A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Death of a Marist

Br Joe Kelly sm

Br Joe Kelly sm

Brother Joseph Michael Kelly sm

1931 - 2012

..the quiet man who was team-leader of the Brothers who built the Futuna Chapel

by Brother Robert Johnsen sm.  

Up until 1978  Joseph was known as Brother Xavier. Joe’s vocation was realised in deep Irish Catholic Faith here under the shadow of this Cathedral, and then the Society of Mary at St Pat’s Town as a pupil and the Futuna Retreat House when it was being founded by Father Spillane and the Brothers in 1948. Joe, aged almost 19, entered the Society of Mary as a postulant in February 1950 at our ‘Highden’ Novitiate House, near Palmerston North. Joe made his first profession of the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in the Society of Mary on Our Lady’s Feast of the Assumption, 15th August  1951.

For this town-boy, a new world in a farm setting awaited him; dressed in a soutane, with regular times to be summoned by the bell, to rise, to pray, to eat, to work,   to cease work, to visit chapel, to eat, to pray, then more silence and bedtime.

We members of the Society of Mary believe that we are chosen by the ‘gracious choice’ of Mary our Mother to be her presence in the church. So Brother Joe was called by Mary.

As a brother he has used all his natural God-given gifts of intellect, physical energy, dexterity, motivated by Mary’s call to build up her Son’s Church.

I don’t know of anyone in the Society of Mary who could turn his energy to such a variety of activities: he could plough and sow a paddock, he was a concrete artisan, scaffolder, stain-glass maker, roofer, he could machine-knit a jersey,  he was a scrub-cutter, carpenter, mover of very heavy objects, leader of school retreats, drain-layer, painter of Highden, CCD teacher, building designer, parish visitor, guest-master, kitchen-hand, learnt the computer in his 60’s,  primary care-giver,  and so on,

If Joe did not know how, then he would find out and do it, or, find out by doing it.

After 7½ years at Highden, he shifted to Futuna Retreat for 3¼  years where his gifts with wood, stones and coloured perplex culminated in the creation of the Futuna Chapel, opened on the feast of St Joseph 1961. Bro Joe was just 30.

Futuna Chapel

Futuna Chapel

I acknowledge Joe’s co-workers, Brother Bill Archer and Brother Raymond Kelliher present here today.

Not just the building of the chapel itself, but the welcoming of the thousands of retreatants who came to know God closer, because Joe used his ‘5 barley loaves and 2 fish’ in the miracles at the Retreat House.  Joe was in his element.

I first met Joe in the almost-finished Futuna Chapel when I was enquiring about the life of a Brother. I experienced Joe as a reserved and deep-thinking dedicated person who was reticent in articulating his words and his wisdom. As a trades person myself, I have lived and worked with Joe in several places and I have grown in admiration of him.

In 1981 Joe and I went on a Marriage Encounter weekend. As brothers this improved our communication. A new level of relationship developed and whenever I would be in a gathering, Joe would always find me. Thanks you Joe for your trust in me.

Obedience asked Joe to pack up and transfer  21 times in 62 years, ranging from Christchurch to Whangarei.  Wellington was a favourite location with Athletic Park Tests, and the Marist-St Pats Rugby, and his Milligan family next door.

We see from this, that Joe dedicated his whole life through his gifts for building up God’s Kingdom, where ever he went, in obedience.

Our prayer O Maria sung in Latin by Joe at Professions, Retreats, and Funerals is being fulfilled here today on this feast of St Joseph the Worker, “O Mary, loving Mother, I am yours, by your power, bring me to eternal life”   

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