History center offers special exhibit on the life of Archbishop Kelly
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Archbishop Emeritus Thomas C. Kelly, who died last year on Dec. 14, 2011, will be remembered during a special liturgy on the first anniversary of his death.
The people of the Archdiocese of Louisville, whom he shepherded from 1982 to 2007, are invited to attend the regular noon Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St., to pray for the repose of his soul. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will preside.
Following the liturgy, the Archdiocese of Louisville History Center will open a special exhibit of items from Archbishop Kelly’s life. The history center is located across the street from the Cathedral in the Patterson Education Building, 424 S. Fifth St.
The exhibit includes the late archbishop’s “choir dress” (the garments he wore when another priest was presiding), the crozier given to him by the priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville at his installation in 1982 and two pectoral crosses, one made by a priest of the archdiocese.
The exhibit also includes photos and mementos from his ordination as an auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., and his work as the General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the United States Conferenceof Catholic Bishops). In that position, the late archbishop organized the 1979 papal trip of Blessed John Paul II to the United States. The exhibit features a photo of them taken during that trip.
“Before he died, all these things came into the archives. And he knew they would. We talked about it before he died,” said Father Dale Cieslik, the archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville, who created the special exhibit.
In addition to items related to his clerical life, the exhibit also includes a variety of photos from the archbishop’s childhood and early years of religious life as a Dominican. They show a smiling child and later, an amiable, gentle young man.
The most personal and illuminating items in the exhibit, however, may be the letters he wrote to his mother.
“Thank God for his mother. She saved every letter and postcard he ever sent,” Father Cieslik said, noting that the archives hold two large binders full of the archbishop’s epistles. “His letters are so witty. You knew he was close to his mom, but here you have letters about how he felt.”
Archbishop Kelly wrote to his mother faithfully from the time he was a Dominican novice beginning around 1950 until she moved to Louisville in 1983. One letter, dated Aug. 29, 1960, commemorates the 25th anniversary of his father’s death (which occurred when the archbishop was a child).
He wrote to his mother: “However tragic his death was in its far-reaching loneliness and poverty that resulted, it is difficult to imagine that I could have had a better life.”
Archbishop Kelly’s voice can also be heard in the center’s small theater. He reflects on his life and service during a seven-minute video — made from an edited interview with the archbishop before his death.
During the video, he notes, “I cherish the kid who became a Dominican,” and in a segment on his appointment as General Secretary of the bishops conference, he says, “I was on a career track I would never have selected for myself. I always wanted to teach.”
Near the end of the video, the archbishop answers a question about the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville. He says, “I would hope that they would think I was faithful and I loved them all.”
The video is part of the center’s permanent collection. Another item in the permanent exhibit is Archbishop Kelly’s pallium, the wool band presented to archbishops by the pope.
The history center also includes an array of items and information related to other clergy and prelates who are a part of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s history.
The latest addition to the history center arrived in late November. It is a chalice that belonged to Archbishop Martin John Spalding in 1835, a priest of the then-Diocese of Bardstown who became Archbishop of Baltimore. A story about the chalice and its long-road home accompanies this article.
The Archdiocese of Louisville History Center is open on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Groups also may make reservations by calling Angela Wiggins at the Cathedral at 582-2971, ext. 5213. The exhibit on Archbishop Kelly will be displayed through Ash Wednesday.