Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Fr. Matthew Kelty, OCSO, Passes Away: Out Gay Monk was Thomas Merton’s Confessor


Fr. Matthew Kelty, OCSO, Monk of Gethsemani (1915-2011)

Trappist, Kentucky – The most widely known and beloved monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani died peacefully among his brothers today in the Kentucky Hill Country.  Fr. Matthew, né Charles Richard Kelty Jr., was born in South Boston, Massachusetts in 1915. Educated in the public schools of Milton, Massachusetts, he followed his vocation to the religious life, attended the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, Illinois, and was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1946.  Fr. Matthew served as a writer for the magazine of the order, and became a Divine Word missionary in Papua, New Guinea from 1947 to 1951. Sensing all the while that his vocation was to the contemplative life, Fr. Matthew petitioned to enter the Abbey of Gethsemani in February 1960.  “A natural love for the monastic life drew me to Gethsemani and fulfilled a lifelong dream,” he said.  At Gethsemani, Fr. Matthew did many things. He once said, “Over the past decades, I have served in various capacities: master of the brothers, shoe shop, tailor shop, vocations office, and retreat house. Monastic life is everything I wanted, my happiness. All dreams fulfilled. But the fulfillment came slowly. Following your dreams and not giving up is my best recommendation.” Two interludes in his life are most worth mentioning.  First, Fr. Matthew served as Prior of Holy Mother of God Monastery in Henderson, North Carolina, a small foundation near Oxford that the Trappists took over from Benedictines in the 1970s. In those days, when I first met Fr. Matthew, he was ebullient, funny, and a committed motorcycle driver.  I can see him in my mind’s eye, zipping down the two-lane state roads, with his habit’s black scapular streaming behind him in the slip stream. I remember he loved and tended peacocks and pea hens that roosted in the pine trees bordering the chapel grounds, and he shared afternoon strolls with his dog and an obstreperous billy goat named “Philip Morris.”  It was during this period that Fr. Matthew protested the war in Vietnam in a most monastic way: he and his dog walked for peace all the way from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. His journey was carried widely in the media.  Standing on the banks of the Potomac River, looking over at the stately marble buildings of government, Fr. Matthew said that Washington looked to him like “frosting over so much burnt cake.” Second, Fr. Matthew received permission from Gethsemani to return to his beloved Papua, but this time as a hermit.  He lived on the coast, loved the Papuans, and sewed clothes for his living as a tailor.  During his hermitage, Fr. Matthew married Lady Poverty.  Upon his re-entrance to Gethsemani, he wrote his spiritual autobiography, Flute Solo. It was in this book that he revealed his homosexuality as a celibate monk.  Many years ago, I nervously came out to Fr. Matthew when I was on one of many retreats to the Abbey.  He was so pastoral, loving, and understanding.  He affirmed his own gayness, and mine, and advised me to live my dreams.  He also helped change my life.  “I will pray for you every day, Stephen,” he said, “as I say mass.”  And I believe he did. Every day. Without fail. Fr. Matthew served as Thomas Merton’s confessor from the days of his entrance to the Abbey and Merton’s death in 1968. He always said Merton was the finest monk of Gethsemani, because he knew that in order for God to get a hearing, you had to have cunning enough to use other means to do it.  Fr. Matthew must have taken those words to heart, for he will be best remembered and loved as the Guest House Chaplain and post-Compline preacher for years.  His homilies are online for readers at the Abbey website.  There are many ways God has of blessing the human race with gayness.  Fr. Matthew was the queerest person I ever met, or am likely to meet.  He hid nothing. He lived as a true child of his tradition, out in the open where God, the pea fowl, and the hierarchy could see. “Who wouldn’t want to live here?” he asked me one day when I was on a Fall retreat at the Abbey. “I am surrounded by good men, and get to wear beautiful clothes!” Now his transition is complete. He is with beloved Jesus, whom he loved as a consort and ascetic for 51 years.  Not bad for an Irishman, eh?.  Requiescat in pace, Padre.  ~ Stephen Sprinkle, Unfinished Lives Project Team Member

February 18, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, gay men, Kentucky, Remembrances, Roman Catholic Church and Homosexuality, Social Justice Advocacy, Thomas Merton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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