As he prepares to celebrate his silver jubilee, Archbishop Kelly tells Peter Elson ‘I trusted in God. It’s all happened by accident’
AS HE looks out from his lounge with its elegantly bowed full-length windows or his book-lined first floor study, the lushly-planted garden marks the ever-changing seasons.
This up-lifting vista of nature's retreat and renewal, in leafy Mossley Hill, has daily greeted the Most Rev Patrick Kelly, Archbishop of Liverpool, for the last 13 years.
Yet today he celebrates 25 years as a Bishop, having been installed on April 3, 1984, in Salford Diocese.
Archbishop Patrick, who is 70, is uncertain whether the years have passed quickly or slowly.
“I've been a priest for 47 years. Does it matter if it's 47 or just 17 years? Numbers themselves don't seem to say very much,” he muses.
Yet the Roman Catholic Church certainly sees this as a momentous occasion, as there will be a great celebratory Mass of Thanksgiving in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral at 5.30pm.
The Archbishop’s recollections of his installation include, “Coming up the ramp into the cathedral – still a daunting feeling – and then seeing people with umbrellas up as the roof leaked!”
Now properly watertight, this Episcopal Silver Jubilee of Archbishop Patrick Kelly will be attended by Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, will be present.
Also at the mass will be 22 RC bishops and priests, plus leaders of other Christian denominations, along with people from all over the world.
It will prove to be a momentous occasion for a man who has served God and his faith through times of far-reaching social and religious changes.
One can hardly imagine his immediate successors having to ride such radical alterations of attitudes, in which many long-held certainties were swept away.
However, the calling he felt during his sixth form years at school endures, and remains as steadfast in spite of being tested with tragedies like the premature death of his sister, Mary.
Born in Morecambe, Lancashire, Archbishop Patrick is the eldest son of John and Mary Kelly, his father was from Donegal and practised as a dentist.
“We were very much like any other Roman Catholic family of the time. We always attended Mass on Sunday, went to Roman Catholic high school and received the sacrament there.
“But I was also involved in other activities. The Society of St Vincent de Paul was particularly important to me, with its concern for the poor and needy.”
After schooling at Preston Catholic College, he started studying for the priesthood in Rome in 1955, a vocation fully supported by his family. “Six of us went from this Jesuit grammar school to the English College in Rome, so it was not unusual to get your calling at the age I did,” he says.
“I’d never been south of Liverpool in my life, and had to stay in Rome for three years.
“This was before the age of mass travel and I was very privileged to walk Rome’s uncrowded streets and for a few pence buy bread and cheese and catch a bus to walk the hills outside.”
He was ordained at the college by Cardinal William Godfrey, a former Archbishop of Liverpool, in 1962.
Monsignor Derek Worlock, later to become Archbishop of Liverpool, but at that time Cardinal Godfrey’s secretary, was present at the ordination.
“So there were three Archbishops of Liverpool together present, although two of us didn't know it at the time,” chuckles Archbishop Patrick.
“It was the only day you could choose the text and that was Christ the King, on the Sunday before Advent, near my birthday.
“Liverpool's new cathedral was later named the Cathedral of Christ the King, so that was an amazing coincidence.”
At the time Archbishop Patrick was ordained, his sister Mary, who was training to be a teacher, fell ill with cancer.
“I was assistant to Cardinal Godfrey and he asked a lot about her. So informed were his questions that I realised he was undergoing treatment, too,” he says.
“When I visited Archbishop Worlock, in Lourdes Hospital, during his final illness, he made a deeply touching remark.
“He said, ‘We go back a long way when it comes to cancer. The two us have accompanied various people closest to us on this journey’.
“He was a very shy man at times, but had a capacity to work through things and ensure that he had really addressed the issues.”
On his return to England, Archbishop Patrick was appointed assistant priest at St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster, where he served for two years. His duties included taking mass in Lancaster Castle Prison.
After joining the staff of St Mary's College, Oscott, Birmingham, as a lecturer in theology, he became rector in 1979, until his appointment as Bishop of Salford five years later.
“Diversity is not something that bothers me. My mother was an Anglican and converted to marry my father, whose brother was a priest.
“My relatives in Morecambe on my mother's side are Anglicans, but my maternal grandmother used to sit us down on a stool beside her to say our Rosary.
“So I've always had this broad religious appreciation. The great changes brought by the second Vatican Council did not worry me. It was responding to the world around us.
“It's often forgotten that Pope Pius XII wrote letters which prepared the ground for the change in worship, as he recognised the coming challenge of different times.
“Dynamic characters like Cardinal Bauer also foresaw a deeper understanding of God and worship. This was not change for change's sake.
“Many of us felt it was an exciting time to be involved back in 1963, but there were no illusions it would be easy. At my Lancaster parish, we spent two months explaining the changes.”
While few join the priesthood with the intention of being an archbishop, it’s an impressive achievement. Typically, he is very modest.
“I’ve always trusted in God’s will and done what I’ve been told. It’s all happened by accident. When I was ordained I took a promise of obedience and never planned my career.
“On the appointment of a new bishop, I always tell them it’s a fantastic job, with marvellous support. Occasionally, you have to make difficult decisions, but overall it’s an extraordinary opportunity.”
His practical approach to handling the politics of high office is simple: “I’m always anxious never to back ourselves into a corner.”
There is a great future for the church, he says, as surveys regularly show that 70% of the population pray every day.
“We have to be willing to listen to people’s questions and give opportunities and space for conversation, which is the English equivalent of evangelising.
“It’s one of the great needs of our society. I see young people constantly texting one another and I wonder if they are ever actually with anyone? Ultimately, it’s not good for their health or the community.
“The church has got huge potential, but there is no such thing as instant faith or wisdom. Just as there’s no such thing as instant coffee – there’s a brown drink, but that’s not real coffee.”
* THE Episcopal Silver Jubilee of Archbishop Patrick Kelly will be held today at the RC Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool, at 5.30pm. All are welcome and no tickets are required.