Gulf Pine Catholic

P ine C atholic Gulf MARCH 6, 2020 > VOLUME 37, NO. 14 > WWW.BILOXIDIOCESE.ORG THE NEWSPAPER OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BILOXI “Open arms, open doors” legacy of the late Father Mike Kelleher Father Michael Kelleher high fives a Resurrection Elementary student as he makes his way to the parish activities center for a reception following his last Mass as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pascagoula in January 2019. Students lined the way from the church entrance to the activities center to applaud and show their appreciation for Father Kelleher. Father Kelleher died on February 13, 2020 at the age of 78. Photo/Juliana Skelton BY TERRY DICKSON PASCAGOULA -- In 1965, Father Michael Kelleher left his homeland of Ireland and set forth for Mississippi, where he faithfully served the people entrusted to his care for 55 years. Along the way, he made countless friends, many of whom gathered here at Sacred Heart Church on Feb. 17 for his Mass of Christian Burial. Father Kelleher died on Feb. 13 after a long battle with cancer. He was 78. Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III, who was principal cele- brant and homilist, recalled how, after Hurricane Katrina, Father Kelleher would drive down Telephone Road past the site of the former St. Peter the Apostle Church and school, which had both been destroyed, and wondered what he could do to help the predominately African-American con- gregation. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Father Kelleher invited then pastor Father William Norvel and his congre- gation to come and celebrate the Eucharist at Sacred Heart. “Father Norvel said yes, the community came over and, for almost two years, celebrated Mass (with Sacred Heart),” said Bishop Kihneman. “Open arms, open doors was really Father Mike’s spir- it.” St. Peter the Apostle Parish Council president Billy Knight said he considers Father Kelleher’s generous invita- tion to the people of St. Peter the Apostle Parish a signifi- cant part of his legacy. “After Hurricane Katrina, we were like people lost in the wilderness. We didn’t know what we were going to do,” said Knight. “He came to us. No other church came to us, no other pastor came to us and I’m sure they all rode up and down Telephone Road just like he did. Father Kelleher has a special place in all of our hearts at St. Peter’s. We devel- oped friendships that never would have happened other- wise, because we came together for that two-year period. It was all because of Father Kelleher.” Bishop Kihneman also recalled how Father Kelleher opened the doors of Sacred Heart to the Spanish-speaking community, changing the long-established Saturday Vigil Mass from English to Spanish. “He really felt like there was a need for the Spanish speaking community to have a place to pray,” said Bishop Kihneman. “Sacred Heart has become one of our most important Spanish-speaking communities, along with our English- speaking communities, united in the love of Christ. God has called us together to celebrate, no matter what language we speak. He’s called us together to celebrate his love and his presence, and Father Mike was a sign of that. “He would not want me to call him St. Father Mike, but I think all of us have been touched in one way or another by the love of Jesus Christ that he has shared with us.” Both the St. Peter the Apostle Choir and a Hispanic choir sang at Father Kelleher’s funeral Mass. A native of County Limerick, Ireland, Father Kelleher was ordained June 13, 1965, and arrived in Mississippi the following August. He served as assistant pastor of Nativity Parish, Biloxi; Our Lady of Victories Parish, Pascagoula; Annunciation Parish, Columbus; St. Therese Church, Jackson; and St. Mary Cathedral, Natchez. Father Kelleher served as pastor of St. Peter Parish; Bassfield; St. Mary Parish, Gautier; and Sacred Heart Parish, Pascagoula, where he served for 21 years. SEE FATHER KELLEHER, PAGE 21