Robert Pascoe, The Feasts and Seasons of John F. Kelly.
By commissioning this biography of John F. Kelly, Monsignor Tom Doyle has ensured that a most significant personality of the Melbourne Church is rightfully recorded in Australian history. It presents a remarkable man of many outstanding attributes, most notable among which are his achievements in Catholic Education. The reader meets the faith, genius and personality of John F. Kelly: the man, priest, educator and friend.
For those who knew him personally, his life will most probably appear more enhanced and nuanced given the author's access to his extensive diaries. Gleanings from these, and other sources, reveal an exceptional priest and an inspiring teacher. Readers who are in some way connected to Catholic education, YCW and YCS, marriage preparation programs and faith formation of adults, are given comprehensive insight into the intellectual brilliance and distinctive dedication of Kelly.
In his various ministries within the Archdiocese of Melbourne he is portrayed as one who accurately anticipated changes that came with the renewal of Vatican II. Kelly, through his extensive reading of great Church leaders and theologians, was discerning emerging features and implementing changes in practice and the Catholic worldview long before most.
His life and ministry enunciated a spirituality that embraced the approach of Cardjin's Catholic action. Throughout his years of leadership in Catholic Education he taught and wrote with the intent that Catholics would know what their faith meant in everyday life as well as what it meant for them personally.
There is ample indication that his work and leadership was based on the clear understanding of the Catholic Church in Australia needing to move beyond its original Irish origins. Notably his personal attachment to the arts, fine living and literature never deterred him from commitment to living the 'Catholic' imperative of care for and focus on those most in need: Jesus came to serve the poor. As parish priest of Deepdene, his insistence of providing a house for migrant persons rather than sell the property for parochial investment typifies his deep spiritualty and faith in action.
From 1972 to 1976 he was founding Director of the Australian Bishops' National Pastoral Institute (NPI). In this position he was instrumental in engaging modern pedagogy and reflective theological and religious learning with the many significant leaders and teachers who undertook these programs. Collectively they embraced the challenges, changes and inspiration of Vatican II.
As priest and educator, a most notable achievement is the religious education and catechetical materials he wrote. In the early 1960s he developed the Green and Red Catechisms and oversighted the My Way to God Series: these are testimony to his academic brilliance, his teaching and pedagogical insights, and significantly, his pastoral acumen. He was able to convince the Bishops of Australia of the need for these materials. The regard with which Kelly was held is exemplified in his capacity to initiate and ultimately complete this most challenging task.
As a child in rural NSW I recall receiving my Green and Red Catechisms in the early 1960s. Through them, my religious education became so much more engaging and amazing. Students and teachers were led to read the scriptures, reflect on the Church's tradition and learn in ways that aimed to touch both the heart of the matter and the heart of the learner. Applying the Catholic tradition to one's life released energy and challenge into Catholic school faith education at that time. Many generations will be indebted to Kelly's genius and also his pastoral sensitivity. There was insistence that the Catechisms be affordable. He ensured that E.J. Dwyer (Sydney) produce Book One at no more than 0-5-9 [pounds sterling] (58 cents) and Book Two at no more than 0-7-6 [pounds sterling] (75 cents).
This biography recalls Monsignor John F. Kelly, a great and faithful Catholic priest and teacher. In this account one meets a giant personality of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Dr Leonie Crotty rsm
Catholic Education Office, Sydney