This web site is a memorial to those individuals who were passionate about the reform of the
Roman Catholic liturgy as set forth in Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)
and who now, in eternal life, worship the God whom they served in this life.

Columba Kelly, OSB

Columbia Kelly, OSB
October 30, 1930 – June 9, 2018

Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, 87, a monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN, died on June 9, 2018, at the monastery. He was a jubilarian both of profession and priesthood.

He was born in Williamsburg, Iowa, on October 30, 1930, and was given the name John Joseph at his baptism.

He attended St. Ambrose College, Davenport, Iowa, for several years before transferring to Saint Meinrad College. Invested as a novice monk on July 30, 1952, he professed simple vows on July 31, 1953, and his solemn vows on August 6, 1956.

Fr. Columba completed his theological studies in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood on July 5, 1958. The following year, he received a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’ Anselmo.

He then pursued graduate studies, earning his doctorate in Church music at Rome’s Musica Sacra in 1963. He studied under Dom Eugène Cardine, OSB, monk of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre in Solesmes, acknowledged as the father of the semiological interpretation of chant.

When he returned to Saint Meinrad in 1964, he was named the choirmaster of the monastic community and began to teach in both the College and the School of Theology. His lasting contribution was to introduce chant in English into the celebrations of the Divine Office and the Eucharist. The monastery’s collection of his chant compositions number nearly 2,000.

In addition to his many years teaching at Saint Meinrad, he taught courses on liturgical music for 12 summers at St. Joseph College, Rensselaer, IN. Other summer teaching assignments included the University of Wisconsin in Madison and California State University-Los Angeles.

Through his many workshops to parishes and religious communities, and through the collections of his antiphons published by GIA and Oregon Catholic Press, his work is known by many cantors, choirs and parish communities throughout the United States.

Known internationally in the field, Fr. Columba was a charter member of the Benedictine Musicians of the Americas, a member of the American Musicological Society, the American Guild of Organists, the National Catholic Music Educators Association, the Church Music Association of America, and the Composers’ Forum for Catholic Worship.

He was also a standing member of the Chant Division of the National Pastoral Musicians Association. In 2015, he was named only the second recipient of the Spiritus Liturgiae Award, given by The Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, IL.

In addition to his countless scores, Fr. Columba contributed to the literature on chant and sacred music. These include his 2003 book, Gregorian Chant Intonations and the Role of Rhetoric; “The Organ,” an article in a book sponsored by the National Liturgical Conference and the Church Music Association; and, in 2006, his translation of and notes to the first volume of Agustoni’s and Göschl’s An Introduction to the Interpretation of Gregorian Chant.

Fr. Columba also authored entries on the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Benedicamus Domino, and Ite Missa Est for the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

His service also included an assignment as prior (second in leadership) of the monastic community for six years (1978-84), and a long term as one of the commuting chaplains for Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand, IN.

Tribute prepared by the monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey.


In Memoriam: Columba Kelly, OSB

From April 2017 until the death of Fr. Columba Kelly in the early evening of June 9, 2018, I had the privilege to serve as Fr. Columba’s valet (a novice or junior monk who assists an older confrere with day-to-day tasks). I tidied-up Fr. Columba’s cell, took his linens to our laundry room, and bombarded him with innumerable questions about the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council and his role in them. Between my making his bed and vacuuming the carpet, he and I caught each other up on what occurred in our prayer and work that past week. Eventually, though, our conversations would drift to our observations on the liturgical life of the Church and monasticism as a way of life. I shared with Fr. Columba a confrere’s insight: “I have never been more in touch with my humanity than within the walls of this monastery.” Columba smirked and replied, “Benedict was truly a psychologist ahead of his time.”

Columba never eulogized himself, claiming he was an extraordinary man or that he single-handedly renewed chant after Vatican II. On the other hand, he acknowledged his role and the contributions that the monks of Saint Meinrad made to the liturgy and sacred music in the 1960s and beyond. He did not allow his work to overshadow the goal: That all English-speakers would be able to offer one actual, conscious, and fruitful sacrifice of praise to our triune God. Up to the last week of his life, he told me that, “No one person created this.”

During one of our Saturday morning chats, I asked Columba to sum up in a word or phrase the rationale behind his use of the Solesmes Method of plainchant composition. He stated – after a few ponderous moments – “Speech blossoming into song.” Columba was not shy about sharing his love for how chant should be viewed as “sung speech”; no doubt an idea he borrowed from our holy father, St. Benedict: “Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief” (The Rule of Benedict ch. 20, vv. 4-5a). Benedict wanted his monks and nuns to pray the psalms, the arrangement of which takes up 13 out of 73 chapters in the Rule (not to mention the countless liturgical-catechetical nuggets in other chapters). Columba composed his eight psalm tones so every Christian could pray the same words that Christ offered to our Father. He quite often said: “I’d much rather sing scripture; straight, no chaser.”

As a musician as well as a theologian, Columba saw his work as not his own – or even of our community’s – but as the work of God. Some scholars and academics may dissect the word “liturgy” to manufacture an agenda, but the monks of Saint Meinrad know even today that the liturgy is God’s work that, through our baptism into Christ’s one priesthood, we are ever-invited to participate in through our respective states in life – lay, clerical, religious, married, and even monastic. Saint Meinrad’s contribution to the work of liturgical renewal after Vatican II came about with God’s providence manifesting itself through the talents of several monks: Fr. Gavin Barnes, whose input on choral recitation still influences our prayer; Fr. Cyprian Davis, whose vast historical knowledge helped hand on the Church’s tradition of liturgical prayer; Fr. Simeon Daley, who gave to the liturgical renewal an authentic understanding of rubrics and custom; and Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh, one of the more well-known of the twentieth century liturgiologists, who brought an encyclopedic knowledge of liturgical aesthetics and best practices that have influenced extensive numbers of churches beyond the Catholic Church.

In those moments of cleaning and solving the Church’s liturgical problems, a friendship blossomed. I no longer saw Columba as an elder confrere, but as my brother. God called us both to Saint Meinrad Archabbey for reasons we one day may be told. For now, though, I remember fondly the informal monastic formation Columba gave me, not just in the areas of liturgy, the Solesmes Method, Gregorian seminology, or a vibrant history lesson; he taught me how to bear wrongs patiently, how to live in community, and, most of all, how God’s grace has a transformative effect over the course of one’s whole life.

Columba was many things – a monk, a priest, a theologian, a musician, and a teacher. Beyond these, though, the most important is that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ. He may have had his flaws and quirks like all the rest of us, but he will be remembered for his way of preaching the Good News through a medium that drew people into the very mystery of Salvation: The loving dialogue occurring timelessly between our Heavenly Father, his Sole-Begotten Son, and their Spirit of communion. Fr. Columba did not just bring chanting to the people or people to chanting, but he served as a bridge between Christ and his people; a task he undertook using the gifts and talents our Provident God gave to him during a decisive moment in church history. This will certainly not be the only tribute to make the rounds of the Catholic blog-o-sphere, but I hope it gives some insight into what I learned from a monk who wished to bring Christ’s words closer to people’s lips and, most of all, to their hearts. That is how I will remember my friend and brother, Fr. Columba Kelly, O.S.B.

Tribute prepare by Br. Stanley Rother Wagner, O.S.B., a junior monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. He made first vows, upon the completion of novitiate, in January 2018.