Tributes are being expressed throughout the pro-life community for Father Tony Kelly, a Basilian priest and dedicated supporter of the pro-life cause.

Fr. Kelly died peacefully of heart failure on Sept. 29 at Providence Centre in Toronto, following back surgery that left him without the use of his arms and legs. He had fallen into a coma during the last week of his life.

“He was just such a gentle, loving man, a real sweetheart,” said June Scandiffio, a teacher and former executive director of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, who had known Fr. Kelly for about 30 years. “He was always ready to come out, no matter what the weather … Whenever we would have a picket or go to an MP’s office, he would be there. He always did whatever he could, in the most loving, gentle way. He was an inspiration to be around.”

Father Patrick Gorman, a fellow priest and associate at St. Michael’s College School, remembered Fr. Kelly as a man who was very enthusiastic about supporting those things he thought were right. “He had a childlike attitude to life – you knew exactly how he felt about everything, right away … He was certainly morally supportive of pro-life and saw the evil of abortion.”

Fr. Kelly was born in Toronto in 1921 and, after spending his formative years in Toronto and Detroit, began studies for the priesthood in 1941. He was ordained in 1950 and spent the next 31 years teaching Greek, Latin and religious studies at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. He went on to pastoral ministry in Lethbridge, Alta. for 10 years.

Illness began to afflict Fr. Kelly in 1992, when he was assigned to Anglin House in Toronto, where he organized study groups and small activities.

At the vigil service, Father Neil Hibberd (a former student of Fr. Kelly) outlined the story of Fr. Kelly’s life through Scripture quotations: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great, or marvels beyond me. Truly, I have set my soul in silence and peace. As a child has rest in his mother’s arms, even so my soul.”

“He was dedicated and inspiring, a very saintly man,” added Scandiffio. “He made everyone feel very comfortable. Sometimes, when you’re picketing or protesting, it can be nerve-wracking … He always made you feel as though it was the proper thing to do. He granted a dignity and legitimacy to what we were doing.”

Scandiffio said Fr. Kelly was a pro-life pioneer, having attended at founding meetings of pro-life groups including Coalition for Life and Campaign Life. “The last time I saw him was about a year ago in June. He was at (St. Michael’s College) school and he was in a wheelchair. But he was so positive, reminiscing in a very happy way. He was a very modest man, but his quiet witness inspired others.”

Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, remembers Fr. Kelly at a meeting in Toronto in the late 1970s, saying that the pro-life movement was missing prayer. Twenty years later, just before lunch each day, CLC staff and volunteers gather to pray together. “It helps us remember that this is God’s work, not ours.”