Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP, who died Dec. 14, 2011, was a native Rochesterian who also had extensive family and friendship ties in Ithaca that resulted in many return visits to Tompkins County.
Archbishop Kelly led the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., for 25 years and then became archbishop emeritus beginning with his 2007 retirement. He died from natural causes at age 80 at Holy Trinity Church in Louisville, where he had lived in retirement.
Much of Archbishop Kelly’s early life was spent in these parts. He was born in Rochester in 1931 and lived as a teen for one year in Ithaca, where he belonged to Immaculate Conception Parish. After joining the Order of Preachers in 1951, he was ordained a Dominican priest seven years later and celebrated his first Mass at Immaculate Conception Church.
He returned to Ithaca in the summers while attending college and seminary. In 1998, Archbishop Kelly credited the Ithaca parish for helping influence his pursuit of a religious vocation.
"There was always somebody praying in this church," he recalled during his homily at a Mass celebrating Immaculate Conception Parish’s 150th anniversary and the church building’s 100th year.
Archbishop Kelly’s family lived on West Buffalo Street in Ithaca, one block from the Kenricks on West Seneca Street. Mercy Sister Jane M. Kenrick, in an online condolence in the Louisville Courier-Journal, recalled her Ithaca family’s close ties with the future archbishop.
"Father Tom, as we called him, finished his high school in Ithaca and was our neighbor. He always visited us at Christmas time and in the summer when he would go home to Ithaca to see his mother. He celebrated my silver jubilee Mass at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca," wrote Sister Kenrick, who has served for many years as a missionary in Viña del Mar, Chile. "We will miss him and we praise God for all he was for us and so many."
Following his priestly ordination, Archbishop Kelly served in many key administrative positions within the Catholic Church. In 1977 he began a five-year term as chief administrative officer and general secretary for what is now known as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also that year he was appointed by Pope Paul VI as auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
In December 1981 he was named by Pope John Paul II as Archbishop of Louisville, with his installation coming two months later. Among his many accomplishments as archbishop, he was well-known for overseeing a major renovation of Cathedral of the Assumption, where his funeral Mass took place Dec. 20, 2011. In addition, Archbishop Kelly led an extensive strategic-planning process beginning in the late 1980s, and was active in interfaith efforts.