Farewell to Father Matthew Kelty

| February 24, 2011
Father Matthew Kelty

Father Matthew Kelty died at age 95.

The last time I saw Father Matthew Kelty alive was the day of Frank O’Callaghan’s burial in the Abbey of Gethsemani cemetery where he was sitting in his wheelchair.

I thanked Father Matthew, author and poet, for his lovely Christmas card, told him I loved him, held his hand and kissed it (against strict rules of St. Benedict and “not done.”)

His eyes smiled that he loved the gesture, but his voice ordered the wheelchair assistant, “Take me back inside.”

Father Matthew died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, Feb. 18.

A beautiful Mass was said for him at the Abbey on Monday, Feb. 21, by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

Abbott Elias Dietz gave the homily. Holy Eucharist was received by a host of family, friends, writers, painters, Bardstown residents and out-of-town dignitaries.

Flute player, Tracy Campbell, played a tender, heartrending “Danny Boy” as we all fought back our tears, remembering his Irish ancestry.
One of his books is titled “Flute Solo.”

Here are pictures of Father Matthew’s burial, which is a day of happy celebration of “going home” for the monks, not a day of sadness.
His grave is not far from the grave of the late Thomas Merton who trained him as a novice and whom Matthew described as “tough.” He later became Merton’s secretary.

Tommie O'Callaghan

Tommie O'Callaghan, friend of the Abbey, attended Father Matthew's burial.

Attending the funeral in a red sweater was Tommie O’Callaghan, former head of the Thomas Merton board and a friend of Merton, who was a frequent guest in her home.

This picture of Tommie resembles a red cardinal (no pun intended) in a sea of white monk’s robes. Fitting.

I met Father Matthew via ESP one summer day years ago and obeyed the message and called him:

“Father Matthew, I met you briefly this spring and want to come over and photograph you.”

“Come tomorrow after lunch,” he said.

“Cistercian Publications just called me. They want a closeup for my new book jacket. Come tomorrow afternoon,” he said.

I found him in his office where a window held a gorgeous blue glass Virgin Mary.

“Where do you want me,?” he said. “I hate having my picture taken.”

“Everywhere you go as chaplain for the guest house,” I answered.

I photographed him by his window, by the magnificent big hand illustrated Bible in the library; the guest hall chapel with a wooden cross on the wall, in the church proper, and finally let him rest on a wall in the garden.

“That’s it, Father Matthew,” I said, sneaking in one last shot as I knew full well he didn’t believe me.

He was inside and out a beautiful man in his last book, “Singing For the Kingdom,” is a chapter called “Death and Beyond.”

“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you,” it says.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz at left and Abbott of Gethsemani Elias Dietz at the burial of Father Matthew Kelty.

It,  goes on to say:,  ” “˜The Lord’s face shining on you’ means eternal dimensions are part of your reality. His light embraces the beauty of this world in terms of the next “¦ faith reveals the scope of the human scene “¦

“Not just Christmas, health and happiness but the whole package: darkness and light, sickness and health, suffering and death, the whole package.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you.”


photos by Lucie Blodgett | contributing photographer

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Category: The Social Side

About the Author (Author Profile)

Lucie Blodgett
Always out and about at happenings around town, Lucie Blodgett has been writing a weekly column for The Voice-Tribune for more than two decades.

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  1. Andrew J Albatys says:


    I enjoyed your article about Father Matthew very much. I too attended his funeral and it was, as you say, a very moving experience. Although I only knew Father Matthew in the last few years of his life, I found him to be one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Thank you for sharing your words and pictures with us.