Brother Denis Kelly, C.P., Holy Cross Province (1859-1932)

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Born Patrick Kelly on September 3, 1859 in Liverpool, England, he was the son of John Kelly and Ellen Kenny. At fourteen or fifteen years of age he was an orphan when his parents died. He lived with his aunt and other family members went with other relatives. His aunt decided to move to the United States. She, along with some other relatives arrived at Jersey City, New Jersey. There, they became familiar with the Passionists in West Hoboken, New Jersey. St. Michael’s Church was a well-known place for pilgrims to come and “get the blessing.” The young man, at sixteen was accepted as an aspirant and sent to the novitiate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in August 1875. After about a month he left the novitiate as a candidate for priesthood. He waited for some time and then re-entered as a brother candidate. He professed his vows on September 8, 1877. His religious name was Denis. After professing his vows he was assigned to St. Michael’s Monastery, West Hoboken where he was engaged as a cook. He would also sew clothes, cultivate the garden, manage the heating system and nurse the sick. He did this in the austere tradition of Passionist brothers of that era and time. At that time the Passionist mission to Mexico was undertaken. After the provincial chapter of 1887 Father Lawrence, who was the second general consultor proceeded on to found the Normandy, Missouri site. After granting approval for that location, outside St. Louis, Father Lawrence left St. Louis for Mexico along with Father Paul Hyacinth, C.P, the newly elected rector of St. Mary’s Retreat, Toluca, Mexico and Brother Kelly. This was on or about October 1, 1887. As was common for that day, he went to Mexico without knowledge of language or custom to work with the Mexicans and native people. He soon learned the language and gained a love for the food which remained all his life. He would consistently, upon his return to the United States, gain mass stipends to assist Passionist efforts in Mexico and Cuba. He also tried to persuade business men to meet the Passionists there. In 1893 the Mexican venture was taken from the responsibility of St. Paul of the Cross Province and given over to the Holy Family Province, Spain. About 1905 Brother Kelly was invited home by the provincial after about eighteen years in Mexico. In 1906 the eastern and western provinces were created in the United States and Brother Kelly was a member of the western province. He lived in a cottage as a housekeeper with the three priests who were present during the building of the Detroit, Michigan monastery. When Father General Geremias made a visitation to Mexico, and later the Spanish provincial, Father John, made his and still Provincial-Consultor Father Jerome made his, it was Brother Kelly who went along to assist in the experience. When he did come back to the United States he was a tailor and infirmarian in Chicago, Illinois At other times he worked in the kitchen and boiler room. He also could cook. One time he was sent as a nurse to San Francisco to care for Father General Silvius who was ill. He was en route to Australia with his secretary Father Leo. One interesting aspect of Brother Kelly’s Mexican experience was that he tried unsuccessfully to market a medicinal drug with which he had become familiar. In December 1931, while in Chicago he had stomach pain which required appendicitis surgery. He started to recover nicely but then had a relapse and in March it was declared that he had cancer of the liver from which he eventually died.

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