Kelly, Hugh, 1886-1974, Jesuit priest

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Kelly, Hugh, 1886-1974, Jesuit priest

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16 September 1886-01 November 1974


Born: 16 September 1886, Westport, County Mayo
Entered: 07 September 1906, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 15 August 1921, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1925, Mungret College SJ, Limerick
Died: 01 November 1974, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth

Part of St Francis Xavier's community, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin
by 1917 at St Aloysius, Jersey, Channel Islands (FRA) studying

◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 49th Year No 4 1974
Obituary :
Fr Hugh Kelly (1886-1974)

The tendency to be egotistical noticeable in some persons who are free from the faintest taint of egotism is a tendency hard to account for - but delightful to watch.
“Anything”, says glorious John Dryden, “though ever so little, which a man speaks of himself in my opinion, is still too much”.
A sound opinion most surely and yet how interesting are the personal touches we find scattered up and down Dryden’s noble prefaces. So with Newman - his dignity, his self-restraint, his taste, are all the greatest stickler for a stiff upper lip and the consumption of your own smoke could desire, and yet the personal note is frequently sounded. He is never afraid to strike it when the perfect harmony that exists between his character and his style demands its sound, and so it has come about that we love what he has written because he wrote it, and we love him who wrote it because of what he has written.
It may need an apology to introduce an obituary with a spate of quotation but the culprit, the writer, recalls the above passage from one of Birrell’s essays on Newman being read out at the Rathfarnham home juniorate class, forty odd years since by Fr H. Kelly, then Master of Juniors. It was a specimen of the felicitous way in which he conveyed or suggested an appreciation of good things and the passage itself, it might occur to one more than merely passingly acquainted with Fr Kelly, might serve as a resumé of his own manner and character. He was one of the most unimposing, unimperious of men; if one happened to gain a point on him - not indeed that he ever had a mind for controversy, other than that of a friendly exchange of opinion, you almost regretted having won.
He was born in Westport, Co Mayo, 16th September 1886. One of six children, four boys - one of whom, Peter, the eldest, as Hugh himself, became a priest and died some years since, Adm of the Cathedral in Tuam - and two sisters who now alone survive : Mother Peter of the Presentation Convent in Tuam, and Mrs Eileen Ryan of Westport: with whom Fr Hugh even in latter years contrived to maintain home associations for a few days annually.
His first schooling was with the Christian Brothers at Westport of whom he retained kindly remembrances and for one of whom, not identifiable at the moment, he possessed something of a veneration. His eldest brother was at Maynooth and according to the custom of the time Hugh, with the priesthood likewise in view, proceeded to St Jarlath's where he excelled in classics gaining first place in Greek in the public exam in his concluding year.
Two years in Maynooth, the story goes that on reading a life of St Ignatius, after thought, he presented himself as a candidate for the Society in 1906 to Fr Conmee the then Provincial; he was accepted and on occasion years later he would expatiate on the journey by sidecar from Tullamore station to Tullabeg “with the fall of the year”.
The fellow novices of his year were men later distinguished in their own right. As they are listed in the catalogue of 1907, in the order of seniority apparently, apart from H Johnson who arrived later, they stand : Hugh Kelly, Deniş Nerney, John Deevy, James Gubbins, John Coyne, Michael Meaney, Michael Fitzgibbon, Stephen Bartley and Henry Johnson. All persevered, five became octogenarians; two, Fr John Coyne who was to become Fr Hugh's intimate friend through life, and Fr Henry Johnson who might have rivalled Fr Coyne in closeness of friendship did not seas divide, still happily survive.
After completing the noviciate Hugh Kelly continued for two years as a junior at Tullabeg. In 1910 he moved to Milltown to attend University College, still in its infancy. In 1912 he secured his BA degree which he later crowned with an MA under the guidance of Fr G O’Neill but with no sabbatical period with which to specialise. His thesis was Newman, already a beloved subject. He taught in Mungret, 1912-17, among other chores undertaking the editorship of the Mungret Annual. Fr Edward Dillon, a contemporary member of the Mungret Community, in his last years delighted to recall the happy relations between himself, a seasoned classical, and the young scholastic who was already dis playing a flair for imparting knowledge and generating enthusiasm among his scholars. One success, at any rate, must be chronicled : Tom Johnson, later Fr Tom, brother of Henry above, gained the Senior Grade Medal for Latin in the public exams under Hugh Kelly's tutelage.
1917 found Hugh at Jersey for philosophy but in middle course the threat of conscription here at home and the consequent peremptory behest of Fr T V Nolan, the Provincial, withdrew all our scholastics from foreign parts and Hugh with the other émigrés concluded the philosophic course at Milltown Park and immediately proceeded to theology in the same domicile. Ordination 1921; tertianship at Tullabeg 1923-24; an intervening year again at Mungret and in 1925 he succeeded Fr Frank Ryan at Rathfarnham as Master of Juniors, Fr D. O’Sullivan has kindly under taken, in his modesty, “to supply lacunae” and we content ourselves with some reference to Fr. Kelly's concluding years (reference extended beyond our first calculation); after completing his Rectorate at Rathfarnham in ‘48 he was engaged as operarius and scriptor at Gardiner Street.
It would be inexcusable to omit mention of the various reviews of books he provided for Studies almost continuously and the numerous full-dress articles in Studies but frequently further afield; he had a keen sense for the propriety of language, and a happiness of expression that induced editors to keep him to the mill. An article on Belloc on one occasion drew from that great man a letter of thanks; this really was easy going, as he immersed himself early in Belloc and Chesterton; his acquaintance with Burke and Boswell and Johnson's Poets was a byword among his pupils. He humorously remarked that he would burn for the number of novels he had “consumed” but he too readily recognised trash to be led into devious ways.
The gravitation to Gardiner Street was only a lull; his term of more active service was not concluded. In 1954 he was impelled into the responsible position, again at Rathfarnham, of Tertian Instructor and retained that demanding post for eight years; once again his kindliness, his diffidence almost, though he had a good grasp of the literature of the Institute and the Spiritual Exercises educed on occasion that smile about enthusiasms to which Fr O’Sullivan, in an earlier context, hereafter refers. When he was relieved of the task ultimately he was beginning to feel older yet for another decade he soldiered on, again at Gardiner Street; his Novena of Grace when in on his eighties evinced the energies of one twenty years younger and his command of appropriate language made the lectures something of a literary treat, Together with being solid spirituality. Practically to the end he retained his concentration and as the various volumes of Newman's letters appeared his satisfaction in perusing them was immense.
However, about a year since even the interest in systematic reading languished; this was a novelty for him and he began to have sleepless nights and cheerless depressing days. His appetite, a healthy one generally, failed and from mere lack of sustenance there was fear of his stumbling and injuring himself. The devotion with which he had served Mother Mary Martin’s Missionaries of Mary practically from their foundation (the absence of any allusion to which, as also to the innumerable retreats given by him through the country and even in Boston, Mass, we apologise for), led to Our Lady of Lourdes' Hospital, Drogheda, run under the Missionaries' auspices, being considered as a place of care in decline. Under the nuns’ and nurses’ devoted attention he survived over a year, remarkably tenacious of life but definitely failing. The end came, graciously, we hope, of the Providence Whom he so loyally served through life, at the dawn of the Feast of All Saints.
The obsequies from Gardiner Street on Monday, November 7th, had something unique in the number who followed the cortège to Glasnevin as if to register their affection rather than mourning for the deceased,

We apologise to Fr D O’Sullivan for delaying so long from presenting his tribute to Fr Kelly, as follows:

I lived with Fr Hugh Kelly for only five years - three years under him in Rathfarnham when he was Minister of Juniors and Prefect of Studies and, after an interval of twelve years, as his Rector in Tullabeg. My Rathfarnham memories of Fr Hugh are of the happiest. Life in community, in spite of our division into “home” and “university” juniors was real and was great fun. Studies were perhaps a little higgledy-piggledy due in part to the amiable eccentricities of our Rector, Fr John Keane. Many scholastics studied hard, bringing home the University honours so much esteemed by him - too much perhaps; others studied less. But, almost all, after a somewhat Cistercian noviceship gradually found their Jesuit feet-even if in startlingly variform ways.
The process, luckily, was to a great extent unconscious. The three years with Fr Hugh as Prefect of Studies were unashamedly liberal and cultural, for he was a man of culture though I doubt that he ever knew the word could be used so cynically and pejoratively as it nowadays is. He taught us by his example and the sincerity of his observance that rules could be liberating: and, more formally, that the liberal arts were liberalising. Science was a puzzle to him; but in English literature particularly he was an admirable tutor. We smiled a little at his enthusiasms but, till our dying day, we shall be marked by them. Newman came alive for us: and Fr Hugh took care that when Belloc and Chesterton came to Dublin we heard them and saw our household gods in the flesh.
I was not to meet him again until after Tertianship. I did not look forward to the meeting : he had been removed abruptly and, to the general mind of the Province, unfairly from the Rectorship of Tullabeg and I had the unpleasant task of replacing him. I need have had no fears. Never once was there the slightest disruption of loyalty and friendship : Hugh Kelly was a man of the Exercises. He practised the third degree - unostentatiously - as befitted his temperament and character. His obedience had also a quality of the near-heroic, He was, by inclination and by training, a man of letters : yet he served some fourteen years on the metaphysical treadmill, filling as well the tasks of Rector and Prefect of Studies. He was reckoned adequate as a professor and he worked conscientiously at the various branches of philosophy that fell to his lot: but few scholastics found him inspiring.
As a man they liked and admired him and he was a welcome companion on their weekly villa-walks when they enjoyed his conversation and he theirs. In community life in general he displayed the same Pauline “courtesy”: and in recreation he was as good a listener as he was a conversationalist, One perhaps - as often with men of his mould - took his good qualities for granted. I know that when to the unselfish delight of all-he was, after only two years, chosen to be Rector of Rathfarnham, I realised how much his presence in the Tullabeg community had been a quiet force for humane and harmonious living.


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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830-


Kelly, Hugh, 1886-1974, Jesuit priest

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