In Memoriam

Father Jack Kelley, S.M.

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News Release, University of Dayton, Sept 22, 2004







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. Patterson Rd.

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, in 2000.

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.