In the spring of 1982, Brother James Kelly, C.F.X., was preparing to become the next principal of Xavier High School by attending a convention of the National Catholic Education Association in Chicago. One of the speakers talked about writing monthly letters to the parents of boys at his school.
Brother Kelly not only adopted the idea, but he flourished, and these letters became must-reads. This would eventually lead to Brother writing two books, collections of what he had written to parents through the years.
Brother Kelly left Xavier in 1991 after nine years as principal. Following his time in Middletown, he was president of St. Xavier in Louisville, Ky., and Mount St. Joseph in Baltimore.
His letters to parents combined his “Irish storytelling” techniques with wisdom and a firm message. He often would tell students: “Don’t do anything that will break your mothers’ hearts.”
Those books will live on, and so will his name, on a new Brother James M. Kelly Endowed Scholarship here at Xavier. Longtime friends are making sure of that.
The endowment fund will allow students to attend Xavier who otherwise might not have the opportunity. Anyone is welcome to contribute to the fund by clearly marking that it is for the Brother James Kelly Endowment Fund.
“Based on what we learned from Jim,” one of the friends said, “we started the fund because we want to support the teaching legacy of the Xaverian Brothers.”
Brother Kelly died in 2011, but if he were alive today we’re sure he’d have something witty to say about an endowment fund in his name.
“There might be some self-deprecating humor,” the friend said, “but probably genuine surprise. He would be glad for future students and would acknowledge that any good he had been able to do had come from his training with the Brothers and from his total faith and commitment to God. He would likely hope that even without new Brothers on the faculty, endowments would help to provide a supportive and caring teaching environment for boys well into the future.”
This is important to the friends.
“More than ever, the world needs educational institutions that focus on the intellectual growth and wellbeing of their students,” the friend said. “Unfortunately these schools are getting harder to find and, for many families, much harder to afford.”
In his final letter to Xavier parents in June 1990, Brother Kelly talked about such things as worrying about money and the maintenance of the building. He talked about doing the little things, like locking up at night or doing some shoveling. But he came back to this:
“When I stand before the judgment seat of God and He reviews my years as principal of Xavier, I doubt He is going to ask me about the balance sheet or the state of the physical plant. I suspect he is going to ask me if I did my best to shepherd this little portion of His flock. In all humility I will be able to answer, ‘Yes, Lord, I did. At times it didn’t seem good enough, but it was my best, and I did it with my whole heart.’ ”
That he did. And fittingly, Brother Kelly died on the Feast of St. Francis Xavier.
By Jeff Otterbein