Hospital chaplain Rev. Kelley marks 92nd birthday with a surprise party|
|Rev. Omer Kelley, who has served as Langlade Hospital chaplain for nearly four decades, celebrated his 92nd birthday with a surprise party Monday.|
Staff and the sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph presented the diminutive Irish priest with a cake following the morning Mass.
It also marks the priest’s 65th anniversary of ordination.
“Father Omer is loved by all associated with Langlade Hospital,” Dave Schneider, hospital CEO, said. “His tireless ministry has served as a beacon of hope to hundreds of people as he has ministered to the sick and dying as well as to families and hospital staff. He’s known around the hospital for his gentle kindness, unlimited energy, compassion and love of others and has served as an example of how deep faith and service to others can change the world.”
The pastor was born on July 13, 1922 in Madison, a son of Earl and Mae (Trost) Kelley, and after some early bumps due to his adventurous nature, graduated from St. Lawrence Seminary at Mount Calvary.
Kelley was ordained for the Capuchin Order at St. Mary Church, Marathon on June 3, 1949 by Bishop John Treacy.
He continued his education, earning a degree in philosophy at Mary Immaculate House of Philosophy in Glenclyffe, N.Y. and theology at St. Anthony Friary in Marathon. Post-graduate studies were done in theology at Gregorian University in Rome.
“That was wonderful,” he says of that Rome experience.
He originally seemed destined for the university, but explained that his Superior thought some parish experience would be good first. He was sent to Harlem, N.Y., to Queen of Angels Catholic Church and then transferred to St. Elizabeth in Milwaukee when the Capuchin Province was divided into eastern and western zones. When that year of experience ended, he returned to northern Wisconsin to serve as professor of theology and liturgy at St. Anthony Seminary in Marathon.
“After four years I sort of preached my way out of teaching,” he said. “I was assigned to the mission band, preaching at missions and retreats.”
His next experience took him to Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia, where he ministered to expatriate Catholics working in the oil industry for three years.
“We went in as teachers and never dressed as priests,” he said. “It was country club living.”
Saudi Arabia was an experience, but Kelley wanted to come home. With a bit of intercession from longtime friends in the area, was offered the position of pastor of St. Wencelaus Catholic Church in Neva.
“I said I’d love a little parish like that,” he said. “They wrote back and said it was mine if I wanted it.”
Although ordained as a Capuchin, Kelley said he found himself spending less and less time within the group and more and more time involved in parishes.
“I still love the Capuchins,” Kelley said. “But I wasn’t keeping as close to it and being as involved as I thought I should. I wanted to be a diocesan priest.”
He was incardinated into the Diocese of Green Bay on April 26, 1980.
Kelley stayed at St. Wencel for 18 years, retiring at age 72 in 1994, and then served as priest at SS. James-Stanislaus Parish in White Lake for 11 additional years.
Over 65 years, he has had many other responsibilities as well, including as a field advocate for the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and a member of the Presbyteral Council.
The one duty he continues to hold dear is his role as hospital chaplain, greeting and counseling thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics alike over the decades.
“I love being able to see the people and talk with them,” he said. “I know most of the people in Antigo—Catholics and non-Catholics—through the hospital.
“I try to keep their spirits up and administer the sacraments to those who are facing death,” he added. “I try not to pester them.”
He also continues to lead Mass in the hospital’s chapel five days a week, including Saturday, when Schneider said the chapel is often standing-room-only.
“He is especially well-known for his homilies, which while usually short, strike at the hearts and souls of the congregation,” Schneider said. “With powerful conviction and passion, and sometimes tears, Father Omer reminds those present of the profound love of God and the importance of sharing that love with one another.”
Schneider said that, as Kelley enters his 92nd year, those around him are becoming more aware of his fragile health and the reality that a day will come when his ministry will end.
“Yet he remains tireless in his work and can be seen arriving at the hospital most mornings with a kick in his step and a song in his heart,” Schneider said. “Surely there is a special place in heaven reserved for this selfless and humble servant of God.”
Rev. Omer Kelley cutting his cake for his surprise 92nd birthday party Monday.
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