North London community celebrates centenarian priest

Father Christopher Kelly

Parishioners of St Joseph’s in Highgate rose a glass at their popular social club to Fr Christopher Kelly who joined their parish in 1978.

Christened Francis Joseph Kelly, he was born in Belfast on 2 April 1919, one of seven children to parents Michael and Margaret Kelly. His older brother James worked, with distinction, for the Irish Independent.

Francis/Fr Christopher was educated by the Christian Brothers in Belfast and attempted to join the Passionist Order in Ireland but was unable to as there were no vacancies. On 3 January 1939, he got on a boat from Belfast to Heysham to join the Passionists at Broadway in Worcestershire.

Fr. Christopher Kelly

He recalls that ‘it took a long time to adjust to life in a monastery. The whole day was spelt out by what was called the religious observance’. 

Eventually, he was ordained on 28 April 1945 and sent to be the priest in a little parish in Addington where, he says, ‘I was my own boss there’.

He was moved around a few times, he was sent to Sutton St. Helen’s in 1950, then St. David’s in Wales where his only source of transport was his BSA Bantam motorbike (See photo). Then he first arrived in Highgate between January and July in 1955. 

Fr. Kelly with (L) former Irish president Mary McAleese

After that he spent the rest of his ministry in Ilkley, West Yorkshire until 1978 when he returned to Highgate St. Joseph’s church, twenty-three years after his first posting there, and where he has stayed until the present day.

He stopped saying Mass about three years ago because of physical frailty and lives in sheltered accommodation in neighbouring Finchley but every Saturday night he attends St Joseph’s Social Club where he is the joint-licensee and remains very popular in the Highgate community and well loved by everyone who meets him. 

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