“Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it passes through the heart of a mother.” –St. Pius X
An interview with Father Joseph Kelly on the lessons he’s learned from his earthly mother and the Blessed Mother.
Describe the role your mother played in your spiritual life growing up.
Both my mother, Teresa, and my father, John, have been tremendous influences on my spiritual life. Growing up, my mother quietly but plainly lived out her faith, and still does to this day. I distinctly remember holy cards of her patroness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in a few places in our house growing up, for example, next to her bed and by the kitchen window. The quiet but diligent practice of her faith in many ways mirrored her patroness’ famous “Little Way.” Both she and my father continue to attend daily Mass and pray the Rosary together, and she enjoys reading books on the lives of the saints and on other subjects within the Catholic faith.
What was your mother's reaction to your decision to become a priest?
I had thought about becoming a priest since I was 5 years old, so my mother knew I had been thinking about it for quite some time. During my freshman year of secular college, after grappling with whether or not to enter seminary, I finally made the decision to take the leap. I told my mother and father shortly after I made the decision. My mother started crying tears of joy. She said to me, “I have been wanting to ask you if you were ever going to go to seminary!” She got her answer!
What is one of the most valuable or memorable pieces of advice your mother has given you?
The most valuable piece of advice my mother has passed on to me is to remain faithful and steadfast in the morals and values that have been passed on to me via the Catholic faith.
Tell me your favorite trait about your mom.
My favorite traits about my mother are her firm faith, gentle disposition, beautiful smile, and the loving compassion she has for her family.
What is your relationship like with the Blessed Mother? How does she impact your vocation as a priest?
Where do I begin? Even as a young child, I remember my father encouraging me to pray to the Blessed Mother when I needed something. I would do that from time to time, but I would never say I was devoted to asking for her intercession in my younger years. That all changed after I graduated high school. For several years, my father encouraged me to read True Devotion to Mary, the famous Marian treatise written by the French priest, St. Louis de Montfort. While on retreat during in the fall of my freshman year of college, I happened to find the book on a shelf and I began reading it. That changed everything. I began to develop a devotion to Mary, which deepened other aspects of my faith, including devotion the Eucharist and daily Mass. I saw the Blessed Mother working in my own life and guiding my discernment. There are so many stories I could tell as to what She has done for me, through no merit of my own, but only because She is so good and so loving. She is so generous and is truly the best of mothers. As time went on, I began to pray the Rosary every day and I frequently asked for the Blessed Mother’s guidance and intercession, which eventually led me to do the 33-day consecration preparation that St. Louis de Montfort popularized. Shortly thereafter (in February of 2008), I made the decision to enter the seminary. After 7 years of formation, always accompanied by Our Lady, by God’s Divine Providence, I was ordained on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 12, 2015, during which I was vested in a chasuble bearing the image of Our Lady on the back. I offered my first Mass the next day, wearing that same chasuble, on the Feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. She continues to be a vital aspect of my spiritual life as a priest, and will always be so!
What is one of the most important lessons you've learned from your Heavenly Mother?
The Blessed Mother never—NEVER—abandons her children. I cannot begin to tell you how many times she has come through for me. If people only recognized the power of her intercession, we would never cease to go to her. Even when we pray to Her and we don’t get what we want, She always has something better prepared for us—we must place our trust and hope in Her.
Can you offer your brief thoughts on the importance of motherhood?
Our Lord shows us the importance and the beauty of motherhood for He Himself deigned to create His own Mother and chose to come into the world through Her. There is no creature on earth that can nurture and love like a mother can. Without mothers, there is no life. As a Church and as a society, we must uphold and promote the dignity and beauty of motherhood, for it is our mothers who carried us within their wombs, nurtured us from their very bodies, and by their very nature they teach us compassion, gentleness, and tenderness. There is no love like a mother’s love!
Father Joseph Kelly is the Associate Pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Branson, Missouri, and Our Lady of the Ozarks in Forsyth, Missouri