Kelty, Matthew

From Biographia Cisterciensis

Matthew Kelty

Matthew Kelty OCSO

Trappist of Gethsemani Abbey; preacher and spiritual author

* 25 Nov. 1915 Boston,
18 Feb. 2011 Trappist, Kentucky

Born as Charles Richard Kelty Jr. on November 25, 1915, in the Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, Mass., Fr Matthew Kelty was one of Gethsemani’s most prominent members, who touched many retreatants over the years with his compline talks, and many more people around the world with his writings. His parents were Charles Richard Kelty, a tool-and-die engineer, and Mary Jane Watson of Florence, New Jersey, his siblings were Louis, Marion, and Helen. The family soon moved to suburban Milton, where Kelty attended public schools from 1922 to 1934.

After that he went to the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, Illinois. Being ordained to the priesthood in August 1946 he served in the SVD missions to Papua New Guinea (1947 to 1951), then moved back to SVD Headquarters in Techny, Illinois in 1951, taking up editorial duties for the Society’s magazine. As the magazine was finished in November 1959 a lifelong love for monastic life drew Kelty to Gethsemani Abbey. He entered the novitiate in February 1960 and became a trappist monk – Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis) being his novice master. Dispensed from simple profession, Kelty took his final vows on June 24, 1962.

During the following years Fr. Matthew served his community in various functions, and as Thomas Mertons secretary and confessor until Mertons death in 1968. In 1970, Kelty was sent to a small, experimental monastery in Henderson, North Carolina, a small foundation near Oxford that the Trappists took over from Benedictines in 1970. It was during this period that Fr. Matthew protested the war in Vietnam in a most monastic way: he and his dog walked for peace all the way from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. His journey was carried widely in the media. When the little monastery was handed over to Spencer Abbey in 1973, he wished to explore a life of solitude, and received permission in 1973, to live in a hermitage in New Guinea, a place and whose people he loved. He lived on the coast, loved the Papuans, sewed clothes for his living as a tailor, and wrote his spiritual autobiography, Flute Solo: reflections of a Trappist hermit (Kansas City, 1979).

After returning to the monastery in 1982, he became chaplain to the guests and retreatants, to whom he gave, for many years, a spiritual conference each evening after Compline (from 1990 to 2006). He published several books with homilies, spiritual essays and chapter talks, including My Song is of Mercy, Gethsemani Homilies, Call of the Wild Geese, Sermons in a Monastery, and Singing for the Kingdom, all of which are still in print.

Fr. Matthew Kelty, after a brief illness, died peacefully during a short midday nap on Friday, February 18, 2008, lucid and interested up to the last, and was interred in the Abbeys cemetery the following monday. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville presided at the funeral Mass, Abbott Elias Dietz gave the homily. Dozens of fellow monks and priests and more than 100 visitors attended the funeral.

Matthew Kelty is also the subject of a documentary made by filmmaker Morgan Atkinson in 2005, The Poetry of a Soul.



F.: Charles Richard Kelty; M.: Mary Jane Watson; G.: one brother: Louis, two sisters: Marion, Helen.


Sac.: 15 Aug. 1946; Vest.: 26 Feb. 1960; Prof.: (f.) 24 June 1962.


My Song is of Mercy, Gethsemani Homilies, Call of the Wild Geese, Sermons in a Monastery, Singing for the Kingdom · Catalogue of Works

Citation: Kelty, Matthew, in: Biographia Cisterciensis (Cistercian Biography), Version vom 23.7.2011, URL:,_Matthew

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