In Memoriam – Fr. Joel Kelly, O.S.B.

Father Joel Kelly, OSB 

Monk of Saint John’s Abbey
Collegeville, Minnesota


Born: September 1, 1939
Professed: July 11, 1960
Ordained: June 4, 1966

Died: June 8, 2020

Father Joel died on Tuesday 8 June in the Abbey retirement center. He is survived by his sister, Karen Hartneck, Crystal, and three brothers, David, Minneapolis, Jerry, Chandler, Arizona, and William, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and the community of Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Joel at 10:30 am on Saturday, 13 June, (live-streamed at www.saintjohnsabbey.org/live) in the Saint John’s Abbey and University Church with interment in Saint John’s Cemetery following the service. The monastic reception of the body and wake service in the Abbey Church at 7:00 pm, Friday, 12 June, will also be live-streamed.

Daniel Joseph Kelly was born on 1 September 1939, in Darwin, Minnesota, the fourth of five children of Stanley James and Verna (Lindberg) Kelly. His father was the manager of Darwin’s Cooperative Grain Elevator, and his mother was a teacher and housekeeper. Daniel attended Darwin Grade School (1945-1953) and Litchfield High School (1953-1957).

Following graduation, Daniel visited a friend who was a monk at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota and became familiar with the Benedictine vocation. He decided to enter Saint John’s University in 1957 as a priesthood student in Saint Anselm Hall. Which was the custom at the time, after two years of studies, Daniel was accepted as a novice at Saint John’s Abbey, joining one of the largest classes in its history with twenty-three novices. Taking the monastic name of Joel, he professed first vows on 11 July 1960, with solemn profession in 1963. Continuing his priesthood studies, Father Joel was ordained on 4 June 1966.

Father Joel’s first assignment was prefect, chaplain, and theology teacher at Saint John’s Preparatory School (1964-1970). During summer months (1967-1971) he enrolled at Loyola University, Chicago, in a master of education program, graduating in 1972. In 1970, Father Joel joined the Saint John’s mission community of San Antonio Abad, Humacao, Puerto Rico, teaching religion and serving in local parishes. He commented, “I have good memories of driving my jeep to the barrio section of our parish to meet with a small group of children who were preparing for first communion.”

From 1974-1976, Father Joel returned to Loyola University where he earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology (1976). During his studies, Father Joel assisted at the parishes of Saint Ignatius and Saint Jerome, developing a liturgy committee and celebrating Masses in Spanish. Within the following year Father Joel was assigned to Saint Boniface Parish, Cold Spring, Minnesota, followed by seven years at Ingall’s Memorial Hospital, Harvey, Illinois, as a clinical supervisor of the in-patient alcohol addiction treatment program and later as the director of the education and training department.

Father Joel returned to Saint John’s Abbey in 1984 as the University chaplain, a position he held until 1992. Father Joel’s empathic genuineness attracted numerous students under stressful circumstances, perhaps especially the grieving. He was the initiating force in creating with Brother Kelly Ryan in 1987 the first three-week January-term monastic immersion program that attracted dozens of upperclassmen who participated in the daily life and prayer of the monks.

The next ten years Father Joel was a full-time chaplain at the Saint Cloud Department of Corrections, and the following year (2004) he assisted at Saint Augustine Parish, Saint Cloud. During this entire time Father Joel also was a faculty resident with freshmen in Saint John’s Mary Hall for eight years and another twelve with upperclassmen in Virgil Michel House.

Father Joel’s concluding ministry was as chaplain of the 340-bed San Bernardino Hospital, San Bernardino, California (2005-2019), an assignment in a dryer climate where he had some relief from his developing asthma.

In mid-2018 Father Joel began to have difficulty swallowing and had notable speech impairment that grew into significant debilitating challenges. In August 2019 the diagnosis of advanced Bulbar ALS was confirmed, which Father Joel accepted with admirable patience and resignation. Subsequently, he resigned from his chaplaincy commitment and returned to Saint John’s in October where he lived in the Abbey’s Health Center.

Father Joel was a model of generous and thoughtful Benedictine hospitality, a compassionate and jovial presence, respectful and welcoming of all people, with a ready display of Irish wit and humor. His classmates relied on him to recall accurately monastery details of names, events, and dates. He was a sports enthusiast, a big fan of the Johnnies, especially football and basketball, with a soft spot for the Vikings and Twins. Father Joel was a master of sports trivia, with a fantastic memory of players, plays, and statistics over the years.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB
and the Monks of Saint John’s Abbey