Dr. Joan Kelly leads Catholic Identity Series

SHELTON—With topics ranging from Marian Devotions to the History of Catholicism in Connecticut, Dr. Joan Kelly of Sacred Heart University engaged participants with doctrine, anecdotes, and humor in a recent special lectures series titled “Catholic Identity: Renewing Our Appreciation, ”.

Father Michael Dogali, pastor at St. Joseph, feels talks such as these encourage people to get re-involved in Church activities after much time apart during the pandemic. “This type of ‘adult education’ is so important. It brings people together and allows them to get in touch with their faith again,” he said of these one-hour lectures. “There is something for everyone, and they’re so uplifting.”

Dr. Kelly’s first session on Historical Roots of the Creed set the foundation for the series as she focused on the meaning behind some of the Creed’s specific phrases. “One God, the Father Almighty,” she said, describes the power of God as the creator of Heaven and Earth, while “Only Begotten Son of God” confirms the belief that Jesus was “not made.” Understanding the four pillars of the Church—creed, morality, sacraments, and prayer—is “how we nurture what we believe,” Dr. Kelly said.

A discussion of the Marian Devotions included the Blessed Mother’s role in the church and how she is portrayed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is through Luke, Dr. Kelly reminded the audience, that we hear the origins of the “Hail Mary” when Mary’s cousin Elizabeth greets her with the words: “Blessed art thou among women.” She also detailed stories of Marian Devotions throughout history, including the Feast of the Holy Rosary in 1571 and the proclamation of Mary as the Patron Saint of the United States in 1846.

After lecturing on the Creed and the veneration of Mary, Dr. Kelly transitioned to Catholic history in Connecticut during her third session. Stories of Father James Fitton, who celebrated the state’s first Mass in 1780, of Father Michael McGivney and the founding of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, and of the establishment of the Diocese of Bridgeport after World War II enlightened attendees.

Kathleen Lozinak, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church, said hearing someone so passionate speak about the Catholic faith and its history is rejuvenating. “Dr. Kelly is more of a storyteller than a speaker,” Lozinak said. “Her ability to make history come alive is a true gift.”

In recognition of the Year of St. Joseph, Dr. Kelly concluded the lecture series with accounts of how this Patron Saint of the Universal Church is portrayed in the Bible, honored throughout the world, and relatable to many. “Pope Francis wants us to see this carpenter from first century Galilee with new eyes,” she said. “We need a fresh start in our devotion to him.”

Scholars often wonder about Joseph’s age, Dr. Kelly said, as she asked the audience: Was he an old man? Was he youthful? “We don’t know, but old men don’t walk 40 miles from Bethlehem to Egypt!” she laughed, alluding to the Holy Family’s flight to escape King Herod after Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew.

According to Dr. Kelly, the relevance of St. Joseph to people around the world is profound. He is seen as faithful to his duty as husband and father and dignified as a carpenter who embraced his vocation. Many observe his feast day on March 19 when, in some New England cities, “The zeppole sell out in a half hour!” she said, referencing the traditional Italian pastries. Pope Francis, she added, keeps a statue of a sleeping St. Joseph by his bed, where he tucks his own intentions each night.

With a personal connection to this beloved saint, Dr. Kelly, a graduate of St. Joseph College (now University) in West Hartford, proudly held up her ring of St. Joseph, adorned with a carpenter’s shield, cross, crown, and lilies, before concluding this final lecture.

Father Dogali, who has known Dr. Kelly for 30 years, said she has a strong following and has always been a favorite lecturer. “She brings a female perspective to the Creed which is so important,” he said. “Being exposed to these different views is always broadening. She gets everyone’s attention—those from different ages and backgrounds—and engages them all.”

By Emily Clark