Leading Catholic pro-life advocate and legislative lobbyist dies at 88

BALTIMORE — Patricia Kelly, a tireless advocate for the pro-life cause whose gentle but persistent lobbying efforts helped secure a ban on physician-assisted suicide in Maryland, died Sept. 4 at Portumna, her family farm in Carroll County. She was 88 and had been in declining health in recent years.

A mother of 10 and a parishioner of St. Joseph in Taneytown, Maryland, Kelly volunteered for Maryland Right to Life from 1980 to 1990 before working for 11 years as a legislative lobbyist focusing on pro-life concerns for the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Annapolis-based legislative lobbying arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

Patricia Kelly is seen in this undated photo. She was a legislative lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference and volunteered for Maryland Right to Life. Kelly died Sept. 4, 2020. She was 88. (CNS photo/CNS photo/courtesy Kelly Family via Catholic Review)

“Before the Maryland Legislature enacted a very permissive pro-abortion law in the 1990s, Pat was instrumental in keeping a finger in the dike — in holding back the ever-increasing pressure for liberalizing the state’s abortion law,” said Richard J. Dowling, the former executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference who hired Kelly to work for the conference.

Dowling noted that Kelly was an important advocate for passing the ban on assisted suicide. She also helped lay the groundwork for an eventual ban on the death penalty in Maryland.

“More than anyone, she was responsible for keeping the disparate factions of Maryland’s pro-life movement unified and focused,” Dowling told the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

Timothy Maloney, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Prince George’s County, called Kelly “one of one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”

“In Annapolis, she was deeply respected, even by those on the other side,” said Maloney, who serves on the Maryland Catholic Conference’s administrative board. “I think they could sense her integrity and the deep conviction behind her advocacy.”

Maloney said Kelly was “wise, kind and direct.”

“She was someone people confided in,” he said, “and you never had to guess where you stood with her.”

Kelly grew up in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. She graduated from Notre Dame Preparatory School in 1950 and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. For several years, she taught at the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, a residential school in Baltimore County for children with special needs.

She met her future husband, Dr. Edward M. Kelly, on a blind date. They raised 10 children in the Ten Hills section of Baltimore, where they attended St. William of York Parish.

John Kelly, Patricia Kelly’s eldest child, said his mother was a selfless person who was always trying to do the best for her children. His parents were able to send all their children to Catholic schools all the way through college. The girls attended Notre Dame Preparatory School; the boys went to Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Maryland.

“She ran the basketball program at St. William of York,” he said, “and was involved in the Loyola High School Mothers Club.”

Her love for children and her deep-rooted Catholic faith were the reasons she was so passionately pro-life, he said.

“It was a belief that life comes from God,” John Kelly said. “He is the first and final arbiter of life. She very much believed children are from God and you don’t destroy God’s work.”

After Kathleen Marie Kelly, one of her daughters, was killed in an automobile accident in 1983, Patricia Kelly became even more of a rock for the family, John Kelly said.

“It was crushing to both my parents,” he said, “but her faith was deep and I think that’s what got her through it.”

Patricia Kelly was involved in helping the Archdiocese of Baltimore prepare for the 1995 visit of St. John Paul II and was able to meet the Polish pontiff during his visit. A treasured family photo shows a smiling Kelly shaking hands with the pope.

Even after she retired from the Maryland Catholic Conference, she continued to volunteer for the organization.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori called Kelly “truly a blessing to all who knew her.”

“I had the pleasure of working with Pat Kelly for many years,” he said, “and can think of no one who brought a more generous and kind spirit to her work on behalf of the pro-life cause.”

She is survived by her husband of 63 years, nine children, 23 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and a brother and a sister.

A funeral Mass was celebrated Sept. 9 at St. Joseph in Taneytown, followed by her burial and an outdoor reception on Kelly’s family farm.