The Benedictine Abbot from Parramatta

By Jordan Grantham, 11 December 2017
Abbot Michael Kelly OSB Silv, Abbot General of the Sylvestrine Benedictine Order, next to their ancient Roman Church, St Stefano del Cacco. Image: Kandy Benedictine College.

St Sylvester Gozzolini founded the Sylvestrine Benedictines in Italy almost 800 years ago.

Today the order’s global Abbot General is from Parramatta, having attended St Monica’s Primary School, North Parramatta and Marist Brothers Parramatta for his secondary education.

Most Rev Abbot Michael Kelly OSB Silv entered St Benedict’s Monastery, Arcadia at the age of 18, over half a century ago and returned to St Monica’s Parish, North Parramatta for ordination to the priesthood.

“I had a great aunt who was a Benedictine nun. Then I met monks of our Congregation who used to help on Sundays in the North Parramatta parish and through them came to know the monastery at Arcadia,” Abbot Kelly told Catholic Outlook.

Now Abbot Kelly is based in Rome, at the historic monastery of St Stefano del Cacco, which dates back to around the beginning of the 9th century and is located in the heart of Rome, close to the Pantheon.

His formation took place in Turramurra, the University of New England and Rome, where he studied Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He has a deeply rooted interest in the origins of monasticism and in its contemporary expression. This interest includes Desert Spirituality.

“The desert signifies the absence of God and yet at the same time demands total reliance on God as there are no human support systems to fall back on,” he said.

In the desert, people must confront themselves before God.

“All our masks and self-defences of the false self crumble and, as everything within rises to the surface, we are forced to see ourselves as we really are.”

He served as Conventual Prior in Arcadia from 1984 until 1996 and was elected Abbot General in 2007 and was re-elected in 2013.

He returned to Australia in 2008 to help lead retreats following desert spirituality in Alice Springs, before and after World Youth Day Sydney.

He has also lectured in Christian meditation, including on two visits to East Timor.

Abbot Kelly’s broader mission is the promotion of monasticism in the modern era.

“The revitalisation of the monastic life in the universal Church is the contemporary challenge of a monk,” he said.

Abbot Kelly points to the revitalisation of monasticism in the Coptic Church in Egypt.

“From a handful of monks in a few monasteries, there are now hundreds in each and expanding, most of the candidates being university qualified,” he said.

“Perhaps this is owing to charismatic leadership and a Church that is resilient owing to persecution.”

“I think the most important thing is witness. A monastic community should point to ultimate values and the ultimate meaning of life.”

“It should offer a way to know oneself, difficult today in a context of political correctness where knowing oneself becomes difficult and self-honesty a challenge.”

Abbot Kelly said that the highest priority for the revitalisation of monasticism is devotion “to the prayer that unites a monastery in praise of the Creator through the Liturgy of the Hours.”

“This should be uplifting, as well as praising God, through music and art, reflecting the traditional Benedictine duet of prayer and work,” he said.

Abbot Kelly earnestly prays and toils for the accomplishment of this monastic aspiration.

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