On the faculty for more than 40 years, La Salle University retired professor of religion, Geffrey Kelly, Ph.D., died of pancreatic cancer Tuesday, May 30 while under hospice care. He was 84 years old.
Religious studies were more than the subject he taught, they were Kelly’s passion, having earned five academic degrees on the subject, and international acclaim as an author and researcher. Two of those degrees were earned at La Salle.
“Religious studies are more than pious devotions. Knowledge of religion is essential in order to understand the root courses of so many conflicts in our troubled world today and the demands religious faith makes on our moral behavior,” said Kelly in a 2007 La Salle publication.
First and foremost, Kelly was a teacher, receiving three prominent La Salle awards through the years –the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Dr. Roland Holroyd Award for Distinguished Teaching and Service, and the University’s Faculty Distinguished Scholar Award.
“He always looked for another perspective and encouraged us, his students, to do the same, hoping we’d come away with an appreciation for a different culture. I adored the man. He spoke seven languages, taught at Princeton, could tell you most anything in Irish history, and somehow he was still humble and interested in what YOU had to say,” said Michael Donovan, ’05. “He was also fun. He liked to dance, and was just plain great company. I will miss the conversations most of all. A warmer, more compassionate gentleman, the world has never known.”
Kelly was a leading scholar regarding the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, considered the most famous martyr of the German Resistance to Adolf Hitler and Nazism. He authored numerous books and articles on Bonhoeffer, in addition to serving two terms as President of the International Bonhoeffer Society (English Language section).
Beloved by his students, many remaining in touch long after graduation, Kelly also directed La Salle’s Ireland travel-study course and was an adviser to the Sigma Phi Lambda Fraternity, both for many years.
“Over all of his years with us, in additional roles as religion department chairperson and emeritus professor, Geff inspired generations of Explorers with his unlimited enthusiasm and affection – for the study of theology, the search for God, his students, colleagues, family, the fraternity, the Christian Brothers, and La Salle University,” said friend and colleague Brother Michael McGinniss, F.S.C., Ph.D., president emeritus, professor, and director, University Honors Program at La Salle.
Kelly received his bachelor’s degree from La Salle University in 1954. He went on to complete three master’s degrees, from La Salle, Villanova, and Lumen Vitae in Belgium. In 1972, Kelly received a Doctor of Sacred Theology from Louvain in Rome.
A longtime resident of Glenside, Pa., Kelly is survived by his wife, Joan, daughter, Susan, and sons Brendan and Michael, also La Salle alums.
Viewings will be Sunday, June 4, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and Monday, June 5, 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at Church of St. Luke the Evangelist, 2316 Fairhill Ave. (at Easton Rd.) in Glenside. Funeral Mass follows at 11:00 a.m.