Sister Mary Verelyn Kelly, BVM, 91, died Oct. 17, 2013, at Marian Hall in Dubuque, Iowa. Visitation will be from 9–11 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in the Marian Hall Chapel followed by a prayer service at 11 a.m. Funeral liturgy will be at 1:30 p.m. Burial is in the Mount Carmel cemetery.
She was born June 18, 1922, to Grover C. and Helen Josephine Sullivan Kelly. She entered the BVM congregation from St. Anthony Parish, Casper, Wyo., on Sept. 8, 1944. She professed first vows on March 19, 1947, and final vows on Aug. 15, 1952.
Sister Mary Verelyn was an elementary and high school teacher and administrator in Dubuque, Iowa; Chicago; and Lead, S.D.; She was on the faculty of Paul VI Catechetical Institute, St. Louis, Mo.; director of religious education in Bettendorf, Iowa, and was secretary for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association Office of the Congregation of Oriental (Eastern Rite) Churches, Rome, Italy.
She was preceded in death by her parents; brothers Cyril and Francis; and sisters: Verlie May, Celia, Helen and Patricia. She is survived by a sister Mary Rita (Floyd) Boland, Billings, Mont.; a brother-in-law Richard Chubb; nieces and nephews; and the Sisters of Charity, BVM, with whom she shared life for 69 years.
Sister Mary Verelyn Kelly, BVM
Marian Hall, Oct. 23, 2013
Good afternoon and welcome to the celebration of life of our Sister Mary Verelyn Kelly.
Uldean Marie Kelly was born on June 18, 1922, in Casper, Wyo., to Grover C. and Helen Josephine Sullivan Kelly. She was the fourth of eight children, two boys followed by six girls. She attended St. Anthony School which was staffed by BVMs. Her father died during her high school freshman year. After graduating from public high school with a college preparatory diploma, Mary Verelyn worked for four years in civil service for both the state of Wyoming and the United States.
The psalmist prays, “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting . . . So I will bless you all my life . . . my mouth shall praise you with joy.” Mary Verelyn’s thirst for God led her to enter the BVM congregation on Sept. 8, 1944. She was received on March 19, 1945, professed first vows on March 19, 1947, and lived 69 years as a BVM.
On her application for admission, Mary Verelyn wrote, “I want to bring religion into the lives of children and teach them the Catholic Faith.” She taught junior high students at St. Charles and St. Ferdinand in Chicago; St. Patrick in Lead, S.D.; and St. Patrick in Dubuque, Iowa. She also taught history and religion at Wahlert High School in Dubuque, and was principal at Our Lady of Lourdes in Chicago. “The poorest mission to which I was assigned was probably Lead, S.D.,” recalled Mary Verelyn. “We Sisters received a very small salary for 10 months, and each year we prepared and charged admittance to some type of program in which every student was involved to earn the money needed for the other two months. One year there simply was not enough money to provide for all the Sisters and the provincial made arrangements for me to go to Chicago that summer to work.”
Mary Verelyn studied at Regina Mundi and at the Pontifical Gregorian University, both in Rome, and graduated with a master of arts degree in religious studies. She then worked in the office of the Vatican Secretary of State and as a secretary for the American cardinals and bishops who were attending a Synod of Bishops. She also had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Paul VI, who thanked her for working for him.
After returning to the U.S., Mary Verelyn taught adult classes at the Paul VI Institute of Catechetical and Pastoral Studies in St. Louis. However, she disliked the required night driving and a year later accepted a position as the director of religious education at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, Iowa, where she remained for 12 years.
On Oct. 16, 1978, Mary Verelyn was working in her office at St. John Vianney when the pastor called her to the rectory to hear the announcement of the new pope. She recalled, “When it was announced that Karol Wojtyla had been elected, I was very excited and said, ‘I know the new Pope!’ I had met Cardinal Wojtyla several times when I studied in Rome.” The pastor decided that Mary Verelyn should personally congratulate Pope John Paul II, and gave her a trip to Rome where she did just that. The trip also included a visit to Jerusalem where the director of the Jesuit’s Pontifical Biblical Institute arranged for a private pilgrimage. “It was a wonderful, inspiring, grace-filled week of visiting and praying in the places where Jesus lived, taught, died and rose,” wrote Mary Verelyn.
In 1986 she returned to Italy and, after spending a month studying Italian, she worked as a secretary in the Catholic Near East Welfare Association office of the Congregation of Oriental Churches. Before leaving Italy, Mary Verelyn, along with her sister and brother-in-law, had an audience with Pope John Paul II and received his blessing.
Mary Verelyn retired to the Assumption Convent in Davenport, Iowa, in 1994, and moved to Mount Carmel in 1995. For more than 12 years, she volunteered in the Office of the Treasurer where her thoroughness and meticulous attention to detail, as well as her stories about Rome, were greatly appreciated.
Mary Verelyn never failed to remember the people in her life with Christmas and birthday cards. Every year she sent over 100 Christmas cards, each with a form letter and a personal note. Always frugal, she used sticky notes to write her messages on hand-delivered cards so they could be re-purposed.
In a letter honoring the 200th birthday of Mary Frances Clarke, Mary Verelyn wrote, “My years in our BVM Congregation have been very happy ones . . . The superiors stressed the importance of doing God’s will, of growing in prayer, of spending time with Jesus in His Eucharistic presence to grow in personal relationship with Him . . . The knowledge that I am a sinner and will never reach perfection in this life does not discourage me. Our God is merciful, God Who knows me better than I know myself and loves me with an infinite love.”
We celebrate the earthly life of our Sister Mary Verelyn, and rejoice with her as our merciful God—and several Popes—welcome her home.