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Our Friars

Friar Stories: Journeys to Franciscan Life

Fr. J. Patrick Kelly, OFM

R. J. Patrick Kelly, OFM, distinctly remembers the summer vacation that led to his vocation. In fact, it’s something he’ll never forget. When Fr. Jim was a boy, the Kelly family traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit relatives, sightsee and tour the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. During that time, the monastery was among the top attractions in the city, and after Fr. Jim walked through its doors, he understood why.

As Fr. Jim was standing in the monastery, he spied a frail Franciscan standing alone and sporting a pointy, white beard and a brown soli-deo (traditional skullcap).

The two shared eye contact and with one hand clutching a cane for support, the friar delicately approached the family. He then extended his hand to Fr. Jim and the boy reciprocated the gesture. “I felt a confident gentleness in his hand as he led us on a tour,” he said.

“There was something about him that never left. His gentleness touched my life and inspired me to become a friar and I’ll never forget that.”

Coincidentally, the monastery not only served as the first place Fr. Jim met a Franciscan, but also was the location of his ordination 15 years later. “I can thank that friar for forming my call into a Franciscan one,” he said. “I have always remembered him.”

During Fr. Jim’s first assignment at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., he noticed a growing number of people sought out the friars for counseling or referrals to local mental health practitioners. Having recognized the need, he petitioned and received permission from the province to pursue a Ph.D. in counseling and personnel services from Fordham University.

In 1978, Fr. Jim established Holy Name Counseling Service in Fair Lawn, N.J., before it was renamed FrancisCare and moved to Elmwood Park, N.J., in 1993.

“I saw the value in this service,” said Fr. Charles Finnegan, OFM, who served as Provincial of Holy Name Province from 1976 to 1980. “There was a great call for this and it was something Jim had expressed interest in.”

Fr. Jim presently counsels more than 45 adult clients in individual and group therapy, many who are dealing with addictions, family of origin issues and/or sexual abuse. As a pastoral psychotherapist, he uses both the spiritual and religious issues to examine broader human development in clients.

“There’s a waiting list for services because Jim (as he is called by his clients) has a good reputation,” said Dorothy Haussmann, administrative assistant at FrancisCare, a non-profit, tax exempt corporation. “He does not advertise and most of his clients hear about him through word of mouth or are referred by those in the local parishes.”

In addition to his counseling ministry, Fr. Jim also serves as a court expert for the Newark Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal and has led workshops on the crises of midlife for priests and religious throughout the country and abroad. “I’m very thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to preach and teach,” he said. “I really enjoy what I’m doing as a friar.”

—This essay was written in 2001 when Fr. Jim was managing FrancisCare in Elmwood Park, N.J. It appeared in the June 2000 issue of The Anthonian magazine.

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