Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fwd: some memories of Fr Matt Kelty

More memories of Father Matthew.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Jim Forest" <>
Date: Feb 24, 2011 9:17 AM
Subject: some memories of Fr Matt Kelty
To: "Jim Forest" <>

From: John Landry <>
Date: Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 8:13 PM
Subject: Re: Rev. Matthew Kelty of Abbey of Gethsemani buried in twilight ceremony
To: Jim Forest <>

I first met Matthew Kelty in 1972. He had walked the 235 miles from his hermitage in North Carolina to Washington, D.C. in protest of the Vietnam War in August. Nixon was re-coronated in November.

Philip Berrigan was released from Danbury (I led the march with Pete Seeger, Ben and Mary Spock thru the rain along a country road from the prison to a reception with Dan, Liz and a couple hundred movement stalwarts). I had stayed with Ed Guinan's CCNV group and sang at the front of a demonstration against the Christmas bombings with Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña. I rode a bus to Raleigh, finding the last connection of the day to Oxford was gone. So, (imagine!), I called the local bishop's office, telling him of my journey to visit Matthew, and he invited me to dinner and stay the night.

A snobby young Jesuit was also there...he and the bishop had no respect for the likes of the Berrigans and Merton, or Kelty, for that matter. I was pleasant and grateful for a meal, a much-needed shower, and sleep.

In the morning, I had breakfast with the black cook and housekeeper, and walked to the bus station to make my way to Oxford. From downtown Oxford, I walked thru the tobacco land, passing a few roadkill snakes along the way, disturbing one hungry crow and making one patrolling buzzard jealous.

I stuck out my thumb and a pickup truck stopped and drove me to the little country store, saying have a Coke and he'd be able to take me to the road to Matthew's once he'd bought some feed.

When I came into the humble monastic complex, Polka, Matthew's Dalmation sidekick, who'd walked to Washington with him, came out to greet me. There was a trailer, which served as the weaving studio, looms at the ready, for making priests' stoles. The main building housed the library, the kitchen, and a line of showers and bathrooms, and a couple small single bedrooms. Behind it was a stark, simple chapel on which the peacocks roosted, or fled to when the Guinea hens were marauding. Spread out around the place at just enough distance were maybe 5 single room hermitages, including Matthew's own, slightly away form the rest beyond the center structure and the chapel.

He was living there alone at the time (when I returned there several years later, there were 4 younger monks occupying the property.

It was Winter, and one night there was a surprise storm. Between a foot and 18 inches fell, everything in sight blanketed quietly. We shoveled around and put out food for the birds, the Guineas chasing the peacocks away quickly. I went and sat on a cleared step of the side entrance to the library with feed in each cupped palm. I heard a creek in the floorboards where Matthew stood in amazement...the two peacocks were eating from my hands.

We headed out into the covered world the next day and shared some homemade corn liquor with a mechanic he had working on his ole pickup.

He was a very direct guy, Matthew. We had some long conversations about Gethsemani, Merton, solitude, poetry, the war, New Guinea, and, of course, Massachusetts, from which we both hailed.

All the talk peppered with deep laughter. He maintained his great wit thoughout. We stayed in touch and corresponded when he returned to Papua for several years.

The last time I visited Matthew and Patrick Hart was Summer 1997.

I wish I had made my panned road trip this past Summer.

Poetry of a Soul: A Monk's Story is about Matt -- a marvelous little documentary now available on DVD, a treasure to have now that he is gone.


John Landry

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On Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 3:06 AM, Jim Forest <> wrote:

Courier-Journal (Louisville) / 21 February 2011|head

Rev. Matthew Kelty of Abbey of Gethsemani buried in twilight ceremony

by Peter Smith

TRAPPIST, Ky. — As the abbey bell tolled slowly and as stiff gusts scattered the first drops of an incoming rainstorm, the Rev. Matthew Kelty was lowered into his grave in a twilight ceremony whose simple dignity matched his monastic calling.

Kelty, perhaps the most public face of the Abbey of Gethsemani since the death of renowned author Thomas Merton, died Friday and was buried Monday afternoon following a funeral attended by dozens of fellow monks and priests and more than 100 visitors.

Kelty, a longtime chaplain to the monastery's retreat guests, was 95 — the abbey's oldest monk. He was "lucid and interested up to the last" before dying during a midday nap following a brief illness, said the monastery obituary.

Kelty, a one-time typist for Merton, published several books on spirituality himself. For many years, he spent hours each day counseling people who had come on retreat to the remote Roman Catholic monastery in Nelson County, Ky.

Until he was recently slowed by age, Kelty gave nightly devotional talks to retreatants. Speaking in a crisp South Boston accent that contrasted with the immediate surroundings of rural Kentucky, he mixed his own observations with a sampling of poetry and prose by other writers.

Kelty spent the morning of his death talking with fellow monks, many of whom were with him at his death, the monastery obituary said.

"So many of us are the better for having known him," said Gethsemani Abbott Elias Dietz at Kelty's funeral Mass in the historic abbey church.

Kelty was buried in the tradition of the Trappist monastery — without a coffin and without embalming, lowered gently into the grave by fellow monks. The purpose, Kelty himself had written in an essay years earlier, is to have a "simple and beautiful" acknowledgement of death for what it is, while retaining hope in resurrection.

The service was marked by the simple chants and long silences characteristic of the Trappist monastery. Flutist Tracy Campbell of Louisville, who has visited Gethsemani for years, played "Danny Boy" at the funeral — a tribute to Kelty's Irish heritage — and "Amazing Grace" after his body was gently lowered into his grave.

The music recalled the title of one of Kelty's essays, "Flute Solo," in which he compared his own musical hobby with monastic solitude.

Kelty served as chaplain of the monastery's guest house from 1990 to 2006, even as age left him stooped and his hair nearly as white as his robe.

Many visitors had been drawn to the monastery by the writings of Merton — under whom Kelty trained as a novice. But Merton was long deceased, and for many visitors the most accessible monk was Kelty, who kept regular hours counseling anyone who wanted a listening ear.

Widows, divorcees, "troubled people and happy people" came to see him, Kelty said in a 2005 interview with The Courier-Journal. They ask about how to deepen their prayer life, how to deal with loneliness, how to forgive others — or themselves — for past offenses.

"In an active world, people keep busy," Kelty said. "A place like this is quiet. You can't hide anything."

Kelty "was wise and witty and deep and bold at times, and at the same time he could keep his solitude," said Brother Paul Quenon, a fellow Gethsemani monk and author. "There was a kind of loneliness that he always had (that was) one of the reasons he was attractive to people."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville presided at the funeral Mass.

Kelty was born Charles Richard Kelty Jr. on Nov. 11, 1915, in the Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, Mass. His family soon moved to suburban Milton, where he attended public schools.

Kelty said he inherited little of the mechanical skill of his father, a tool-and-die engineer, and was instead drawn to poetry, drama and music.

When his high school history class studied how monks lived in the Middle Ages, "I knew then that's what I wanted to do," he said.

But no one told him there were monasteries in 20th-century America, so he joined a missionary order, the Society of the Divine Word.

He served as a priest on the Pacific island of New Guinea from 1947 to 1951, making rounds to Catholic communities to teach lessons and conduct Masses, burials and weddings.

Kelty returned to the United States to edit the order's magazine. He later received permission to join Gethsemani in 1960.

Given a new name — Matthew — to mark his new life, Kelty repaired shoes, mended clothes and typed manuscripts for Merton.

In the 1970s, he helped found an experimental religious community in North Carolina and then lived as a hermit during a second stint in New Guinea. He returned to Gethsemani for good in 1982.

His books include "My Song is of Mercy," "Gethsemani Homilies," "Call of the Wild Geese," "Sermons in a Monastery" and "Singing for the Kingdom," all still in print.

In 2007, Kelty wrote to The Courier-Journal's consumer-advocacy column Lemme Doit, saying that as he struggled with his handwriting he hoped to get a sturdy manual typewriter like he had decades ago. His purchase was a "disaster," he wrote, but Kelty eventually received not only a refund but a flood of offers from readers offering their ancient but functional manual typewriters.

"I should let you know that I am in receipt of a handsome Smith Corona portable," Kelty said in a type-written thank-you note to Lemme Doit. " … God bless you."

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Jim & Nancy Forest
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands

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