Msgr Liam Kelly is ready to jump into his new role with both feet, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
The old phrase ‘one-trick pony’ can be applied to most achievers, but with a background in teaching, farming, woodwork, and football, this equestrian expression could hardly be used of Msgr Liam Kelly. Having been a priest for over 40 years, and most recently ministering in Co. Cavan’s Kilsherdany and Drung, he is now taking up a new role as Diocesan Administrator of Kilmore, following the retirement of Bishop Leo O’Reilly at the end of 2018.
Msgr Liam’s journey to this point began in his childhood home, he says, as his parents were deeply devoted Catholics, and their strong faith “rubbed off” on him. His father who was a farmer, he adds, taught him about the importance of hard work, whereas he “got a great deal” from his mother who he describes as “serene”.
He was educated in St Patrick’s College, Cavan, and while he considered becoming a farmer or woodwork teacher, Msgr Liam eventually decided he wanted to explore the possibility of being a priest, and so ventured to Maynooth in 1971.
“I think I was always a thinker, always looking for answers, trying to understand what is life about, looking for answers and stuff – and I think I saw the priesthood as a way of exploring those basic questions very much,” he says.
He explains that studying in Maynooth was challenging particularly because of how great a “transition” it was in his life. There were times, he adds, where he questioned whether to continue on this journey, often wondering whether he had come to the “wrong place”, but ultimately concluded that it was the right decision. It was there that he matured and came to terms with his vocation and what it asked of him.
“It was a great time and a very formative experience as well. I learned a lot both academically and in other ways. I found it a great place to be despite a lot of the criticism of it over the years. My experience was a very positive one and I owe it a great deal,” he explains, adding that his interest in inter-county football created a balance between work and play.
He was ordained a priest for the diocese of Kilmore in 1978 and since then has taught in St Aidan’s Comprehensive School, Cootehill and St Patrick’s College, Cavan, educating students in History, Religion and English. He also ministered in several parishes including Killinkere, Bailieborough and Denn and was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Kilmore in 2015.
While fulfilling all his priestly functions, Msgr Liam also managed to author a book recording the long history of Kilmore which was published in 2017. Taking four years to write, The Diocese of Kilmore: c1100-1800, offers an in-depth look at the history of the Church and how it shaped the culture and communities of the rural Northwest in Ireland over seven centuries.
Having traced the development of the diocese for more than 400 years from the 12th-Century Church reforms until the Henrician Reformation, the book then outlines the impact of the Reformation and the subsequent arrival of Church of Ireland and Presbyterian newcomers into the diocese.
Msgr Liam says the book, which the bishop asked him to write, has received a good “critical response” and while it was hard work to complete, he thoroughly enjoyed the project.
But new challenges for Msgr Liam have not yet come to standstill given the announcement last week that he was elected by the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Kilmore to become its Administrator.
He will have responsibility for administering the day to day affairs of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed by Pope Francis. In his role as Administrator, he will also attend the quarterly meetings of the Irish Bishop’s Conference in Maynooth.
“It’s a great privilege to be asked to do it and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. We miss Bishop Leo greatly but I’m glad for his sake that he’s getting to retire. So, my function is really administering the diocese until a new bishop is appointed so hopefully that won’t be too long.”
He adds that it’s going to be a busy time for him as he will continue his duties as parish priest, but with a pile of tools under his belt from years of experience, Msgr Liam’s new role seems like a job he will be able handle, and he certainly sounds like he’s up for the challenge.
To purchase The Diocese of Kilmore, visit here.