Jan 22, 2013

US monsignor from Worcester joins canons of St. Peter's Basilica, a ministry of prayer



By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
(CNS photos/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although his curriculum vitae includes parish assignments, seminary positions and years devoted to promoting religious education throughout the United States, Msgr. Francis D. Kelly said, "All my life I've been a closet monk."

As he prepared to take his post as a canon of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, a position focused on the service of prayer, Msgr. Kelly said, "God knows what he's doing."

The chief task of the two dozen canons, he said, is prayer and worship.

For the past eight years, the 75-year-old monsignor from the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., has served as superior of the Casa Santa Maria, the residence for U.S. priests studying at the pontifical universities in Rome.

Msgr. Kelly was named a canon of the basilica by Pope Benedict XVI and was formally installed Jan. 20 in a brief ceremony attended by hundreds of friends, a half dozen ambassadors and five U.S. cardinals living in Rome: Cardinals James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; and Cardinals William J. Levada, J. Francis Stafford and Bernard F. Law, retired from Vatican posts.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, led the ceremony at which Msgr. Kelly formally recited and signed a profession of faith and an oath of obedience to Pope Benedict and his successors.

Remarking on the fact that Msgr. Kelly also is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination in 2013, Cardinal Comastri said the ceremony was a "celebration of fidelity" with the monsignor having "maintained for your entire life the promise you made as a young man."

Msgr. Kelly and other members of the Chapter of St. Peter's Basilica entered the Chapel of the Canons wearing their distinctive violet capes. As part of the ceremony, Msgr. Kelly received from Cardinal Comastri a black biretta topped with a violet tuft.

The cardinal said Msgr. Kelly brings to 10 the number of countries represented by the canons, a reflection of the universality of the church.

In a Jan. 17 interview with Catholic News Service, Msgr. Kelly said he did not know how he came to be appointed the first U.S.-born canon in almost 50 years; "it's not something I asked for or expected."

Italian-born Archbishop Giuseppe De Andrea, 82, a retired Vatican diplomat and priest of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., currently is the senior canon; he and Msgr. Kelly both hold positions at the international offices of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The last U.S.-born priest to serve as a canon was Archbishop Martin O'Connor, a native of Scranton, Pa., who had served as rector of the Pontifical North American College before being named a nuncio, and as president of the then-Pontifical Commission for Social Communications. He became a canon upon retirement in 1971 and served until his death in 1986.

The first U.S. priest to become a canon was Pittsburgh Msgr. William Hemmick, who served at the basilica from 1946 to 1971.

In a 2007 meeting with the Chapter of St. Peter's Basilica, which includes the canons, Pope Benedict XVI said that for more than 1,400 years, there has been an "uninterrupted presence of praying clergy" around the tomb of St. Peter. In the early centuries different orders of monks had the responsibility, but in 1053 St. Leo IX created the College of Canons and appointed a group of priests who were not members of monastic orders.

Pope Benedict told the canons their service is to offer "the ministry of prayer. While prayer is fundamental for all Christians, for you, dear brothers, it can be called a professional duty."

The pope said that the best way to ensure that the millions of people who visit St. Peter's every year know it is a church, and not a museum, is to find people praying inside.

Like Msgr. Kelly, the canons all have a long history of ministry and service to the church; several of them, like Archbishop De Andrea, are retired Vatican ambassadors. On Sundays and major feast days, they concelebrate and take turns preaching at the 10:30 a.m. solemn Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and lead the recitation of evening prayer in the basilica.

Msgr. Kelly said, "For those who know me and my life story and my inclinations, this was a perfect fit. It's not at all a radical change of style; it's really doing something that I've always been attracted to and done in different ways."