By Fr Tadgh Tierney OCD
Carmelite priest Fr Joseph Kelly was born in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, on January 9, 1929. His father, also named Joseph, was an inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary.
After attending the local primary school, he was recruited for the Carmelite Juniorate in Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, which he attended from September 1942-47.
He had a twin brother Frank who was a brilliant footballer: a Gaelic Park has been dedicated to him in Roscommon. Joe did not have the same ability as Frank but his methodical approach to everything meant he was invaluable for kicking over placed balls and he rarely missed a free kick.
After finishing his Leaving Certificate he joined the Novitiate House at The Abbey, Loughrea, Co. Galway, where he was given the religious name Fergus. After one year he made First Profession on September 8, 1948. With his fellow students he began a course of studies for the priesthood at the Carmelite House in Dublin the same year, and was ordained a priest on December 18, 1954.
After ordination he was assigned to the Abbey where he remained until 1960 when he was sent to the Philippines. While there he was given the task of Novice Master in Jaro, Iloila, for nine years. He was proud of the fact that one of his novices became a bishop, now Bishop of Infanta, Rolando Tria Tirona OCD.
In October 1973 he arrived at the Carmelite parish Morley, Western Australia. He enjoyed pastoral work and was renowned for his habit of visiting people in the parish almost every evening. He was held in high regard as a dedicated and sincere priest. In 1986 he was sent to Brisbane as Prior and he enjoyed his time there and was considered a kind and thoughtful superior.
Then it was back to Morley again in November 1993 where he remained until June 1996. He was then sent to Varroville, Sydney, where he helped in the parish and carried out other tasks in the house.
He remained there for six years until he was again sent back to Morley in May 2002 where he remained for the rest of his life.
Fr Joe’s pastoral ministry largely consisted in visiting parishioners which he did faithfully for decades. His special characteristic was to administer the Sacrament of the Sick to parishioners who were ill, keeping a careful register of all the sick visited.
He was chaplain to the St Vincent de Paul Society for many years and also served as chaplain for the Majellan Mothers group. He also loved to attend Legion of Mary meetings and often mentioned the fact that he knew the Founder of the Legion, Frank Duff.
He had a great devotion to St Therese of Lisieux and one of the few devotional items he brought to the nursing home was a little purse containing his collection of relics, four of which were of St Therese. He often recalled his visit to Lisieux as well as his meeting with Padre Pio many years ago.
He was warm hearted and always happy to welcome guests to the table. At the end of the meal he would invariably issue the invitation, `Haste ye back again`, quoting the words of the Scottish song. Joe had a wonderful fund of stories from the past with which he would regale visitors and these would often be recycled.
Fr Joe was blest with a remarkable memory and parishioners and friends marvelled that he never forgot a birthday or an anniversary and would send a card carefully and neatly addressed in his usual way.
His last months were spent in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor at Glendalough, Western Australia. His last weeks were marked by a spirit of resignation and he remarked, “Let me go to the Lord.”
He died at about 5am on the morning of Friday July 13, 2011. Here, another of his often repeated expressions comes to mind.
Whenever we returned back to the Priory after attending some function or other Joe would intone, “Mission Accomplished.”
Indeed. He carried out the mission entrusted to him until health and circumstances dictated otherwise. May the Lord he served so wholeheartedly bring him to the fullness of life.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam. (May his soul be at God’s right hand.)