The founding pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish, Msgr. J. Morgan Kelly, died on August 3, 2000 at the McCarrick Care Center in Somerset. His closely guarded secret was finally revealed. He was 84 years old.
Msgr. Kelly will always be remembered as our pastor for more than 30 years. He endeared himself to our parish family with his wonderful warmth, personality and sense of humor, but mostly with his spiritual leadership during those years. In the words of Deacon John McShane, one of the original members of St. Bartholomew, “He was a shepherd of his flock, an inspiration to all of us who knew how had he worked to establish the parish as it is today.”
Msgr. Kelly was born in New Brunswick on November 13, 1915, and attended St. Peter's Elementary and High Schools, St. Benedict Preparatory School in Newark, and Seton Hall University in South Orange. During his junior year at Seton Hall, he transferred to Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, where he received a BA degree in history. He completed his theological training at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington and was ordained on March 17, 1945, by Bishop William A. Griffin in St. Mary Cathedral in Trenton.
Msgr. Kelly began his priestly life as associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Mount Holly where his devotion to children took root as he organized basketball teams and initiated a Boy Scout Troop. He spent four years at Sacred Heart and then was named chaplain at St. Michael's Children's Home in Hopewell, where he served for nine years. He then taught religion at Villa Victoria Academy in Trenton, and served as director of the Parochial Basketball League there. He also served as CYO Director of Mercer County and as chaplain at Skillman Hospital. Following a brief assignment at Incarnation Parish in Trenton, he received the call to St. Bartholomew Parish.
It was on June 12, 1959 that Msgr. Kelly was appointed by Bishop George W. Ahr to serve as the founding pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish. He was driving to Philadelphia when a NJ State Trooper pulled him over and told him that he was to “call home”. It seems that the Bishop had chosen him to establish a new Parish in East Brunswick. The Catholics who lived in the area at the time attended Mass at Sacred Heart in New Brunswick and Corpus Christi in South River, but the area was growing and the people needed a local parish to meet their needs. As many of the older parishioners know, the property where the parish now stands was an apple orchard.
Father Kelly, as he was known then, had the daunting job of building the parish from scratch. This meant pledge drives to raise the money needed to build the parish and conferring with the architect. Since Msgr. needed a place to live, the first building to go up was the rectory, now the Religious Education and Initiation Ministries offices. The next building on the property was the church. It took time to raise the money to build the church.
The young parish needed a place to celebrate Mass, provide Religious Education, and rooms for the parish organizations to hold meetings. Msgr. Kelly was able to use Memorial School, which is around the corner from St. Bartholomew. The first Mass was celebrated in the school auditorium in July 1959. Mass was held there on Sundays and Holy Days, and the various organizations were allowed to hold their meetings in the school after school hours. The nuns who taught at Corpus Christi taught the religious education classes for the fledgling St. Bartholomew Parish, and Msgr. said Mass each morning at their convent. Memorial School was such a part of St. Bart’s that Msgr. said some of the kids referred to it as "St. Memorial".
After the church was completed in 1962, the diocese decided the Parish needed a school. The school was built in stages, adding a grade each year until it had eight grades. A school needs teachers. Fortunately, Monsignor was able to convince the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Pennsylvania to staff the school. There were seven sisters sent by the order. This meant that the sisters now needed a place to live. While a convent was being built, they lived in an apartment on Taylor Street.
While overseeing the massive building program he also began organizing basketball leagues for our youth. Msgr. Kelly was an outstanding athlete and is remembered as captain of the state parochial basketball champs of 1933-34. He also captained the basketball team at St. Benedict's. His love for children and sports built the foundation of our present extensive athletic program. Rounding out the Parish was the gym. Parishioners who know Msgr. Kelly can attest that the gym was an important part of the parish plan because of his love of sports and “the kids”. It was deservedly named “Kelly Gym”.
As East Brunswick continued to grow, new homes were built, new families moved in, and Saint Bartholomew's continued to thrive. The parish grew to include some 3500 families by the time Msgr. Kelly retired on June 12, 1990, exactly 31 years after receiving the call from the Bishop. We owe him a debt of gratitude. With the original parishioners, Msgr. Kelly laid the foundation for what was to become one of the largest and most vibrant parishes in the diocese of Metuchen.
In 1999 Msgr. Kelly was awarded the Msgr. Harding Award by the alumni of St. Peter's Schools for distinguished service to the church and community.
Msgr. Kelly's pastoral solicitude for all; the spiritual, social and recreational opportunities that he afforded to youth and adults alike; his priestly holiness, his charity, patience and understanding are among the many factors that endeared him to all those who had the good fortune to know him. When faced with any difficult task, he would always say, “Do your best, and God will do the rest”.
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