Msgr. James P. Kelly, retired rector of St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, died June 27. He was 82 years old and had marked the 57th anniversary of his ordination on June 2.
When he celebrated his golden jubilee in 2012, Msgr. Kelly, who had served as a pastor, chaplain, principal and diocesan administrator, told The Long Island Catholic there was one constant throughout his priesthood.
“Every place I went I was impressed with the kindness and devotion of the people,” he said.
Msgr. Kelly was born in Far Rockaway and grew up in St. Ignatius Martyr parish, Long Beach, which had no school so he and his sisters traveled daily to St. Mary Star of the Sea, Far Rockaway. He attended high school at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx and then Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts.
It was at Holy Cross that he started thinking seriously about the priesthood, he said. “I knew so many other students thinking about business, pre-med, but I wanted something different.”
Through daily Mass he began to feel closer to God, he recalled, and he entered into formation at Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was ordained for the Diocese of Rockville Centre June 2, 1962.
He served as an associate pastor at St. Pius X Church, Plainview, and Blessed Sacrament, Valley Stream, before becoming chaplain at Maria Regina Diocesan High School (now Kellenberg Memorial) in Uniondale.
“I was working on a degree in counseling at the time,” Msgr. Kelly told The Long Island Catholic. “They were wonderful years. The administration, the faculty, the parents, the students were all invigorating.”
Later, Msgr. Kelly began work on a degree in educational administration. In 1974 he became principal of Holy Family Diocesan High School (now St. Anthony’s), South Huntington.
“That was a wonderful experience. I used to spend most of my day in different parts of the school getting to know the students,” Msgr. Kelly said.
After 10 years there, in 1984 he was appointed diocesan director of priest personnel, residing at St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hempstead. In 1990, Msgr. Kelly was assigned to his first pastorate, St. Aidan’s, Williston Park.
After a little more than a term there, then-Bishop John McGann asked him to become rector of the cathedral in 1997.
Msgr. Kelly retired in 2007. He told The Long Island Catholic that one aspect he liked best about being a priest is “the privilege of offering the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s amazing to me how much people trust us and what an opportunity it is to offer healing to people who are hurting.”
“I’ve been very happy being a priest, serving God and serving people,” Msgr. Kelly said. “I’ve been blessed to be with people in times of joy and times of sadness. Even when you lack words, you can offer your presence.”