May 27, 2015

Joe Kelly looking forward to new retirement challenges

As published in The Erin Advocate

Joe Kelly is not sure what he will do next, but he knows he will be working in the service of others – as he has done for the last 14 years as pastor at St. John Brebeuf Church in Erin.

He is retiring in June at the age of 80, returning to the Spiritan community in Toronto where he lived and worked after coming to Canada from Ireland in 1967.

“I’m happy to be able to move on to new things,” he said. “I’m going to look for a job. I’d like to minister to the abandoned and work for the disadvantaged.”

Fr. Joe Kelly CSSp
(Photo by Kellie Angerilli, principal at St. John Brebeuf Catholic School)     
Moving to Erin in 2001 was a major transition, since his previous work had been as a teacher, guidance counselor and chaplain at Neil McNeil High School in Scarborough. Instead of retiring, he learned how to run a parish, live on his own and appreciate the benefits of a small town lifestyle.

“The wonderful thing about living in a small town is that you meet the same people over and over, and you get to know them,” he said.

Kelly grew up in Dublin and worked for the Bank of Ireland from 1953 to 1960. He felt called to a religious life, however, and eventually was ordained with the Spiritans, a congregation within the Roman Catholic Church that dates back to 1703.

The previous pastor at St John Brebeuf, Fr. Gus Arthurs who passed away in 2001, was also a member of the Spiritan order, which has priests and other members in 57 countries, serving in parishes, schools, health care facilities and refugee assistance programs.

In 1967, Kelly was expecting to go to Kenya, but ended up being assigned to the mission in English Canada, and studied to become a teacher in Toronto. With his banking background, he initially taught business and computer programming, but later moved into religious education and counseling.

“I learned how to engage with young people,” he said. “It takes patience, but kids want to engage and respond, and I am amazed at how perceptive they are.”

Students at St. John Brebeuf Catholic School (next door to the church) can certainly attest to Fr. Joe’s interest in their development. He visits the school constantly, knows all of their names and has given strong support to parish youth programs, including an annual retreat.

Adults in the parish and beyond also have many stories of how he has shared his time and energy to make personal connections. “Sometimes you have to make an extra effort,” he says.

For my own family, Fr. Joe was a great support when my son Thomas died, three years ago this week. We are grateful that he took the time to learn about the situation and find the right words to say at the funeral.

Working with him as a musician, I admire his singing ability and his dedication to the liturgical traditions of the church. And after hearing at least 650 of his homilies, I also appreciate his passion for the scriptures and social justice.

With many good memories of his time in Erin, he has particular praise for his colleagues in the Ministerial Association.

“One thing that is special about this place is the way the churches work together and people cooperate,” he said. A retirement dinner is being held for Fr. Joe on Friday, June 5 at Centre 2000.

As with other caring professions, the life of a minister often involves making strong friendships, and then moving on. Sometimes, however, the paths of life can cross again unexpectedly.

Such is the case with our new pastor, Fr. Ralph Diodati. I knew him as a dedicated priest and a friend of my family when I was a high school student in Hamilton. I haven’t seen him in almost 40 years, so I am looking forward to welcoming him to Erin.