5 Minutes With Father Gerald Kelly, M.M.

March 12, 2013

On Feb. 9, Father Gerald Kelly, M.M., was the honoree of the 2013 “Voices of Hope” gala event, presented by Sending Out Servants (SOS) and the Guardian Angel Fund.

Founded in 1998 by Ernest and Connie Braren and Father Thomas Ponzini, SOS is an independent Catholic mission organization serving as a ministry of presence among the indigenous Maya in the remote and mountainous Quiché area of Guatemala. SOS is headquartered in Houston and operates with the approval and blessing of both Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Mario Humberto Molina Palma of the Diocese of Quiché, Guatemala.

Proceeds from “Voices of Hope” benefit the indigenous Maya in Guatemala.

“Being recognized by SOS is a humbling experience for me,” Father Kelly said. “I am edified by the commitment and the sacrifices of each member of the mission team. They leave the comforts of their homes and venture into the highlands of Guatemala to serve some of the poorest of God’s people. They do it with joy and enthusiasm. I have developed strong relationships with them and they continue to confound me with their faith and lives of prayer.”

Father Kelly, the Southern Region Director for the Maryknolls and no stranger to tireless service to others, recently visited with the Texas Catholic Herald about being a missionary.

Texas Catholic Herald: Where are you originally from?

Father Gerald Kelly: I was born in Boston and attended Catholic schools all of my life. I was taught by the St. Joseph Sisters in grammar school, the Xavarian Brothers in High School and by the Jesuits at Boston College. I went to work for the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C. However, I had been in ROTC in college and had to fulfill my military service. I chose Army Aviation and was sent for flight training, first in fixed-wings in San Marcos and later for helicopter training in Mineral Wells. I served four years in the military at Fort Knox, Kentucky and later in Munich, Germany.

TCH: When did you begin discerning the priesthood? What drew you to the Maryknoll Fathers?

Father Kelly: I began discerning for the priesthood while serving in the military. I had always admired missionaries. I enjoyed the nine day novena to St. Francis Xavier, which was celebrated each year at my home parish. I saw the great needs of people as I traveled and felt the call to serve them.

When I was ordained I asked to be assigned to Chile. I admired President Eduardo Frei for his vision and his efforts to transform the country in an integral way. I was assigned to work with the Mapuche Indians in Southern Chile. This was an extremely transforming time in my life. We began forming Basic Christian Communities in the reservations. They had lost most of their land and were placed on the reservations in 1880 and gradually became more impoverished. We had training sessions each month for the “animators of the faith” who led the services when the priest could not be there. We had 27 communities functioning. All of them had their own chapel.

I moved to a city parish after 15 years in a steel town. We initiated the Family Catechetical program which was a program in which the parents assisted for two years before the children could receive First Communion. We had a strong youth movement and organized summer camps for the children on the periphery of the city.

I was named the area coordinator for Maryknolls in Latin America after 10 years and served in this capacity for seven years. I traveled to 12 different countries assisting the Maryknoll missioners in their apostolates and doing evaluations. This is when I came in contact with the Mayan Indians. Maryknolls had a strong commitment in Guatemala. Maryknoll Father Bill Woods died as a martyr there serving the people. There was a civil war which lasted for 30 years in which 200,000 people died. The scars of this conflict still are present in the country.

TCH: What have been your most memorable experiences serving in mission? What kind of impact does the feedback of the people you interact with have on you personally? How has it transformed you over the years?

Father Kelly: My most memorable experience in mission was on Sept. 11, 1973 when a military coup occurred in Chile. Many of my parishioners were detained and disappeared. We had to be in solidarity with one another and seek a peaceful solution in the rebuilding of the country. This situation remained for 17 years. The Christian Communities were strengthened and a true commitment to the Gospel prevails now.

The relationship with the poor has called me to lead a more simple life. It has challenged me to participate in the struggles of the people to create a more just society. I have a greater appreciation of our relationship with the earth and the necessity to care for all of creation. The people have taught me to trust in God. God is present in their lives at every moment. There isn’t a separation between faith and life.

TCH: During this Year of Faith, in what ways would you say mission service is a proper representation of “faith in action?”

Father Kelly: I am the chairperson of the Texas Mission Council now. We have chosen “Mission and the New Evangelization” for our theme during this Year of Faith. The Church is missionary by its very essence. The more that we participate in mission the more we penetrate into the very essence of the Church. I will be with four different mission groups for one-week missions in the next two months. They are renovating their parishes and schools when they return.

TCH: Particularly for those not familiar with service through mission, what would you want our readers (young and old) to know about serving others through mission?

Father Kelly: We receive more than we give when we go on mission. Our lives are changed. We have a very vibrant Archdiocesan Mission Council now. There are countless opportunities to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. Jesus made a preferential option for the poor. We are called to do likewise.