St. John’s University Mourns the Loss of Sr. Margaret John Kelly, D.C. ’64G, ’67Ph.D.

November 29, 2022

St. John’s University is mourning the loss of Sr. Margaret John Kelly, D.C. ’64G, ’67Ph.D., the founder and former Executive Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. Sr. Kelly, a devoted St. John’s faculty member and administrator, passed away at Villa St. Michael in Emmitsburg, MD, on November 24.

Upon her arrival at St. John’s in 1993, Sr. Kelly founded the Vincentian Center, a position she held for 21 years. The center’s continuing mandate is to animate University-wide consciousness of the Vincentian charism by encouraging and supporting academic ventures, especially those related to social justice.

“Sr. Kelly was a woman who got things started and completed,” said Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M., who succeeded her as Executive Director of the Vincentian Center.  “At St. John's, over the past 20 years, one could point to the Vincentian Center for Church and Society and all of its programming, including: the Vincentian Research Fellows, the United Nations, the Acculturation Program for International Priests, the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice, the Biennial Poverty Conference, the programs for Church Management, and Founder's Week. As I have taken up the role of Executive Director, I can only marvel at her original ideas, her focus on the poor and justice, and her commitment to the Catholic and Vincentian character of our University.  She had few equals. Her goodness and intelligence attracted collaborators of all kinds. It was a blessing to know and work with her.”

“Sr. Margaret was a wonderful woman and dedicated Daughter of Charity who led St. John’s University to integrate the Vincentian mission in its academics, administration, and student life,” said Mary Ann Dantuono, J.D., former Associate Director of the Vincentian Center. “She will be missed by many, not only at the University, but also in the Church and the Vincentian family, and by each individual who sought her wise and compassionate counsel and her prayers. I was privileged to collaborate with her for nearly 20 years at the Vincentian Center.”

During her tenure, Sr. Kelly helped institute University Service Day and was intimately involved in the organization and preparation of Founder’s Week, an annual celebration of the University’s Vincentian heritage that combines lectures and prayerful reflections with tangible service opportunities.

Discussing Founder’s Week, Sr. Kelly said, “It was obvious to us that many people did not know Vincent de Paul and did not see the linkage with the past.” She noted that we live in a culture that is inspired by its heroes and heroines, and this brought to life those who sought to alleviate suffering and bring justice to the world, hopefully inspiring others to do likewise. “We said let’s just think about Vincent and what he means to us today—not just the history, but the relevance. It gets bigger every year.”

Sr. Kelly also oversaw the University’s relationship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, identifying faculty members who could aid the mission with programs and conferences related to issues of grave concern to the Church. “Our faculty are sharing and investing their intellectual capital into ways that are improving the world,” she stressed. “You can take a gift that you have, as well as the knowledge and experience, and put it to a use that very few people can do.”

She added, “The United Nations is a very appropriate place for us to be. Like Vincent, we’re at the service of people who are marginalized.”

In 2009, Sr. Kelly established a chapter of the Ladies of Charity at St. John’s to engage the University’s women in leadership roles and its alumnae in charitable works.

After entering the Daughters of Charity in 1957, Sr. Kelly spent several years ministering in education before her studies at St. John’s University, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in English and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in English. Upon earning her degrees, she served on the faculties of St. Joseph College, Emmitsburg, MD, and Catherine Labouré Junior College in Boston, MA, where she also served as President.

She then served as Vice President of Mission Services at the Catholic Health Association of the United States in St. Louis, MO, from 1980 to 1984. Before coming to St. John’s, she was Provincial Superior of the Northeast Province of the Daughters of Charity from 1987 to 1993.

In addition to her tenure as Executive Director of the Vincentian Center, Sr. Kelly served as Interim Dean of St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 1998 to 1999, and as Special Assistant to the President from 1995 to 1998.

Throughout her life she served on the boards of many health, social, and educational institutions. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Sr. Kelly was granted the Pro Ecclesia et Poniface Medal by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Friday, December 2, at 7 p.m. 
Villa Chapel
333 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD

Mass of Christian Burial. 
Saturday, December 3, at 11 a.m.
The National Basilica Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
339 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD

Burial will follow at Sacred Heart Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Sr. Margaret John Kelly’s name to the Daughters of Charity, 4330 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63108.

Expressions of sympathy may be sent to
Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M. ’13HON
Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Room 123
[email protected]