by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Dec. 11, Archbishop James Patrick Keleher celebrated the 24th anniversary of his consecration as a bishop and began his 25th year of serving the church as a bishop.
This past spring, Archbishop Keleher observed the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest. With all of the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, I give thanks for Archbishop James Keleher’s more than 50 years of priestly ministry, as well as the beginning of his 25th year of service to the people of God as a bishop.
Through the conference of bishops, I had known Archbishop Keleher before my appointment as his coadjutor in 2004. At the time of my appointment to the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Archbishop Keleher was the treasurer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, he was one of four elected officers for the bishops’ conference serving on its Executive Committee. Archbishop Keleher’s election as treasurer of the bishops’ conference was a manifestation of the esteem and affection of his brother bishops.
It has been a personal grace for me to have the opportunity to work alongside of Archbishop Keleher for the past almost five years. I have been edified by the great love and respect of the priests and people of the Archdiocese for Archbishop Keleher.
It is not difficult to understand why Archbishop Keleher is so universally well-regarded, and why bishops, priests and laypeople — young and old — connect so readily with him. I have had the opportunity to observe Archbishop Keleher in a wide variety of pastoral circumstances. No matter the setting, his genuine love, care and compassion for others is readily apparent.
I visited him this past March, after his knee surgery at a rehabilitation center where he was receiving physical therapy. We were visiting in the lobby area for a few moments. It was amazing to watch the interaction of Archbishop Keleher with the staff, patients and the families of his fellow patients. Obviously, Archbishop Keleher, while recovering from his own surgery, was ministering the love and compassion of Jesus to everyone else in the rehabilitation center.
Archbishop Keleher has a favorite pectoral cross given to him by Cardinal
Joseph Bernardin that features an image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He loves the cross because it was given to him by Cardinal Bernardin, but also because he has a special devotion to Jesus under the title of Good Shepherd.
I admire the priority Archbishop Keleher has given in recent years to visiting the prisons in the Archdiocese. It is just one of the ways that he is an example to me of what it means to be a shepherd after the heart of Jesus, constantly seeking out the lost and forgotten.
I am personally in Archbishop Keleher’s debt for doing everything humanly possible to make as smooth as possible my transition in assuming the leadership of the Archdiocese. From the day I first set foot in the Archdiocese up to the present moment, he is a constant source of support and encouragement to me.
However, it is not just me; my family and friends also have a great affection for Archbishop Keleher. He not only dubbed my mother “Queen Mother” of the Archdiocese, but he has always treated her royally. Family and friends, who only met Archbishop Keleher at the Mass of welcome almost five years ago, still ask about him with great fondness.
The Archdiocese continues to benefit from Archbishop Keleher’s excellent leadership: his strong support for Catholic schools, evidenced by the building of several new elementary schools, as well as the opening of St. James Academy; his creation of the Catholic Education Foundation, providing scholarships to families who need tuition assistance for their children; his effective promotion of vocations to the priesthood; the success of A Future Full of Hope capital campaign; the opening of Prairie Star Ranch with its beautiful Catholic camping programs, providing so many of our young people with the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus while enjoying the beauty of creation and developing life skills; the renovation of Savior Pastoral Center, making it such an attractive facility for retreats and conferences; and the initiation of the permanent diaconate program for the Archdiocese. These are just a few of the many fruits of Archbishop Keleher’s service to the people of the Archdiocese.
In my observation, the “secret” to the success of Archbishop Keleher’s ministry as a priest and as a bishop is the authentic joy he radiates. Priests, seminarians and people love to be around Archbishop Keleher because he is filled with a joy that is infectious.
Let us all give thanks to the Lord for the blessing of Archbishop James Patrick Keleher’s exceptional ministry. He is a great example for all of us of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. We pray the Lord will give “Arch Jim” many more years to be an instrument of his grace to the priests and people of the Archdiocese.