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April 20, 2020 — Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. William J. Kelly, SJ, who died on April 16, 2020, at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He was 96 years old. May he rest in peace.
Born in Chicago on February 2, 1924, Bill attended St. Giles Grade School in Oak Park, Illinois, and Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, before entering the Society on August 17, 1941. He had the usual Jesuit course of studies at St. Stanislaus Seminary, St. Louis University, and St. Mary's College. He was ordained on June 16, 1954, made tertianship in Decatur, Illinois, and pronounced his final vows on February 2, 1959. In 1963, Bill was awarded a doctorate in theology by the Institut Catholique de Paris.
Bill did regency at St. Louis University High School in St. Louis (1948-1951) and, after tertianship, served for two years as secretary to the provincial in the newly formed Wisconsin Province. In 1961 he began almost 40 years of teaching in the theology department of Marquette University. He served as chairman of that department from 1978 to 1985. Even after he left the classroom in 2000, he continued to do research and to write and, for many years, to serve as chaplain for the Marquette University Golden Eagles. He was an active and valued member of the Jesuit community at Marquette University. In 2015, he joined the St. Camillus Jesuit Community, where he remained until his death.
Bill was a marvelous Jesuit priest, much beloved by his many, many Jesuit and extern friends, and colleagues. He combined a lively Irish wit with a seriousness and steadiness of purpose that helped him accomplish great things in his ministry at Marquette University. Over the years he helped many theology graduate students complete their program. He bore the diminishments of old age with patience, courage, and good humor.
Bill was such a wonderful Jesuit because he grounded himself in an active life of daily prayer, a reverent celebration of the sacraments, a genuine investment in community life, and a generative ability to live his vows faithfully. A "touch of the creature"—except during Lent—enhanced his Irish heart's enjoyment of the brethren at the end of a day.
"Uncle Bill" was a fixture at family events and on summer Saturdays at the family's lake house in Wisconsin. He was wise and a great storyteller—a combination of lyrical and magical. He will be greatly missed by many, many people.
Bill will be cremated and, when the community can gather together as one, there will be a funeral Mass. Another Mass sponsored by Marquette University will occur at some later date.