“I FEEL greatly honoured, greatly humbled and greatly privileged.” The words of Tullamore native, Professor Father Michael Kelly on the occasion of his conferral with an Honorary Doctorate Award by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).
Professor Fr Michael Kelly was born in Tullamore, in 1929. Fr Kelly studied at University College Dublin and was awarded a first class honours BA in Maths and Mathematical Physics, in 1952.
He went on to receive a licentiate in philosophy (maximum cum laude) in 1955 and was ordained in 1961.
On completion of his studies he moved to Zambia. At first he taught at secondary school level and, during the period just before and after Independence, served as Head of Canisius High School.
He completed his PhD studies in the area of child and educational psychology in 1974 and subsequently became a senior lecturer and Dean of the School of Education in the University of Zambia (UNZA), in 1975. He served as pro-vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellor. In 1987, he became Professor of Education.
It’s a measure of Fr Kelly’s standing in Zambia and his commitment to the country that he became a Zambian citizen in April 1968.
Throughout his period at the University of Zambia, Fr Kelly was closely involved with the development of education in Zambia, participating in the educational reform movement in the 1970’s, the production of the 1991 policy report Focus on Learning, and the development, in 1996, of the current education policy Educating Our Future.
He has written and acted vigorously on behalf of better educational opportunities for girls.
From the late 1980’s, as Zambia was in the throes of dealing with the devastating impact of the AIDS pandemic, Fr Michael redirected his attention to addressing HIV and AIDS.
While much of the attention in the HIV /AIDS arena has been on the area of treatment and care, Fr Kelly has been a consistent advocate, at national and international levels, about the importance of prevention and the role of education in that context.
He has consistently pointed out that education is the most effective ‘social vaccine’ against HIV and AIDS – that education in its own right helps
Fr Kelly’s long list of publications includes some fifteen books, numerous articles in professional journals, and several teaching modules relating to educational management and planning in a world with HIV and AIDS. He has contributed to the work of the World Bank, UNESCO, UNAIDS, UNICEF, Oxfam and a range of other AIDS related organisations.
Since 2006, he has been a member of the Council of Consulting Fellows for the International Institute for Development Planning (Paris) and also a member of the Council of the University of Botswana (Gaborone). In addition he is a board member for RAISA (Regional AIDS Initiative for Southern Africa, based in Pretoria), Restless Development (formerly Students Partnership Worldwide), Zambia Open Community Schools, Zambia Senior Citizens Association, and the Zambia Truck Drivers’ Association (as a member of the Advisory Board).
He has worked very closely with the Irish Government in informing their policy on HIV and AIDS. In recognition of Fr Michael’s work in this area the Irish Government established an annual lecture series on HIV and AIDS in his name – the Professor Michael Kelly Lecture on HIV and AIDS and a Father Michael Kelly Bursary to enable Zambian students undertake higher studies relating to education and HIV/AIDS.
He has received many accolades from international organisations and academic institutions for his work. In 2006, the Forum for Women Educationists in Africa (Zambia Chapter) awarded him the first ever Kabunda Kayongo Award, while in 2010, the First Lady of South Africa, Madame Thobeka Zuma, presented him with a Humanitarian Award.
All who know Fr Michael speak of his humility. He has lived in and worked from the same small room in Luwisha House in Lusaka for the past 45 years. This is where all his thinking and writing takes place and has been described by many as his `monastic cell’.
Fr Michael’s sister Mrs Oonagh O’Hagan attended the conferral and after he accepted the Honarary Doctorate, he explained, “I’m honoured that RCSI should recognise in this way the limited contributions I have been able to make in advocating for more and better education for girls, a better deal for orphaned children and a more coherent response to HIV and AIDS.
“I’m humbled that I should have been singled out from the great number of people world-wide who are dedicating themselves so wholeheartedly to efforts to stem the AIDS epidemic and who see girls’ education as central to this.
“And I’m privileged that I can represent in some way so many thousands of wonderful people across the world whose lives have been darkened by the shadows of HIV or AIDS but who never lost heart.”
Cllr Molly Buckley, Chairperson of Power4Good, a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) Charity based in Tullamore that works with people with disabilities in some of the poorest communities and countries in Africa, extended warm congratulations to Fr Kelly who is Patron of Power4Good.
“A native of O’Connor Square, Tullamore, Fr Kelly is renowned worldwide for his work on HIV/AIDS and education. Irish Aid has had a Michael Kelly lecture bi-annually for the last number of years and he has now being honoured by the Royal College of Surgeons.
“Fr Kelly is the Patron of Power4Good and we are privileged to have him as our Patron. His life and his work has been inspirational and we congratulate him on this latest award. Michael is a very humble man and any award he gets he sees it as highlighting the issue as opposed to personal gain,” outlined Cllr Buckley.
She also revealed that Offaly Historical Society are documenting his life and work. “And we are very conscious that the prophet needs to be known in his own land. We are very proud of you Michael and you inspire our work in Africa on human rights and micro finance with people with a disability.”