma he was diagnosed with more than 17 years ago, but had stage four colon cancer, which metastasized to other organs. He said he prayed, “Take this cup away from me, but not my will, but yours, be done.” (Mk 14:36)
“I have been aware of the supreme importance of our eternal salvation” since childhood, he wrote. He called the new evangelization “a ministry of inviting people to the place where our eternal salvation is most securely guaranteed” and encouraged relatives and friends to welcome those straying to come back to Church.
“Thank you for showing so many of us what the Gospel looks like if you take it to heart and really live it,” Kevin Dowd, of St. John Parish in Worcester, wrote in a Facebook reflection to and about Father Kelley. “It looks surprisingly like happiness and peace … even unto death.”
“When I was a child, he was like a second father,” wrote Mr. Dowd, who was at St. Bernard Parish in Worcester when Father Kelley was pastor. “When I was an adolescent and a college student, he was my mentor. In adulthood, he became a true friend in a friendship that drew me closer to God.”
Mr. Dowd told The Catholic Free Press Father Kelley’s advice helped him do volunteer service that set the course of his life and that the priest’s faith and love of learning influenced his decision to pursue his doctorate in theology and education.
“He convinced me that being Christian didn’t mean rejecting this world but embracing it and living it to the full with all its joys and pleasures, beauty and goodness … while also working to make it better so that everyone gets to enjoy it together,” Mr. Dowd wrote.
“He always put other people first and was genuinely interested in what was happening in their lives.”
“I could talk to him about anything,” said Sheila Hokanson, of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton. “He has a special place in my heart, right up there with my parents.”
She was a housekeeper at St. Bernard’s in Worcester when Father Kelley arrived there, and he witnessed her marriage to Ronald Hokanson, whom he’d brought in to play the organ, she said.
“He never missed my birthday, my anniversary or Christmas,” she said.
She estimated that hundreds of people attended the celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination and said many visited him at Life Care Center.
“He saw himself an imperfect creature and yet a powerful tool in the hand of God,” said Father Walter J. Riley, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Worcester and wake service homilist. “Even in the midst of all his suffering, he was a joyful person.”
Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Worcester, said Father Kelley was his deacon supervisor from May 1976 to June 1977 at St. Mary Parish in Jefferson.
“We had an agreement in 1977 that, whoever went first, the other would preach the funeral homily,” he said.
In his prepared text for that homily he said Father Kelley, like Lazarus, got a “second life” after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and recommitted himself to help others, including those with the same affliction.
“A prophetic spirit of justice led him to publicly oppose the war in Vietnam, ahead of most,” Msgr. Sullivan wrote. It led him to walk with California’s migrant workers while on sabbatical there, celebrating Masses for them in Spanish.
“The other day, in virtually his last words, when all words were hard to shape, he said, ‘I won’t say good-bye … I’ll say Au revoir,’” Msgr. Sullivan recounted. “’Au revoir … see you again … here or there.’ The words of a believer, as he went to the One who … gives him now a third life.”
Father Kelley was born Feb. 17, 1935 in Fitchburg, son of John E., and Florence M. (O’Neil) Kelley.
He graduated from St. Bernard Grammar School in 1949 and St. Bernard High School, as valedictorian, in 1953. In 1957 he graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in French. He received a master’s degree in Religious Education from St. Thomas Seminary and School of Theology in Denver in 1961, and a bachelor of Sacred Theology in Religious Education from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Flanagan ordained him May 27, 1961 in St. Paul Cathedral.
Father Kelley was then loaned to the Archdiocese of Denver for a year.  Returning to the Worcester Diocese, he was associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Leicester, St. Brigid Parish in Millbury, St. Aloysius, Rochdale, St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, and St. Mary Parish in Jefferson. He was also a full-time religion teacher at St. Peter’s Central Catholic High School in Worcester.
He was pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, West Brookfield; St. Bernard’s, Worcester, and St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Baldwinville.  He returned to Uxbridge as a senior priest.
In 2008, he retired from active ministry and moved into the Southgate Retirement Community in Shrewsbury.
Father Kelley took courses at Assumption College, the School of Applied Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and at the Vatican II Institute for Priests in Menlo Park, Calif.
He served on the diocese’s Senate of Priests, Vocations Board and Priests’ Personnel Board, and as dean of deaneries. He supervised 13 seminarian interns and was confessor for religious women’s communities. He was co-chaplain at the Templeton Developmental Center in Baldwinville and chaplain of the Knights of Columbus Uxbridge Council.
Father Kelley enjoyed traveling. He went all over Ireland, enjoying visits with relatives and participating in the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012.
Father Kelley’s survivors include his sister, Mary A. (Kelley) Lilley and her husband, James F. Lilley, of Wakefield; his niece, Karen K. (Lilley) Haughey and her husband, Norman J. Haughey, and their son, Nicholas J. Haughey, and daughter, Mary E. Haughey, all of Baltimore; his nephew, John E. Lilley, and his wife, Tricia M. (Umile) Lilley, and their daughters, Brooke E., Caroline K. and Courtney G. Lilley, all of Wakefield, as well as cousins.
Memorial contributions may made to the Clergy Benefit Plan, 194 Oxford St., Auburn, MA 01501; to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, 383 Main St., Norwalk, CT 06840, or to the Retirement Fund of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 99 Church St., Leominster, MA 01453.
The Masciarelli Family Funeral Homes, 243 Water Street, Fitchburg, directed arrangements.