News Release, University of Dayton, Sept 22, 2004
FATHER JACK KELLEY, EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE, DIES
The Rev. John (Jack) Kelley, S.M., a retired University of Dayton
professor of religious studies who helped start the Dayton Christian Jewish
Dialogue in 1973 and was instrumental in bringing Martin Luther King Jr. to
campus 40 years ago, died Monday, Sept. 20. He was 82.
Visitation will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, followed by
a Mass of Christian Burial at 7:30
p.m. in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at the
University of Dayton. Burial will be 10 a.m. on
Friday, Sept. 24, at Queen of Heaven Cemetery at Mount St. John, 4435 E.
Known as a man of strong convictions, Father Kelley worked for social
justice and advocated interfaith dialogue.
“He was a fiery orator against people of prejudice,” said Shirley Flacks,
one of the founding members of the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue. “He
really was the inspiration for our group to get started. He was very driven,
very intense and he did a great service for Christian-Jewish relations in
that he was very instrumental in getting some of the Passion plays to be
less anti-Semitic. If he believed in something, you could not dissuade him.”
As a scholar, he was a longstanding critic who challenged anti-Semitism in
the world’s longest-running play of its kind — the Oberammergau Passion Play
staged every 10 years in Germany. Father Kelley and other scholars were
instrumental in convincing the director to quit costuming Jews in the play
with horns of the devil.
“His own greatest ecumenical achievement is his Herculean effort to keep the
news media informed of any anti-Semitic overtones in Passion Plays put on
during the Lenten season,” said the Rev. Bertrand Buby, S.M., assistant
professor of religious studies at UD and a member of the Dayton Christian
Jewish Dialogue. “He was very passionate in his dedication to
Christian-Jewish dialogue wherever he was assigned. At one time, he headed
the Dialogue in Rockaway Park, N.Y. He loved the Marianist priesthood and
was frequently seen praying in the Alumni Hall chapel on campus.”
Father Kelley attended more than 300 meetings of the Dayton Christian Jewish
Dialogue. “In terms of the Dialogue, there was no one more regular and
dutiful,” remembered Kenneth Rosenzweig, co-chair of the Dayton Christian
Jewish Dialogue and professor of accounting at UD. “He’d prepare handouts
full of all the current developments in Christian-Jewish relations. He was a
committed person who lived out his commitments.”
On campus, he loved sharing his memories of Nov. 29, 1964, when Martin
Luther King Jr. spoke to 5,000 people at the Fieldhouse, now known as the
Frericks Center, during a snowstorm. “It seems to me in retrospect that the
spirited message King gave to us was the very message which he had prepared
for Oslo (when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize days later),” Father Kelley
told the Flyer News, UD’s student newspaper, on March 2, 2001. “I have no
doubt that much of the message he gave in the University Fieldhouse that
evening was the well-thought-through message of building peace in our town
in our times.”
Father Kelley championed the needs of the poor and underserved in society.
“Like a voice crying in the wilderness, he never let any of us forget the
importance of the voices of those who are the marginalized,” said the Rev.
Eugene Contadino, S.M., rector at UD. “He did not hesitate to walk into any
office on campus to plead his causes.”
Father Kelley taught religion and theology at UD from 1959 to 1970. In 1973,
he taught business courses before retiring from UD. He was a prolific scholar, who published the book, Freedom in
the Church: A Documented History of the Principle of Subsidiary Function,
During his career, he also taught at Hamilton Catholic High School (Ohio),
Holy Trinity High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Cathedral Latin High School
(Cleveland) and Kenyatta University College (Nairobi, Kenya).
A Cleveland native, he held a bachelor’s degree from the University of
Dayton and a licentiate in philosophy and doctorate in philosophy from the
University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He entered the Society of Mary and
professed first vows in 1940 and perpetual vows in 1945. He was ordained to
the priesthood in 1953.
He is survived by two sisters, Lenore Brennan of Cleveland and Sister
Chaminade Kelley, O.S.F., of Decatur, Ill., and nieces and nephews. In lieu
of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to the Marianist Province of the
U.S., 4425 W. Price Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108.