Biography of Bernard Stephen Kelly, Father

Father Bernard Stephen Kelly. A man honored and beloved, an ecclesiastic revered and respected by all sections of the community, liberal natured, broad minded, generous, kindly and free, full of understanding of special circumstances and conditions, and with a heart open in sympathy to every necessity, Father Bernard Stephen Kelly, rector of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, is an individual who exerts a powerful influence for morality and Christianity in the City of Leavenworth.

Father Kelly is a son of William E. and Katherine (Dowd) Kelly, natives of Ireland, from which country they were brought by their respective parents in early days, settling in and about Middletown, Ohio, where they were reared and, in 1854, married. William E. Kelly was a farmer throughout his life. He secured a better education than that usually accorded boys of his day, and, being industrious, became wealthy. After his marriage he moved to Brimfield, near Peoria, Illinois, and while residing in that community volunteered for service as a Union soldier during the Civil war, but was rejected owing to the fact that he had a large family to support. In 1870 he came to Kansas and purchased a farm in Johnson County, and to his original purchase subsequently added from time to time until he owned three quarter-sections of land, all well improved at the time of his death. The last years of Mr. Kelly and his wife were passed in quiet retirement at Olathe, Kansas, where both died in 1909. They were the parents of a family of remarkable children, sixteen in number, of whom thirteen grew to virile man and womanhood, and all the latter are yet living, and all living upright lives of excellent citizenship. All are devoted Catholics, one a priest, another a Sister of Charity, and one had been a high state official. The bringing of this number of children into the world and living to see them prosperous, law-abiding, Godfearing people, must have been a source of great satisfaction to the parents in their declining years. With the exception of one daughter in Utah and two sons in Kansas City, Missouri, all the children are residents of the State of Kansas.

Bernard Stephen Kelly, the eighth in order of birth of his parents’ sixteen children, was reared on his father’s farm and was granted excellent educational advantages in his youth. After securing his primary training in the district schools, he attended the high school at Gardner, Kansas, and in 1890 graduated from Saint Benedict’s College. For the ensuing three years he taught school in the country communities of Johnson County, Kansas, and it was during this time that he came to know and love children, to sympathize with them in their childish troubles, and in this way to gain their confidence. This knowledge had proved of the greatest value to him in his church work. On September 12, 1894, he matriculated at Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West, Cincinnati, Ohio, from which he was duly graduated, and was ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, June 21, 1899. He was at that time appointed secretary to Bishop Louis M. Funk, of Leavenworth Diocese, and on August 13th of the same year organized the Blessed Sacrament Parish at Kansas City, Kansas, and was pastor of that congregation until October 6, 1907, when he was called by Bishop Lillis to take up his residence with him as secretary and chancellor of the diocese. On December 8th he organized Saint Peter’s Parish, at Kansas City, Kansas, and here his energy and accomplishments were given a chance for full play in the building of the church, the pastor’s residence and the sisters’ school, as he had formerly at the Blessed Sacrament Parish. He remained as pastor at Kansas City until June 1, 1909, when he was transferred to the pastorate of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, as pastor in charge, at Leavenworth, and here he had remained to the present time. Since coming here he had organized the first Catholic high school at Leavenworth, a work in which he had formerly had experience at Kansas City.

In the prime of life, a man of active habits and never failing industry, Father Kelly had essayed nothing in which he had not succeeded. Neither is there a priest who had been more successful in endearing himself to his parishioners. He had enjoyed the confidence of the superior dignitaries of the church, and in each of his assignments had vindicated that confidence. He is of commanding, dignified presence, but charming in manner and absolutely unassuming. His many friends, young and old, recognize in him the best type of ecclesiastic, the loving, kindly friend who can rejoice with them as well as sorrow, and who earnestly and conscientiously is carrying on God’s work in the world, blessed with a happy cheeriness which is the greatest force in combating misery and evil.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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