It was standing room only in Tullamore’s Town Hall for the Civic Welcome and citation to honour Fr Michael J Kelly SJ for his “International Contribution to Education and Health in the Developing World.” The Mayor gave a synopsis of Fr Michael’s early life in the town and at school with the Christian Brothers before joining the Jesuits. He mentioned his time as Principal of Canisius College in Chikuni before going onto the University of Zambia where he held among positions those of Professor of Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor.
A government spokesman described how Fr Michael had contributed to Irish Aid’s tackling of the HIV AIDS pandemic, and how he had worked with them in forming policy. He talked about his intellectual prowess and his humility. He spoke warmly of his friendship and, notwithstanding the seriousness of the issues, that Fr Michael never lost his sense of humour.
Michael Kelly, namesake and nephew, recalled that Fr Michael was one of three brothers who joined the Jesuits and spent their lives as priests in the service of the Lord. Councillor Molly Buckley, Chairperson of Power4Good, had been to Lusaka and seen the fruits of his labours in his garden. She read a letter from An Taoiseach which included a handwritten addendum congratulating Fr Michael on his outstanding work for others not only in Zambia but in many areas of the developing world.
Fr Michael in reply mentioned other local people who as Jesuits had made their contribution to Zambia, including Bill Lane, Pat Mc Elduff, Jim Dunne and his own brother Bob, whose final resting place is in Zambia. He accepted this award on their behalf as well.
He spoke passionately of the need for education especially for girls, of the fight for gender equality, and of the social justice aspects of tackling the HIV Aids pandemic. He talked of the fortitude and sense of humour that people could maintain even in the face of such enormous problems.
Remembering the week that’s in it, he finished up by paraphrasing John F Kennedy and proudly proclaiming that we ask not what the world can do for Tullamore but what more can Tullamore do for the world.