Fr. Thomas Kelly, 89, dies; private funeral Mass planned at St. Anthony, Bartonville

Father Thomas Kelly is pictured at Independence Village in Peoria in 2016 prior to observing the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

A private funeral Mass was planned at St. Anthony Church in Bartonville for Father Thomas F. Kelly, a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria and a former pastor of St. Anthony Parish as well as St. Columba Parish in Ottawa.

Father Kelly, who also served for 14 years in campus ministry at the University of Illinois and Bradley University, died on Tuesday morning, June 30, 2020, at Independence Village in Peoria. He was 89.

Father David Heinz, current pastor of St. Anthony Parish, will preside at the funeral Mass with Msgr. Douglas Hennessy as homilist.  Burial will be at St. Mary’s Cemetery in West Peoria. A public Memorial Mass and visitation will be scheduled at a later date.

Born July 11, 1930, in Peoria to Martin and Margaret (O’Loughlin) Kelly, he attended St. Patrick School and was a 1948 graduate of Spalding Institute. Father Kelly would later say his vocation to the priesthood was influenced by the School Sisters of Notre Dame at St. Patrick, the Benedictine monks who taught at Spalding, and his uncle, Father Thomas Kelly, “who was always around the house.”

He studied at St. Bede Junior College and then went on to St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. He would later earn a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Bradley University.

Father Kelly was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria by Bishop William E. Cousins at St. Mary’s Cathedral on May 27, 1956.

His early assignments were as parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, Rock Island, and St. Paul Parish, Odell. In 1959, he began four years of service as assistant chaplain at St. John’s Newman Foundation on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, where he also taught liturgy and moral theology. He would continue in campus ministry at Bradley University in Peoria, where he was named Newman Center chaplain in 1963.

Active in civil rights and peace efforts, he took part in the last leg of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 in support of racial equality and the Voting Rights Act, hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak when they arrived.

In 1973, he began a decade of leadership at St. Columba Parish in Ottawa, first as co-pastor, then administrator, and from 1978 to 1983 as pastor.

He served as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Tiskilwa for two years before being named pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Bartonville, where he served from 1985 until being granted senior status in 1999.

While at St. Anthony’s, Father Kelly oversaw construction of the parish church and was instrumental in introducing many people to the Catholic Church through RCIA.

In his retirement years, he lived for a time in Wisconsin. After returning to the Peoria area, he led Scripture reflections for a small group and contributed to The Catholic Post’s “Living the Word” series.

Father Kelly is survived by two sisters, Elizabeth Vickrey of South Elgin and Rosemary Kelly of Elk Grove;  three nieces: Caitlin Kelly of Washington, D.C., Megan Murcur of Virginia, Mary Rosenquist of Chicago; two nephews: Tim Kelly of Elgin and Jim Kelly of Lockport; and special friends Sister Eleanor Hoffmann and Sister Rosalind Forrest.

He was preceded in death by two brothers: Father Joseph Kelly and Jerry Kelly.

Memorials may be made to St. Anthony Parish, Bartonville.

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