Thomas Kelly, OFM
1935 – 2012
Fr. Thomas Kelly, OFM, was born Dec. 12, 1935 in Philadelphia. After attending Catholic school, he enrolled in St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary, Callicoon, N.Y., in 1953, where he studied for the next two years.
He was received into the Order in 1955 at St. Raphael Friary in Lafayette, N.J., and professed his first vows there one year later. He professed solemn vows in 1959 at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany and was ordained to the priesthood on St. Patrick’s Day in 1962 at Mount St. Sepulchre, the Franciscan Monastery, in Washington.
Following ordination, Fr. Tom spent a year at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he participated in the “fifth year” pastoral theology program with the rest of his classmates. He then moved to Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., where he taught English for one year.
After this, Fr. Tom began 46 years of parish ministry, almost all of them spent at the Province’s parishes in Northern New Jersey. He served first as parochial vicar at St. Anne Parish in Fair Lawn from 1964 to 1970. Following the Second Vatican Council, he sensed that adult education for the laity would be a critical ministry for the contemporary Church. Seeing the need for a better grounding in contemporary theology himself, he prepared for this work by taking a year away from the parish to earn a master’s degree in theology in 1971 from Manhattan College in New York City.
He resumed parish ministry at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in West Milford, N.J., serving as parochial vicar from 1971 to 1973 and pastor from 1973 to 1976. During his time there, he also studied pastoral counseling at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., obtaining a master’s degree in education in 1974. After leaving West Milford, Fr. Tom was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Winsted, Conn., as associate pastor for a year, but quickly made his way back to the now-familiar turf of North Jersey, serving as parochial vicar at St. Leo Parish in Elmwood from 1977 to 1982.
Fr. Tom returned to St. Anne’s in Fair Lawn as parochial vicar, serving there for the next 11 years, after which he was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in East Rutherford, N.J. In 1996, he moved to Assumption Parish in Wood-Ridge, N.J., where he served as parochial vicar for 14 years. In 2010, Fr. Tom retired to St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., and moved to Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J., one year later.
As those who lived with him can attest, Fr. Tom was happiest being a priest with the people. Although in many ways he was an unassuming man, he was energized, not simply by the priestly work of presiding at worship, but through his involvement with people in various groups to whom he ministered, such as the Secular Franciscans, the Christian Family Movement, and the Rosary Altar Society. Through his connection with the Secular Franciscans, he began organizing retreats for separated and divorced Catholics, a ministry to which he was committed for more than 15 years.
He died Aug. 6, 2012 at Holy Name Friary. Fr. Tom was 76 years old, a professed friar for 56 years and a priest for 50 years.