Photo taken from https://fathermichaelkellyzambia.org/
Written by Kevin Carroll
Fr. Michael Kelly S.J., who died in Lusaka on Friday 15th January, was one of those people you come across in life who made you feel better every time you met him. He was the kindest and warmest of men, deeply spiritual and humble, and a great Irish missionary. Michael had a long and very productive life in Zambia where he spent the last 67 years as an educator, an academic and an advocate for the poor, especially girls and those who were affected by HIV and AIDS.
Michael loved Zambia and its people, so much so that he became a Zambian citizen in 1968. As Professor of Education at the University of Zambia, he played a major role in the development of education in the country. He published 15 books, along with numerous articles in professional journals. He also worked as a consultant with many international organisations, including the World Bank, numerous UN bodies, the Commonwealth Secretariat, as well as with Irish Aid, Oxfam and other AIDS- related NGOs.
One of the organisations close to Michael’s heart was the Zambia Open Community Schools, which he helped establish in 1992 to provide quality basic education for poor communities across the country. However, his particular passion was for girls’ education, which he wrote so much about and advocated for throughout his life.
Michael was the recipient of many awards, including a number of honorary doctorates, the Irish Presidential award for Irish Abroad, and the Order of Distinguished Service from the President of Zambia. He continued to present the annual Irish Aid Professor Michael Kelly lecture on HIV and AIDS up to last year.
Zambia had become his earthly home and he was greatly loved there. He radiated goodness, especially with his infectious smile and he saw the value in everyone, having that wonderful capacity to relate to people at all levels.
He talked frequently in recent years about looking forward to ‘going home’. When asked last year what he would like to have written on his headstone, he replied simply “he has gone home to God”. Even though he continued to write up to recently, he felt his work was done and he was waiting patiently for the call. Those of us who knew him are grateful to have had him in our lives. We will all miss him.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann. (May his dear soul be at God’s right hand. His like will not be seen again.)