Archbishop Thomas Cajetan Kelly, O.P.
Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, O.P., leader of the Archdiocese of Louisville from 1982 to his retirement in 2007, died the morning of December 14, 2011, at home. He was 80 years old.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz praised his brother bishop for his witness and service to the Archdiocese of Louisville: “With the death of Archbishop Thomas Cajetan Kelly, O.P., the local church of Louisville has lost a friend, humble servant and dedicated man of God. Archbishop Kelly served for more than a quarter century as the Archbishop of Louisville and remained active as Archbishop Emeritus for almost five years. Throughout his ministry, he has consistently shown his wit and intellect to all who knew him, but most especially and most deeply, his humility and compassion for all. I am personally grateful for his friendship and welcome of me as his successor. In his 80 years of life, he has been thoroughly a priest of Jesus Christ as a faithful Dominican, as a diplomat and administrator at the Nunciature and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as Metropolitan of the Province of Louisville, as a true Archbishop, and in these last days as a faithful parish priest.”
Born in 1931 in Rochester, New York, Archbishop Kelly entered the Dominican order in 1951 after studying for two years at Providence College, Providence, Rhode Island. He pursued philosophical studies at St. Rose Priory, Springfield, Kentucky, and St. Joseph’s Priory, Somerset, Ohio. Ordained a priest in 1958, Kelly received a Licentiate in Theology degree from the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C., in 1959 and a doctorate in canon law from the University of St. Thomas in Rome in 1962. He also studied at the University of Vienna and at Cambridge University.
Archbishop Kelly began his ministry in New York City in 1962 as secretary in the Dominican provincial office of St. Joseph Province. He also worked with the Legion of Decency and the Archdiocese of New York tribunal. Archbishop Kelly moved to Washington in 1965 as a secretary and archivist for the Apostolic Delegation.
In 1971 Archbishop Kelly joined the NCCB and USCC as associate general secretary. He was elected in March 1977 to a five-year term as chief administrative officer and general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) in Washington, D.C. In July 1977, Pope Paul VI named Kelly auxiliary to the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and titular bishop of Tusuro, Africa. In August 1977, he was ordained a bishop at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Kelly to the Archdiocese of Louisville in December 1981, and he was installed as Archbishop in February of 1982. During his years as Archbishop, he initiated a systematic approach to planning, resulting in the first long-range strategic plan in 1989. This plan was updated several times. He launched a major project to restore the Cathedral of the Assumption. As a result of this innovative, interfaith project the Cathedral has become nationally known as a public sanctuary and as a center of the arts and of compassionate service to those in need. In November 1994 Kelly held both archdiocesan and community interfaith services to dedicate the renovated Cathedral, and in 2002 he was present as the 150th anniversary of the Cathedral was celebrated. In 1996 the Archbishop spearheaded the Endowment for Excellence, a campaign for Catholic education.
Archbishop Kelly accompanied Mayor Jerry Abramson and advisers to Biloxi, Mississippi, in June 1987, in a successful effort to persuade the Presbyterian Church (USA) to move its headquarters to Louisville. He also was involved in the planning for the first two papal visits to the United States.
Archbishop Kelly was active in national, local, and regional organizations and has served as chancellor and trustee, Bellarmine University, Louisville, Kentucky; chairman, Catholic Conference of Kentucky; member, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and member, International Dominican Foundation Executive Committee. In addition, he was one of the founding members of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation and was vice-chairman of the Catholic Education Foundation, both in Louisville. He also served as chair of the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Educational Association and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic Health Association.
Archbishop Kelly was a member of the Statutes and Bylaws Committee, the National Advisory Council, and the Canonical Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and has served as national episcopal liaison (1995-2000) for the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. He served as the chair of the bishops’ advisory committee of the Catholic Committee of the South. Past memberships also include: board of directors, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kentucky; Pontifical Commission for Religious in the United States; Seminary Board, Archdiocese of Chicago; Providence College Corporation; and board of trustees, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, Maryland.
Archbishop Kelly was a recipient of the following honorary doctoral degrees: Sacred Theology – Providence College; Laws – Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts; Human Sciences – Caldwell College, Caldwell, New Jersey; Human Letters – Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky; Humane Letters – Albertus Magnus College, New Haven, Connecticut; Sacred Theology – Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, California; Theology – Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis, Missouri.
In 2007, Archbishop Kelly celebrated 25 years as Archbishop of Louisville, 30 years as a bishop, and 55 years as a Dominican. In his retirement, he lived at Holy Trinity Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.
Archbishop Kelly was the third Archbishop and first member of the Dominican order to head the Archdiocese of Louisville. He succeeded Archbishops Thomas J. McDonough, 1967-1981, and John A. Floersh, 1937-1967.
December 14, 2011