by Joe Bollig
BASEHOR — Do archbishops get cabin fever?
“Oh yes, we do get cabin fever,” said Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher.
But he counts himself fortunate.
“I haven’t had a very bad case of it,” he said. “I’ve got my chapel, my house and people who come to see me, so it’s OK.”
Archbishop Keleher, like many other people, has been largely restricted to his home at the Santa Marta retirement community in Olathe because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was in the hospital for a short time in February, and when discharged, the pandemic was spreading nationwide.
Archbishop Keleher had to go into lockdown.
On Sunday, June 14, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, he ventured out for the first time since lockdown when pastor Father Richard McDonald invited him to Holy Angels Parish in Basehor for a special occasion.
Father McDonald invited the archbishop not only to join his parish community for the unveiling of a new painting on the facade of the parish adoration chapel, but to preside at a ribbon cutting, bless the artwork and several children who were receiving their first holy Communion. Jacob Lund, 7, one of the first communicants, pulled the rope that unveiled the painting.
The painting is a very near copy of a mural that is on the original small church — the Portiuncula — now inside the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, Italy.
The Assisi mural was painted by Johann Friedrich Overbeck in 1830, but the modern work was done by married couple David and Suzann Miriello of the New Guild Studios in Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Although Archbishop Keleher was the first person to donate funds to build the chapel, he’d never been there.
“It was the first time I saw it,” said the archbishop. “I had not seen the chapel. I heard about it and saw pictures but hadn’t actually seen it. It’s in perfect relationship to the church. It’s right next to it and there is a connection to the church. It’s very well laid out, very nice and a great thing.”
These days, says Archbishop Keleher, he lives quietly and prayerfully, but enjoys a few visitors, too.
“I live at Santa Marta and I have what they call a ‘little villa,’” he said. “I have a lovely little chapel where I’m able to celebrate the holy Mass, which I love to do.
“I go there every day to spend an hour or so, just being here. It’s wonderful to have in the house. I’ve had more leisure time since I was sick and not going out much.”
The archbishop will be 89 years old next month. But he’s still ready to get out there and assist Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann in any way he can.
“I’m better now,” he said, “and I think when I get the OK from the doctors, I’d love to help Archbishop Naumann with his confirmations. They had to be deferred this spring when we usually have them, so I think he will do them when [the students] go back to school. So, if I’m up to it then, I would like to assist him.
“Sometimes [Archbishop Naumann] has as many as 100 to 120 kids being confirmed — and that’s a lot of people to anoint, plus give the homily, plus celebrate the Mass, plus afterward say ‘hi’ to all those kids and have a picture with them.
“If I could help him, I think he’d really like it, and it makes me feel good I can do something to help him.”