John Kelly, San Mateo County’s Good Samaritan, died May 20 at age ninety. John dedicated his life to serving his local community; especially those who needed help the most. Through his example and strong leadership, John inspired others to join him in caring for all members of his local community.
Born in San Francisco, he entered the Catholic seminary at age thirteen, was ordained a parish priest then assigned to teach at all-boys Serra High School in San Mateo. A few students feared Father Kelly as Dean of Students but many Serra students became friends and supporters for life.
John earned a Notre Dame masters degree and on a university break traveled with fellow students to register Black voters in South Carolina. He advocated locally for racial integration and joined a teacher strike for living wages. Resisting Church bureaucracy and dogma, in 1979 he opted for greater personal social activism. He left the priesthood, and developed a major help institution: Samaritan House. From 1985 to 1999 John led the organization to a full-service, two thousand volunteer organization offering free meals, winter homeless shelter and free medical care to anyone in need.
Leaving Samaritan House leadership, John turned to San Quentin Kairos prison ministry. Restorative justice became John’s passion. He counseled, cajoled and befriended lifers and the forgotten of society. He encouraged inmates to attend academic and life-skill classes. Many learned skills and degrees and turned their life around. A large number who served their time considered John a father figure and now lead successful productive lives.
John never married, but is survived through his brother Donald, his nephews, nieces, their children, and numerous lives that he touched through his lifetime of serving his community. Nothing gave John greater joy than forming a connection with fellow men and women who society had left behind. Except perhaps engaging with his beloved grandnephew and grandnieces.
All are welcome to attend a Memorial Service at 2 p.m., June 15 at Serra High School, 451 W. 20th Ave. San Mateo, CA 94403. In lieu of flowers, please consider volunteering your time or making a donation to one of John’s favorite charities: Samaritan House, Service League of San Mateo County, or San Mateo Police Activities League.