Father Donal Kelly
1938-2002 Died: 8 August 2002
The following appreciation was written by Monsignor Gerard Sheehy: 29 August 2002
The death of Father Donal Kelly was the occasion of a singular sadness to the very many who had known him: to his own Bishop and fellow-priests of his home Diocese of Ossory, to each of his family, to his wide circle of friends; and in a special way, to those of us who, in the Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal, had profited by his friendship and his canonical expertise over the final 17 years of his life: he died, literally, “in harness”.
Born in 1938, Donal was ordained to the priesthood at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth in June 1963. Thereafter, over three years he pursued post-graduate studies, firstly in Maynooth and subsequently in Rome. He became an Assistant Diocesan Secretary for two years and thereafter was a member of the staff of Saint Kieran’s Seminary for a further seven years before taking up various parochial ministries over the succeeding ten years.
In 1985 his Bishop very kindly asked if Donal might assist the Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal, then in the early stages of its development. This turned out to be an inspired suggestion. He began his work in Dublin in 1985, and it was only in the following years, until his death that we really got to know the man who, for all his singularities, was a scholar and a priest whose friendship it was a privilege to enjoy. Part of that privilege was to share with him, in so far as was possible, the discomfort, the severe pain, the many operations to which he was subjected – all of which were the consequences of ever-invasive cancer.
In the week following his death, his home-newspaper, the “Kilkenny People”, carried the bold heading: Canon Lawyer dies suddenly in Dublin. The emphasis was correct. Donal Kelly’s knowledge of the Church’s Law was truly remarkable, both in its extent and in its accuracy. He had very few equals in this country, and I doubt if there were any superiors. One can well appreciate how essentially valuable this was to the intricacies and the judgements of a Marriage Tribunal. His expertise was also shared with the Canon Law Society’s Commentary on the Code to vast effect.
Donal had two principal leisure interests: his love of music – real music! – and his remarkable expertise in photography, especially when buttressed by his skills at the computer. He was a member of the Unity Singers in Kilkenny, and was the musical director of the choir which, for many years, he guided to competitive success. Quite apart from his academic and technical expertise, Donal Kelly’s general knowledge was phenomenal. A book could be written on this alone: it would probably run into several volumes. This, however, is not the occasion. Best, I think, is to leave the last word to Oliver Goldsmith: “And still they gazed, and still wonder grew that one small head could carry all he knew”. May he rest in peace. [Edited from CLSN 130, June 2002]