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‘The truth of the faith’

Posted By August 15, 2013 | 1:06 pm | Lead Story #3

Francis D. Kelly was a 23-year-old seminarian at the North American College in Rome when the Second Vatican Council opened on Oct. 11, 1962. He was present in St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening Mass and lengthy ceremony.
“My most vivid memory is of Pope John XXIII himself, who, before he could convoke the Council, was obliged to kneel before the assembled 2,800 Council Fathers to make the formal profession of faith, and sign it,” he said.
Msgr. Kelly noted, “This gesture reflects the absolute primacy of the truth of faith in the life of the Church. I often recounted that image later as a seminary rector when I had to administer the same profession of faith to candidates approaching ordination.” (Msgr. Kelly was named rector of Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston in 1994.)
The Council was held in the basilica itself; several levels of elevated rows were constructed on each side. Each bishop was assigned a place, by seniority, based on  appointment date, with a desk and an arm chair. Above these rows of bishops were draped balconies for “periti” (theologian experts), ecumenical observers, select women, and others. This elaborate construction was in place for four years.
The young Kelly was in third theology, his third year of study, so he was in Rome for the first two sessions of the Council. When he returned home to Worcester as an ordained priest, he served at St. Joan of Arc Parish on Lincoln Street.
Seminarians who were studying in Rome at national seminaries wore distinctive garb to identify them with their school. Kelly wore a black cassock with blue piping and buttons, a red-maroon sash and white collar – the United States’ colors. This garb is still worn today, on occasion.
Kelly lived in Rome under Pope John XXIII for three years and has precious memories of this soon-to-be-sainted Pope who, he says, radiated goodness, serenity and warmth.
There is, he believes, a certain similarity between the transition from Pope Pius XII to Pope John XXIII and currently from Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis. Pope Pius and Pope Benedict were more formal in their style and Pope John and Pope Francis reflect a more pastoral approach, according to Msgr. Kelly.
Another important memory for Msgr. Kelly was his presence in St. Peter’s Basilica for the promulgation of the first decree, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, by the newly elected Pope Paul VI. He was seated in one of the balconies – the very first one.
He remembers sitting next to Abbot Benno Gut, OSB, abbot primate of world Benedictines. Msgr. Kelly remembers saying to the Abbot, “The Catholic Church is in debt to the Benedictine Order for this day” referring to Benedictine leadership in liturgical renewal that had been taking place in their monasteries. The Abbot smiled broadly, Msgr. Kelly remembered.
Worcester’s second bishop, Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan was a Council Father. Worcester had a second Council Father in the person of Assumptionist Father Wilfrid Dufault, the worldwide head of the Augustinians of the Assumption.
(The author of this article says weekly Mass at The Willows of Worcester and uses Father Dufault’s chalice, a gift from his cousin, Dr. Francis Dufault, a resident there).
Msgr. Kelly remembers that when the first session ended, Bishop Flanagan left his episcopal robes with him and he had to take them to a clerical tailor as they were so worn out.
Seminarians were able to follow the daily sessions of the Council. Each day at a silent meal the press releases of the previous day were read, containing excerpts from speeches given, and each evening they could attend press conferences set up by the English-speaking bishops of the world. They could follow the tensions and partisanship as well.
When asked if he got into any working session, Msgr. Kelly said, “I had to be in school.”
“I remember Jesuits John Courtney Murray and Gustave Weigel explaining the document on religious liberty which was one of the unique American contributions to the Council,” Msgr. Kelly said. (Father Murray was considered one of the chief architects of The Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. Father Weigel was one of a group of theologians retained by the U.S. bishops to explain the Council to the press.)
One of the speakers on religious liberty was Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston who spoke in Latin. (All speeches were in Latin). Msgr. Kelly remembers a dinner hosted by Cardinal Cushing at a Roman restaurant for Massachusetts bishops, priests and seminarians. They were about 12 in number.
“He regaled us with his inside view of the Council,” Msgr. Kelly said. It was later reported that Cardinal Cushing returned to Boston early because he couldn’t deal with the Latin.
Msgr. Kelly said he sees the hand of Divine Providence in the course of his ministry which now brings him back to St. Peter’s Basilica where he is a canon. As one of the basilica’s canons he participates in Sunday Masses and the Divine Office, twice a day.
“It is a blessing and a privilege to be so often in such a holy and historic place,” Msgr. Kelly said.