By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Jeanette White recalled growing restless during her family’s evening Rosary recitation at home in Colorado Springs in her pre-teen years.
But her brother, Bishop Gregory “Greg” Kelly, then 19, stopped her fidgeting and opened her heart to the Rosary’s beauty with his soothing, sensible and reverent advice.
“Greg said to think of it as a song, with the Rosary as the melody and your meditations, thoughts and prayers as the words,” said White, who lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif. “He fostered my love for saying it and helped me experience it much more deeply.
“It’s a glimpse into Greg when he was on the cusp of saying, ‘Yes.’ ”
That was when White saw the signs of the pastoral priest her brother would come to be.
Forty years later, the priestly calling that Bishop Kelly answered with a ‘yes’ entered a new chapter with his Episcopal Ordination Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Feb. 11.
Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell presided as consecrator on a day that brought joy to the Kelly family and to the Diocese of Dallas, in which Bishop Kelly has served since his priesthood ordination in 1982.
Bishop Kelly, who turned 60 on Feb. 15, will serve as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Dallas and will continue as Vicar for Clergy.
“I was so proud of Greg when I heard that he was going to become a bishop, but honestly not too surprised,” said Bishop Kelly’s only brother, Dennis, who works as a civil engineer in Detroit. “He’s a tremendous individual.”
Bishop Kelly, a native of Le Mars, Iowa, was 14 months old when his family moved to Colorado Springs.
He is the second of the five children of Marilean and the late John D. Kelly, who owned a construction company and loved sports and the outdoors.
Marilean recalled her son as profoundly thoughtful.
She said that he surprised her with a birthday cake after he got up on her birthday eve to bake it after everyone was asleep.
“He didn’t normally cook, otherwise,” she said. “At family gatherings, he was always so good about entertaining the little kids.”
Dennis said that he and his brother shared a sense of adventure.
“We spent a lot of time on Pikes Peak and exploring and hiking in the Colorado foothills,” Dennis said. “I think we thought we were the first people ever to set foot in some of those areas.”
Bishop Kelly said that his parents treasured their faith and their parish, Sacred Heart—which anchored a family life full of outdoor activities.
“Going to Mass was mandatory,” he said. “That was never an option.
“We had the feeling of being in the sticks out on the west edge of town. I loved the mountains. Dad taught me baseball and golf.”
His siblings said that Bishop Kelly also loved to sing, play cards and perform in theatrical presentations.
They said that Bishop Kelly’s humility, inclusiveness and low-key sense of humor permeated their family life.
“He’s always been funny,” said White, 53 and the youngest of the siblings. “His dry sense of humor sneaks up on you.”
Mary Davis said that being Bishop Kelly’s older sister never bothered her.
“We grew up being encouraged to be independent,” she said. “We would take the bus and change buses for summer art classes. We did a lot of biking.”
Davis said that Bishop Kelly reflects aspects of both parents.
“Mom is an even-keeled person who is practical and calm,” Davis said. “Humor runs really deep on Dad’s side of the family.”
Theresa McCormick, who was one year behind her brother in school, said that Bishop Kelly’s desire to serve inspired her. Whether as an altar server or delivering newspapers, he focused on getting everything right, McCormick said.
“Greg was very conscientious,” she said. “When he was camping or hunting, I’d take over his paper route. He wanted people to have their paper when they opened their door.
“He was really good at a lot of sports, but especially good at baseball. When he played first base at St. Mary’s High School, whatever ball came to him, he never dropped it.”
Life as a seminarian
Father Tom Cloherty, pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Plano, helped Bishop Kelly move into Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving in the fall of 1976 after he spent two years at Colorado State University.
“There was an innate sense of passion about him once he made up his mind to enter the priesthood,” Father Cloherty said. “He gives joy to other people. It was never about him.”
Through his teens, Bishop Kelly had perceived a calling to the priesthood and also considered a career in teaching, counseling or coaching.
He said that his calling persisted during his two years at Colorado State, making him wonder how to tell his college girlfriend, a former high school classmate.
“I just wasn’t coming to a decision about what to do,” he said. “I’d had mixed feelings, but once I entered the seminary, I liked the community life, the prayer life, and I found the courses at the University of Dallas very challenging.”
As a seminarian, Bishop Kelly often spent holidays with his Uncle Timothy Kelly, whose family lives in Farmers Branch.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Timothy Kelly, a parishioner at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch. “He is an exceptional person.”
Bishop Kelly, who received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a Masters of Divinity Degree from UD, was ordained to the priesthood in his home parish of Sacred Heart in Colorado Springs on May 15, 1982.
“The dominant thing I remember was just feeling ready,” he said. “I felt that this was the right thing to do.”
Life as a priest
He fondly recalled serving for four years as parochial vicar at All Saints Catholic Church, where his daily breakfasts with the pastor, the late Msgr. Raphael Kamel, helped Bishop Kelly gain immersion in life as a parish priest.
“I remember people telling me that people would teach you how to be a priest,” Bishop Kelly said. “The first time someone asks you to help, say, ‘Yes.’ ”
Father Cloherty said that Bishop Kelly exemplifies what Pope Francis wants a priest to be.
“Greg knows ‘the smell of the sheep,’ as Pope Francis says,” Father Cloherty said.
After serving at All Saints, Bishop Kelly served as Chaplain of the University of Dallas in Irving from 1986-1996.
Father Cloherty taught Bishop Kelly at UD and later succeeded him as the UD Chaplain.
“I was very nervous,” Father Cloherty said. “I wondered if I could measure up to Greg’s gifts.”
Orli Mascorro, a 1997 UD graduate who worked in Campus Ministry, said that Bishop Kelly made everyone feel welcome.
“He had a way of making everyone feel that we belonged, that each of us had a mission, and he gently encouraged us to do better,” said Mascorro, who is a parishioner at St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell. “Our diocese is so blessed to have such a kind and faithful follower of Jesus ready to lead his people.”
Since 2008, Bishop Kelly has served as the diocese’s Vicar for Clergy, assisting priests, deacons and seminarians.
On Dec. 16, 2015, in announcing that Bishop Kelly would become a bishop, Bishop Farrell called him a “hard-working priest” and pronounced the appointment a “special Christmas gift” from Pope Francis to the Diocese of Dallas.
Bishop Kelly, who was named a monsignor in 2013, also served as the Interim Rector at Holy Trinity Seminary.
From 1996-2008, Bishop Kelly served as the founding pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney—where he said that the parishioners helped him grow as a priest.
Deacon Michael Seibold, the parish director of St. Gabriel, said that Bishop Kelly created a welcoming atmosphere that the community continues to cherish.
“He focused on the pastoral side and fostered a spirit of service,” said Deacon Seibold, who was hired by Bishop Kelly in 2002. “He set a tone of love and charity not only with our parishioners but for everyone who walked through the door.”
Deacon Seibold said that he loved working for Bishop Kelly because of his knack for appreciating other people’s challenges.
“The parishioners felt like he was a member of their family,” said Deacon Seibold, who also serves at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano. “He was not only a spiritual father, but also family.”
As her brother begins his life as a bishop, Jeanette White said that she recalled his advice about life transitions when she was in college.
Bishop Kelly, who then was the parochial vicar at All Saints, told her not to fret so much, White said.
“Greg let me talk, asked questions, and finally said words to the effect that one has to trust that there is a reason for struggle and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing that which is not easily understood,” White said.
She said that her brother encouraged her to “let be” and to trust God.
“Greg has done this so beautifully in his own life,” White said. “With each new appointment and new challenge—some of which I believe to have been daunting—Greg has said, ‘Yes,’ and ‘Let be,’ trusting God’s hand to guide him.”