Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Father Kelly Celebrates Anniversary; Hundreds Gathered at St. Paul's Catholic Church to Honor the Priest's Career

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Father Kelly Celebrates Anniversary; Hundreds Gathered at St. Paul's Catholic Church to Honor the Priest's Career

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

Fifty years ago today, William Kelly of Castlerea, Ireland was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

On June 5, hundreds of his devoted parishioners from St. Paul's Catholic Church in Jacksonville Beach helped him celebrate.

After a special hour-long Friday evening Mass in the church, where every pew was packed, about 900 people congregated under a large white tent across the street for a festive dinner party to honor the man who has served there since 1977.

"He's very, very popular," said Mike "Spook" Hamilton, 62, lifelong church member. "He's been devoted not only to members of this church, but to the people in the whole Beaches community."

"He's a great man," said parish council President Emmet Grandy of Atlantic Beach.

"Fifty years is a tremendous milestone, and we are very lucky to have him here. People have no idea how much he does, and we don't know what we'd do without him."

Kelly told the story of how he came to the Beaches during his sermon at the Mass.

Known as a quiet man with a sense of humor, he filled the sanctuary with laughter as he talked about leaving Ireland for Florida with several other priests in August 1959.

"They said you must get a diocese. They said you should go to Florida," he recalled.

"We knew very little about Florida." Except, he said, "we were told that most of the time, the weather was not hot."

Kelly boarded a Greyhound bus for Orlando shortly after his arrival.

That was "before Disney," he said; and the church where he served as an associate "was not air conditioned."

A year later, he went to teach at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, then to St. Petersburg to teach at Bishop Barry High, "a great place to be."

When church leaders next sent him to Lake City to serve as pastor of a church there, he was "very happy," serving for 12 years until he got the call to St. Paul's in the fall of 1977.

"So I moved, and I'm still here," he said, to applause. "Thirty-one years, mind you."

Church membership has tripled since he came, with about 3,200 families, Hamilton said.

The church school has grown and expanded.

Continuing the parish's tradition of reaching out to the Beaches community, Kelly also helped found the Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry, and under his leadership the parish has built many houses for Beaches Habitat for Humanity.

Other parish-sponsored outreach efforts include a cold-night shelter for the homeless, and with the help of many volunteers, the church hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas Day dinners for people who are needy and alone.

Kelly also visits the sick in hospitals, conducts funerals and is a "faithful" visitor to people who are home-bound or in nursing homes, said Terrie Lyons, who served as his secretary for 13 years. …

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