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Father Kelley’s computer

A summer of horrible news ends on a triumphant note.

As a practicing Catholic, avid Minnesota Twins baseball fan, and follower of tech stocks, news this past year has been tough to bear. Yet it’s my job to follow the news closely and report on how the developments affect our audience, especially in my weekly e-mail Newsletter. So I just grin and bear it every day as I read the news form various sources in print and online.

I was having a particularly hard time of it one day when I heard the news that my friend and long-time parish priest Father John Kelley died. I had met Fr. Kelley early in my association with his parish–Nativity of our Lord in St. Paul, Minn. Shortly before joining the parish, my wife Beth took a job cooking for him and his brother priests. I had just taken my current job, which signaled to everyone I knew that I could help them with their computers. Fr. Kelley was the first in a line of folks asking me for PC help.

I advised Fr. Kelley to buy from a local white-box PC maker because he would probably get the best service in local shops. Though I was flattered by his request, I didn’t exactly cherish the thought of serving as his personal computer doctor. Better to leave that to the professionals down the street who built the machine in the first place. But he insisted on shopping at Best Buy because Richard Schulze–the company’s founder and CEO–was one of the parish’s biggest contributors. So I drove him over to the nearest Best Buy and we picked out the machine that would not only help him with his Quicken accounting program but also allow him to play various golf games on the PC. I even gave him several games and additional courses to play from ComputerUser’s stock of reviewed software.

I carried the machine up the three flights of stairs to his office and spent the better part of a day plugging everything together and loading software and back-up data from his old machine. Almost as soon as we had the system all set up, he started having problems with it. The video card driver wasn’t registered with Windows 95, so we had to trick the machine into working with it as though it were a registered driver. This conflicted with the golf game on the 14th hole of St. Andrews, locking up the machine. I showed him how to quit just the golf game (Control/Alt/Delete: End Task) and save his Quicken spreadsheet in the process, but he could never remember how to do this, which was why I often got this call:


“James, the [darn] computer froze up again. How did you get me back to Quicken?”

His phone manner, or lack thereof, usually led me to drive over to the rectory and climb the stairs to his office. As time went on, the machine developed more and more of these annoying quirks, and we finally had to bring it in for warranty service on the hard drive, which meant repeating the setup process and starting the steady accumulation of conflicts all over again. Fr. Kelley’s phone manner was not the only crusty aspect of his personality. He would on occasion curse at the screen, pound the keyboard, or just get up and mutter to himself while looking out the window. But the more time I spent with him, the more I came to look past his crusty exterior and appreciate the man for all of the warm-hearted service he gave to the community.

No priest ever worked harder for one parish than Fr. Kelley. The last nine of his 25 years at Nativity were marred by a protracted battle with lung cancer. Yet he served parishioners who were far less sick than himself as though the situation were reversed. The very act of serving people and seeing small miracles in their faces kept him going against long odds. This love of service showed in the way he served. He lost all the crustiness when teaching schoolkids, preparing couples for marriage, or comforting the bereaved at funerals. When I complimented him by pointing out the sheer number of students, couples, and survivors he had ministered to in all his years at Nativity, his crustiness reappeared. “I’m just doing my job!” he scowled. He was most comfortable doing his job and least comfortable accepting praise for it.

As tough as it was to hear the news initially, Fr. Kelley’s death was a turning point for me in the way I view my job. If there’s ever a time to meet your maker, it was Fr. Kelley’s time. He avoided the spotlight in life, and only through death did others shine that spotlight on his life. He is now a role model for hundreds of people who were not previously inclined to look past his crusty exterior. The example of his life taught people to gain strength from the drudgery of daily work and find inspiration in small miracles. The more I thought about this fact, the more I thought his death was a very good thing. As his suffering died, his legacy could live on.

Since his death, I have been inclined to view my job in a new light. (Not that it’s anything as important as Fr. Kelley’s work, but I do see it as a service to our community of readers.) Where I once cringed when I picked up my papers at the front desk, I now scan them inquisitively for small details that might be relevant to our readers. Where I once made excuses for not taking a pile of research home, I now shoulder the burden with enthusiasm, if not joy. And just as Fr. Kelley was energized by the service he gave to his community, my work buoys me.

The news itself has been a bit more uplifting of late, highlighted by the improbable dream season for my ballclub. But I’m also seeing the news in a more positive light. The struggles the Church is going through constitute necessary surgery before healing can take place. Something similar is going on in the financial sector. The end result of both processes must be positive. And I’m playing cheerleader for our beleaguered analysts, who suffer from a lack of confidence in the technology sector. How do you know which way you’re sailing without any wind in your sails? I say just be patient. The wind will pick up and tech will be sailing again soon. Until then, look for small miracles in the faces of those you serve every day.

That’s what I intend to do anyway. And the next time someone praises me for a job well done, I’ll simply say, “I’m just doing my job!” and leave it at that.

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