Michael and Cheryl Kelly of Columbia receive papal honors


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Michael and Cheryl Kelly have been helping build up the Church in and around Columbia for decades.

Now, their efforts have garnered recognition from the highest echelons of the Church.

On behalf of Pope Francis, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presented Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, longtime members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, with the prestigious Knight of Pope St. Sylvester and Dame of Pope St. Sylvester award.

The honors were given “in recognition of your contributions to the well-being and growth of the Church and the Catholic Faith, as a sign of our gratitude,” according to a proclamation from the Vatican.

The Kellys are only the second and third people of this diocese to receive this award in the diocese’s 67-year history.

The order, established by Pope Gregory XVI in 1841, is an award bestowed by his papal successors to Catholic laymen who by their examples in business, the professions, the military and society have lived exemplary lives of charity.

“It is the least known of the papal orders, but one of the most cherished due to its rarity of bestowal, especially in the United States of America,” noted Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the diocese.

“The unique ribbon, however, immediately identifies it as one of papal knighthood and ladyhood,” he stated.

Bishop McKnight conferred the honor on May 18 during the Saturday Vigil Mass of Pentecost in Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

“I am personally grateful (to the Kellys) for their presence in our local Church, and I have found them to be great examples of our Catholic faith in the flesh,” the bishop stated.

“Good role models”

Mr. and Mrs. Kelly met while studying at the University of Missouri.

Mr. Kelly was raised as a member of St. Joseph Parish in Edina.

Mrs. Kelly grew up in Kansas City. She began attending Our Lady of Lourdes Church with her future husband and was received into the Church on her 21st birthday.

Together, the Kellys have been instrumental in the development of Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, supporting the school financially,  serving on the Tolton Catholic Advisory Council, and the Tolton Catholic Finance committee.

Father Christopher Cordes, who was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish for eight and a half years, testified to the Kellys’ commitment to the Catholic faith, generosity to the parish and diocese, and eagerness to help him at the parish whenever needed.

Mr. Kelly served as chairman for the fundraising campaigns when the present Our Lady of Lourdes Church was built in 1999 and when a major addition to Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School was built in 2018.

He sought and negotiated the purchase of the land for Tolton Catholic and an adjacent parcel for further expansion for the diocese; and presently serves on Tolton Catholic’s Board of Directors and as Vice Chairman of the Diocesan Finance Council.

Mrs. Kelly has served the Church and the community as a member of many committees and boards, including the School Advisory Board, the building committee for the recent school expansion, and two fundraising campaigns for building expansion.

Mr. and Mrs. Kelly have been members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHS) since 2000, helping to support ministries to pilgrims and people in need in the Holy Land.

The couple served on the committee hosting two annual meetings for the EOHS.

They became Area Councillors for the order in the Jefferson City and Springfield-Cape Girardeau dioceses, completing their term of leadership last year.

The Kellys support numerous community organizations and Catholic charities. They eagerly grow and share their faith in ways that make a practical difference in people’s lives.

They have three children and nine grandchildren, with one on the way.

“Mike and Cheryl, thank you for being good role models as lay Catholics,” said Bishop McKnight. “I am very proud to serve our beloved Church together with you, and I am grateful that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has bestowed this special dignity and honor upon you. Congratulations!”

The order

The only other person in the history of this diocese to be inducted into the Order of St. Sylvester was the late Emil Schwartz, who spearheaded his family’s substantial gift that resulted in the building of the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center in Jefferson City in 2005.

The honor is named for Pope St. Sylvester, a fourth-century Pope who baptized Emperor Constantine the Great of Rome, who, by the Edict of Milan (313) had freed the Church from persecution and legal discrimination and disabilities, thus allowing her to spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire.

Sylvester was also Pope during the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325, in which the Church averted a schism and addressed a particularly destructive and widespread Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

The 33rd Pope’s legacy also includes several Church institutions that continue to function to this day, and several impressive churches that continue to serve parishioners in Rome.

The emblem

The insignia of the Order of St. Sylvester is composed of a gold-rimmed, eight pointed white enamel cross. Gold rays generate from the center medallion between each of the four arms of the cross.

The center medallion is worked in midnight blue enamel and portrays the golden effigy of St. Sylvester. It is surmounted by a papal tiara and the keys, hanging from a black silk ribbon with three narrow red stripes.

On the medallion’s reverse is the founding date (1844) and the reorganization date (1905) of the order.

The placca (star) of the order has the insignia of the order mounted onto an eight-pointed silver star. The star is always worn on the left breast.