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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Eamon Kelly, LC

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Gordon: When you received your vocation, with whom did you first discuss it, and what was their response?

Strange to say, Gordon, I don’t remember any conversation. My vocation emerged within me with such certainty that I didn’t even have to wrestle with this issue. At each step along the way, I just stated what I wanted and people respected me. Nobody explicitly asked why or when or how I arrived at that point. Maybe that “consultation” process happened more subtly, almost imperceptibly in encounters and conversations, in simply company and shared life. It seems like God was forging his project in me.

In the late ’60s, as primary school ended, a Mill Hill missionary priest visited our class. I must have shown interest since he came to visit our family. But my parents told him he should come back after high school. He actually did, the very day I had already left to join the Legionaries. For about four years, 1969-1973, I progressed from being passionate about becoming a scientific farmer to a nuclear engineer with teenager dreams of accomplishing nuclear fusion. When the time came, I didn’t feel any need to talk to anyone about my vocation. It was all clear, set, interiorly decided after a 1973 September – October visit to Our Lady’s College in Gort, Co Galway, by Fr Cristoforo Fernandez from Mexico and a newly professed Brother Kevin Smyth who was providential in my vocation.

Gordon: Why did you decide to be a member of LEGIONARIES of CHRIST?

All I can say, Gordon, is that I really didn’t decide. It’s as though that decision emerged inside me before I made it. I only said ”Yes!” It was a marvelous fit. When couples tell their love story in terms of “love at first sight”, I feel I understand them. It is not merely an external thing at all. There is a kind of interior knowledge. It is not just knowledge – God’s project is ripening inside. Vocation is truly a Gift and a Mystery. Someone bigger prepares and guides our steps. Why, from the 25 different missionaries who visited our school that year, did Fr Cristoforo and Br Kevin’s appeal steal my heart? Before Fr Cristoforo stood on the threshold of our classroom, I had never heard of the Legionaries of Christ

Fr Cristoforo’s articulation of our relationship with Christ was magnetic! “Christ calls us to be with him, know him and relish his love. We are moved to respond in kind and gradually transformed into Christ and assist others on this path to renew the world and actively engage others for Christ. He also nuanced this love for Christ: deeply personal, passionate, manly, even heroic and it was not going to be an easy ride!

As the year progressed, so did my vocational conviction. A July-1974 weekend at the Legionary Novitiate in Dublin showed me this same fire burning inside every Novice and those who were discerning to enter, not to mention the professed Brothers and priests.

Many other incidents, circumstances, encounters could flesh out this development. But that would be a book! Every single experience confirmed my conviction. That must have been obvious to everyone.

Gordon: Which languages do you speak?

My family lives in English-speaking Ireland. At school, we learned Irish (Gaelic) and Latin very well but without reaching oral fluency. Same with Greek in the seminary. Some years of high-school French blossomed later to minimal fluency. Spanish came with the Legionaries and Italian with studies in Rome. German came from my first eleven years of priestly ministry in central Europe. Now I’m minimally fluent in Hebrew and eyeing Arabic next, God willing. Languages fascinate me. Each one carries culture and worldview, providing insights into the genius of people.

Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your work in youth ministry.

Fr. Eamon: Already, since the Novitiate in Dublin, our Humanities studies in Salamanca, Spain, and in Rome, we ran boys’ clubs and catechetical programs. After a philosophy degree in Rome, I was assigned (1979) to youth ministry in Michigan where a Legionary priest was Chaplain at Br Rice High School. What a challenge to awaken Detroit-area 7th and 8th graders to spiritual interest but there were amazing fruits.

Besides teaching religion for Freshmen and Sophomores, we organized lots of retreats, camps, trips, and social outreach. The kids were surely enriched, but I was the greatest beneficiary of these efforts through contact with the families and the kids themselves. The kids lead the programs and it was marvelous watching their growth in abilities, responsibilities, and love for Christ. All of this shaped my love and commitment to assist families and young people.

This is how, as a young priest, I started our bountifully blessed work in Central Europe. Later, I was recalled to the USA and worked closely with adults across Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in developing youth work and preparing adults for this apostolate while also serving as Chaplain at Northern KentuckyUniversity. How inspiring to see lay people serious about evangelization, the ripening fruits of Regnum Christi! Due to a travel delay to the Holy Land in 2006, I was temporarily assigned to an Arizona parish and was blessed to engage many others in initiating programs for disadvantaged Hispanic youth. Every time young people come now to Magdala, Israel, it is always a delight to interest them in the cultural and spiritual riches of the Holy Land.

Gordon: What was your first assignment are what did you learn there?

Fr. Eamon: Already, in my second year of Novitiate in Dublin, 1975-76, I was placed in charge of the Boys Club. This meant applying what I had learned and observed the first year. Practicing work as a team player with my brothers and discovering how to share with children and families the joy of the spiritual life which I had just begun tasting.

As a priest, my first assignment, 1988, which emerged informally, surprising all of us, was exploring if our Community should consider founding in Germany. Even though very much on my own, I never felt alone. So many people were ready and helpful. Providence prepared everything along the way. My nearest community was 700 miles away in Rome, yet I felt very closely accompanied. The marvel of walking alongside people discerning their vocation was peaking: merely peeping in from the outside and catching glimpses of what God was doing in their hearts and souls. I learned to love and appreciate the German and neighboring peoples and shed my prejudices often harvested from popular mantras about others which are present in every culture. I watched kids and adults being surprised with the delights of the love of Christ and growing in their total commitment to him.

Gordon: You are an avid hiker. Where are some of the places you have hiked to?

Fr. Eamon: From all, you have heard/read so far, Gordon and dear Catholic Profiles readers, you can guess where I have hiked: walking around my home: the Burren, Co Clare. The Cliffs of Moher, Croagh Patrick, Glendalough, the Giant’s Causeway! The longest hikes, 37 miles, include Waterville cross-country to Sneem, and back, as Novices on vacation. It was a Thursday because I slept during the Eucharistic Hour that night and the Novice Instructor had a wonderfully generous smile, given the circumstances.

My last killer-hike (because of feet problems) was from Tekoa (Prophet Amos’ birthplace) near Bethlehem across the southern Judean desert to Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea. We started at sunrise with six French students and descended into the Dead Sea basin as the Moon was rising right in front of us over the Mountains of Moab in Jordan, near Mt Nebo. Everywhere you walk here is soaked in biblical history. Hikes include Jericho to Jerusalem, Jaffa to Cesarea Maritime along the Mediterranean shore with Peter on his way to Cornelius; from Nazareth to Capernaum; along the Jordan Valley, around the Sea of Galilee, up Mount Tabor, Mount Hermon, or Mount Carmel. Less accessible and so more appreciated was Mount Sinai or along the Nile River and among the Pyramids in Egypt.

Gordon: What impact did your hiking skills have upon your assignments?

Fr. Eamon: Hiking opens the heart to admire Creation. Pope Francis says we need to reawaken our sense of wonder! Hiking stretches alone, benefits interior serenity, contemplation, and meditation. Some suggest it fosters creativity. Hiking is bountiful in surprises and also in simple physical exercise and fatigue which have their own rewards.

Years back, in Arizona, I often hiked three days weekly! Our superior wisely required us to drop everything one day a week. We chose Mondays. We celebrated morning mass for the parishioners and headed into the surrounding Sonoran Desert. It was a community day, but at times we were walking alone among the towering Saguaro cactus. Both were wonderfully recreational in the literal sense: a re-creation, deep renewal. Sometimes surprise encounters: I had wonderful conversations with more Mormons than anywhere else until I reached Jerusalem.

On Saturdays, we organized 3-hour Father-Son dawn hikes in a nearby hilly range full of prickly cactus. Hilltop sunrise breakfasts delighted everyone. They would read portions of the Sunday readings and comment on their application to daily challenges. The third hike was planned each Sunday as we encountered some “snow-birds”, relatively young retirees with lots of energy, talent, and life experience. We planned on a walk and a talk for an upcoming weekday: “If the talk is no good, we at least get a good walk!” Walking in the desert for a couple of hours with a man you still don’t know well was a great environment to initiate friendship and explore paths of spiritual growth and talent engagement in the parish ministry.

Gordon: Where have you founded locations for communities of LEGIONARIES of CHRIST?

Fr. Eamon: Providence allowed me to start our efforts in Central Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, and Hungary by offering retreats and promoting lay apostolate. Many confreres, sisters, and lay people helped immensely. It was a patiently developed team effort. We opened our first official residence in Ingolstadt on the Danube River, Easter 1989. The Novitiate in Roetgen near Aachen opened in 1991 and moved to Bad Muenstereifel (near Cologne) in 1995. We just needed more space. Some of us started living semi-permanently in Vienna, Austria, from about 1997 and already earlier efforts had led to a permanent community in Budapest, Hungary. In the USA, I was involved with the beginnings of our communities in Cincinnati/N. Kentucky area 2002, and a school in Rolling Prairie, N. Indiana, 2005. Now, we are beginning our community life at the Sea of Galilee dedicated to serving pilgrims and developing the historical site of Magdala, associated with St. Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the Risen Lord.

Gordon: You are a popular international speaker. Where are some of the places where you have presented and some of the topics that you have addressed?

Fr. Eamon: At Notre Dame of Jerusalem, our confreres developed a thought-provoking exhibit on the Shroud of Turin. Since 2007, I have given thousands of presentations. In the process of developing the Magdala Centre on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, we excavated a sensational first-century synagogue, 2009, a treasure for both Jews and Christians: another unique topic. Living in close contact with many different expressions of Christianity, Judaism, Muslims, and others enhances understanding. I have been invited to speak at synagogues and a variety of Churches in Europe and North America.

Magdala’s most visible tagline is Crossroads of Jewish and Christian history. For these reasons, my most frequently requested themes have been on Pilgrimage, the Shroud of Turin, our archeological discoveries, and the message of mutual understanding in a conflict-ridden world, one where marvelous collaboration, but not newsworthy, also occurs! One of the most sensational opportunities was to speak in a synagogue in two solemn moments on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

Media enhances our reach. For example, EWTN usually broadcasts a Shroud Presentation a number of times during Lent each year which we filmed at our exhibit in Jerusalem a number of years ago. Many secular and Christian media outlets present interviews/presentations we did here or in other places, especially on the archeology and religious significance of our site.

Gordon: What is your current assignment and what are your responsibilities?

Fr. Eamon: For the last five years I have been serving on our pastoral staff at Magdala, looking after pilgrims, encouraging and assisting pilgrimages, welcoming visitors, interacting with the vast variety of faith groups and others who come to visit or stay. The interfaith dimension is our daily reality. Memorable highlights include launching an international interfaith conference on Forgiveness and helping launch a similar one earlier on Bioethics, both at Notre Dame of Jerusalem. At Magdala, I lend support to the women who run the Women’s Encounter. This was our 7th year and focused on “Hospitality in the Woman’s Heart”. Druze, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women expressed their insights through art, lectures, witness and simple encounter.

During the last year and a half, when people could not travel to the Holy Land, we have live-streamed pilgrimages, moments of prayer, and reflection. Over 100,000 people participated in our recent Lenten Pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham, Our Father in Faith. These are still available on our Magdala Experience Facebook Page and YouTube Channel. There, we also live-stream daily Mass in English and Spanish.

“Sunrise Stroll & Chat” at the Sea of Galilee live each morning on my Facebook Page, subsequently posted on my YouTube Channel plus a shorter Instagram ekellylc version, to start my day. Besides this “general” outreach, personal encounters allow one to see the Lord working close-up in people’s lives. Quite time-consuming but an amazing blessing. In the Holy Land, we experience a vast cross-section of humanity and are privileged to serve very different people. Sometimes, results emerge years later. One gets glimpses of how the Good Lord is doing his work long-term and gradually forging his project in each person.

Gordon: Thank you for an incisive and exceptional interview.


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