By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Msgr. John Gregory Kelly, the Vicar for Clergy for the Diocese of Dallas—home to 1.3 million Catholics—will become a bishop and serve as an Auxiliary Bishop in the diocese in which the 59-year-old Iowa native has served since his ordination to the priesthood in 1982.
Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell announced Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop-elect Kelly at a news conference on Dec. 16 at the Pastoral Center.
“This is such a wonderful day,” Bishop Farrell said. “It’s great for the Diocese of Dallas.
“I could not think of a better person. He is such a hard-working priest…This is the pope sending a special Christmas gift to the Diocese of Dallas.”
Bishop Farrell will ordain Bishop-elect Kelly as a bishop at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2016, at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas.
That date coincides with the day in 2002 when Bishop Farrell was ordained as a bishop, which pleased Bishop-elect Kelly, he said.
He will join Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel, giving the fast-growing, nine-county diocese two auxiliary bishops for the first time since Bishop Mark J. Seitz became the Bishop of El Paso in 2013.
Bishop-elect Kelly’s voice occasionally revealed his emotions as he described his appointment as “a new grace from Christ and a new call to serve him in my love.”
Bishop-elect Kelly, who learned of his appointment while he was at a workshop in Indiana on Dec. 7, told the news conference about his call to the priesthood, his arrival in Texas and his spiritual growth.
He blended reverence and humor as he spoke of his admiration for Pope Francis: “I’d do anything he asked me to do,” Bishop-elect Kelly said.
He said that it was good news that he will remain in Dallas, where he has served in a variety of positions.
Bishop-elect Kelly served as associate pastor of All Saints Catholic Church from 1982—1986.
From 1986-96, he served as the chaplain at the University of Dallas in Irving. During that decade, he also served as the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Dallas in 1995-96.
From 1996-2008, Bishop-elect Kelly served as the founding pastor of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in McKinney.
Since 2008, he has served as the diocese’s Vicar for Clergy, assisting priests, deacons and seminarians.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop-elect Kelly as a Chaplain to His Holiness in 2013, which gave him the title of Reverend Monsignor.
Bishop-elect Kelly said that while attending Sacred Heart Catholic School in Colorado Springs in the 1960s, he felt inspired by Father George Julian.
Bishop-elect Kelly said that he left college in Colorado, where he grew up, to enter Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving in the fall of 1976.
The idea of a priesthood vocation had nagged at him over time, but the thought of leaving Colorado for Texas did not greatly appeal to him, Bishop-elect Kelly said.
He welcomed his chance to serve as St. Gabriel’s founding pastor, said Bishop-elect Kelly, a native of Le Mars, Iowa and one of the five children of the late John Kelly and Marilean Kelly.
“I said, ‘This is now my opportunity to put things in place for other people,” he said after relating a story about an old man planting mangos that he would not live to see, but doing it because he had enjoyed the fruits of previous planters, and wanted to provide the same for those who would come after him.
Bishop Farrell, who arrived in Dallas in 2007, said that he had not been in the diocese for long when he tapped Bishop-elect Kelly for a new assignment.
“My popularity at St. Gabriel went below zero,” Bishop Farrell said with a smile.
Bishop-elect Kelly’s voice trembled slightly as he spoke of the gifts that influenced his path, including his parents and his Irish-American and French-Canadian roots, and the intercession of Mary.
He said that he looked forward to continuing his work with his brother priests and deacons.
Rosemary Tarangioli, the interim director of development for Catholic Charities of Dallas, said it brought her joy to learn of Bishop-elect Kelly’s appointment.
“He baptized our daughter, Mary Elizabeth, at All Saints in 1983,” Tarangioli said. “He was a young priest and so well-regarded.”
Bishop-elect Kelly, who quoted St. Paul’s writings about the race and finish line, said that he didn’t know all the details about his new ministry.
He drew laughter with a quip about a guy who jumped off the top of the Empire State Building, and could be heard saying on his way down, “So far, so good.”