Archbishop Keleher to celebrate ordination anniversaries
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The task of a priest — or a bishop — can be stated very simply, according to Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher.
“What a priest or bishop does is simply share God’s gift with the faithful,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Archbishop Keleher would like to do with the people of the archdiocese next month.
Catholics of the archdiocese are invited to a Mass celebrating the golden anniversary of Archbishop Keleher’s priestly ordination and the silver anniversary of his ordination as a bishop. It will be held at 5 p.m. on Dec. 12 at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood. There will be a reception in the parish hall immediately after Mass.
“I was ordained for the people of God 50 years ago, and a bishop for them almost 25 years ago,” he said. “I know how much folks appreciate us priests and bishops.
“So it seemed appropriate to have a Mass and reception for all those who might want to personally thank the Lord for the gift of priesthood and what it has meant to them . . . and perhaps to extend their best wishes to me.”
Archbishop Keleher was almost 27 years old when he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago on April 12, 1958. He was 53 when he was ordained bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.
The archbishop is actually ending his golden anniversary year and beginning his silver anniversary year, but he is observing the two milestones together for convenience, as well as for sentimental reasons.
“The Mass that day is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to whom I have a great devotion,” said the archbishop. “I actually wanted to be consecrated a bishop on her feast, but [Cardinal Joseph Bernardin] had to do so the day before, so this time I can celebrate her kindness to me over the years on her special day.”
Archbishop Keleher said he’s anticipating these anniversaries with a heart filled with joy and gratitude. Looking back over his many years of ministry, he feels a great sense of satisfaction about what it has been like to be the spiritual shepherd of so many.
And he’s also grateful for the opportunity to become a son of Kansas.
“I have been often asked what it means to have made my home in Kansas,” he said. “I guess I’m an adopted son, but a son nonetheless. You can live in many houses, but it is something special to find a home.”
“I’ve always said that a home is wherever you feel loved and accepted, and know you can make a contribution to your family,” he added. “That is why I feel more at home in Kansas than anywhere else.”
Political and business leaders strive for earthly notions of success, but priests and bishops are called to a higher standard.
“You know, Mother Teresa once said that we are not called to be successful, but we are called to be faithful, and to do something beautiful for God and his poor world,” he said.
“I think most priests and bishops find their greatest satisfaction in feeling that they are doing something truly important,” he continued, “and truly beautiful — touching human hearts with the good news of Jesus; bringing his forgiveness wherever it is sought; nourishing souls with the Eucharist.”
Although he resigned on Jan. 15, 2005, Archbishop Keleher has been quite busy. He has taught at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois and continues to assist Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann in any way he can, such as conferring the sacrament of confirmation in archdiocesan parishes.
Some of the important work a retired bishop must do concerns his own soul.
“Retired priests and bishops live in what I would call ‘Advent time,’” said Archbishop Keleher. “It is a time when one is closer to meeting the Just Judge before whom all of us will one day appear. But St.Augustine’s comment should keep us at peace within ourselves.
“He suggested that if we can come to know Jesus ever more intimately in our Advent years, he will also recognize us with affection. He will show us great kindness and understanding, and he will welcome us as our merciful judge.”