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Fr. Kelly's Funeral
'A life well led'
Mourners pack Purcellville church to bid farewell to their beloved pastor
“Father Kelly is not gone away. Rather, he has gone ahead.”
Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s words during a short eulogy following the funeral Mass for Father Michael C. Kelly, former pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Purcellville, fell on the ears of a beyond-capacity crowd that packed into the community’s small white church Tuesday morning.
Hundreds of mourners, many crowded into the entranceway just out of reach of the morning’s cold drizzle, gathered to pay their final respects to the priest who died suddenly last Wednesday when a tree fell on him as he was removing another large branch from a road. The 53-year-old had been assigned to St. Francis since 2006.
“For Father Kelly, death came suddenly, unexpectedly and, for our human view, untimely,” the bishop said. “He stopped to do a good deed, and this was so characteristic of him.
“This difficult time is fraught with the question, ‘why?’” Bishop Loverde added. “We must, as faith-filled disciples of Jesus, turn our ‘why’ into ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’”
Dozens of priests concelebrated the funeral liturgy alongside the bishop, many pausing to touch their hands to the coffin of their brother priest as they processed out of the church following the final blessing.
Father John C. Cregan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria, served as homilist. Father Cregan, who was pastor at St. Elizabeth Parish in Colonial Beach when Father Kelly was a seminarian there in the early 1990s, said Father Kelly’s “heart was first and foremost in the pastoral care of his people.”
While in Colonial Beach, “Father Mike started to realize that a life of service to the Lord was the most important work on earth,” Father Cregan said. “This should be our commitment.”
Elaine Marshall, who, with her husband, Chip, has been a parishioner of St. Francis for 15 years, said it was an honor to attend the funeral of such a selfless priest.
“He was always very giving and always encouraging us to give of ourselves,” Marshall said. “That’s exactly the way he lived his life.”
“He was always smiling,” said Teresa Savoie, a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Winchester, where Father Kelly was assigned for five years prior to his time at St. Francis. Savoie said she attended the funeral “to show respect for a life well led.”
For Linda Wood, a parishioner of St. Francis who left the church following the Mass with tears in her eyes, her reason for attending was even more simple: “to say goodbye.”
It was parishioners such as these whom Father Kelly loved so much, said Bishop Loverde.
“Father Kelly truly loved God and the people to whom he ministered,” he said. “We shall all miss him and the ways in which he brought us to Jesus and Jesus to us.”
Father Cregan said the community must now go forward trusting in God.
“We go on … committed together, priest and people, to meet what challenges lie ahead,” Father Cregan said. “The spirit of your pastor will live on in each one of you.”