BENNINGTON -- After more than 8-1/2 years of total service in two separate stints in Bennington, the Rev. William H. Kelley, C.S.C., is retiring.
He officially retired on July 1 but he is remaining at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales parish an extra 10 days or so to fill in while the pastor, the Rev. Robert Wiseman, C.S.C., is away on vacation.
"I'm a consultant now, and I'm the only one in town," Kelley said with a laugh when interviewed on July 3.
Kelley, 75, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross who grew up in Lowell, Mass., spent a year in the late 1960s in the Holy Cross novitiate at what is now Southern Vermont College in Bennington.
"When I went, the novitiate here was an active farm -- 25 milking cows, a couple hundred chickens. I was the pig man for the most of the time," he said with a laugh. "It was kind of a year-long retreat and it worked out fine in the sense (that) being on the farm was kind of to keep us occupied and to keep us fed. But the main thing is the quietness and kind of the interior reflection, which is pretty essential for a spiritual life."
He was ordained in 1970 and has served in Massachusetts, New York City, Texas, and for six years in Bethel, Vt.
In Bennington, Kelley served as associate pastor at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales from 1996 to 2001, as pastor from 2010 to 2013 and again as associate pastor from October 2013 to the present.
A sign that it was time to slow down a bit came just after Christmas when Kelley was admitted to the hospital for just the third time in his life. "Medically it was pneumonia but I think it was just recovering from Christmas time. The body is saying -- ‘stop.'"
Kelley will be moving to a retirement home for healthy Holy Cross priests in New Bedford, Mass. Unlike bishops, there is no mandatory retirement age for priests.
What will he be doing? "Right now it's undecided in the sense of I just want to make the transition. And it will be nice to not have the alarm go off at 6 o'clock in the morning, as every day for the last 30 years," he said with a laugh. It seems likely he will be seeing more of two siblings who live in the Bay State.
"Too very often I've needed to be here," he said. "This will give me the time to be able to do some of the stuff I haven't been able to do."
On Sunday, June 22, the parish had a party for Kelley in the gym, at which they sang a song titled "When Father Bill is Smiling" to the tune of ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" but with special lyrics. It begins: "When Father Bill is smiling/ Sure to brighten up your day./ Through his homilies and stories,/ We have learned to sing and pray."
The July 6 church bulletin notes his day of departure and says, "While he will be deeply missed here, we wish him every joy in his retirement."
Kelley said he enjoyed the party, which was open to anyone who wanted to attend. "It was just kind of a nice feeling of hearing people appreciated some of the things I've done," he said.
What is he going to miss about Bennington?
"The people, to begin with," he said. "There's a lot of good people, and somebody said ... ‘a priest has a ringside view of life.'
"And I've been there when a number of people have died and I've been there when a number of people have been born and got married," Kelley said. "And you kind of get into people's lives, as much as they're willing to share. Just by the nature of the work of being a priest you're going places that you normally wouldn't go otherwise ... like a deathbed."
In addition to missing the interaction with the people, "also too there's a lot of good people, and it's an inspiration for me to see the goodness of many of the people," he said.
As an example, he noted that when this reporter arrived at the church for this interview a truck from the Vermont Food Bank was outside delivering food for HIS Pantry, a food pantry for those in need located in the parish center.
Kelley said his replacement will be a Holy Cross priest who will arrive on July 15 but did not have the man's exact name available.
Anything to add?
"As I said it's been a good time and it's just the time has come and my body is saying ‘rest for a while,'" Kelley said.
Mark E. Rondeau can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @banner_religion