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Jesuit missionary features on St Patrick’s Day stamps

By Ann Marie Foley - 11 March, 2020

Special stamps to mark St Patrick’s Day feature a Jesuit priest and aid worker Fr Michael J Kelly.

The series of five stamps under the theme “Irish Abroad” tells the story of emigration. The stamps pay tribute to Irish people who have had an international influence and highlight the shared experiences of Irish people leaving Ireland for economic, cultural and humanitarian reasons.

“More than 70 years ago as a schoolboy I used to collect stamps and had quite a good and valuable collection (which went to the Jesuit Missions when I entered the Society). But I never thought that one day I would be an item in somebody else’s collection,” said Fr Michael J Kelly.

“I am absolutely delighted that those who left Ireland are being commemorated through this stamp issue, but I’m deeply humbled at the thought that they are being represented, remembered and honoured through me,” he told Irish Jesuit News.

He said that there are hundreds of others who are more deserving of such recognition.

“I think also of the thousands who opened to me the doors of their personal lives and sufferings as they shared with me their HIV-infected situation and their anxieties. Very few of these were Irish, but they retained hope and dignity through the ministries of HIV/AIDS-workers who came from Ireland, and today, with the benefits of HIV treatment, many of them are happily alive and praising God for the people of Ireland,” he added.

Three of the stamps feature themes of emigration and include a photo of people gathering in “The Galtymore Dancehall” in Cricklewood, London. On another stamp there is a detail from the painting “Emigrants letter and envelope, 1988” by Geraldine O’Reilly, representing communication with home and the importance of staying in touch.

Two other stamps feature Irish people who have emigrated and made an impact on the world from the 1800s right up to the present. They include Dame Kathleen Lonsdale (scientist), Richard Harris (actor) and Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (musician) on one stamp. Edna O’Brien (author), Fr Michael J Kelly and Mary Elmes (humanitarian) feature on the other stamp.

Fr Kelly, who originally came from Tullamore, Co. Offaly, said that, as the situation and role of women has been important in his life, so it is significant that he is on a stamp in the company of two women. Mary Elmes took many risks during World War II to enable hundreds of Jewish children escape from Nazi-occupied Paris, and Edna O’Brien is a renowned novelist.

Back in the 1940s, three of those who feature in the stamps were at school in different parts of Ireland – Edna O’Brien with the Sisters of Mercy in Clare, Richard Harris at the Crescent in Limerick, and Fr Kelly at the Christian Brothers in Tullamore.

The stamp was issued on 27 February 2020. An Post stated that it was in recognition of Fr Micheal’s 65 years of Jesuit ministry in Zambia, where he “reached into the hearts of people through education and HIV/AIDS-advocacy”. An Post said that the stamps will add a very special dimension to cards, letters and parcels being posted to family and friends all over the world to mark St Patrick’s Day 2020.

Minister of State for the Diaspora, Mr. Ciarán Cannon T.D., said: “I am delighted to see the launch of this set of stamps which commemorate the Irish emigration experience, and honour the contributions of the global Irish diaspora.”

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