The Catholic Thing
The Littlest Suffering Souls III: Brendan Kelly of Great Falls Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 14 June 2013

Two weeks before his death at sixteen, Brendan Kelly’s aunt helped him into bed one night. Owing to massive steroid treatments to fight the ravages of chemo, and being a big boy anyway, he weighed more than 200 pounds. So it was difficult getting him to bed, made more difficult because large sores covered his whole body.

There was no place you could touch him that did not hurt. Except his head. She patted him there and Brendan said, “Aunt Kelly, I am so happy. All you need to be happy is to open your heart to Jesus.”

A psychiatrist, who was supposed to help him through the rough patches of a lifetime of leukemia, asked him what it was like to have cancer. Brendan said, “It is like driving a car with Karen in the back seat.” Karen was a panther that Ricky Bobby’s father put in Ricky’s back seat so he could overcome his fear of driving. Don’t know the movie Talledega Nights? Brendan knew every line.

The psychiatrist ended up not charging for many of Brendan’s visits. She said, after he died, that talking to Brendan was like talking to God. And how could she charge for something like that? She also said his death was the hardest event of her life.

Brendan possessed a supernatural ability to spot pain in others and to move in like a surgeon to fix it. Brendan’s mother coached girls’ baseball. One girl on the team came from an abusive home. She was mean, uncommunicative. Brendan laid siege, sitting with her, putting his head on her shoulder, talking to her, trying to make her laugh, talking about Jesus.

This went on for weeks. At first she hated it. Eventually, she smiled, then laughed, then utterly transformed into a new person, which she remains to today. Such things happened all his life. 

Brendan was born with Down syndrome. At four, doctors diagnosed him with leukemia, a cancer with a high rate of remission – but the treatment is devastating. They turn a fire hose of chemo into your body and then pump you up with massive doses of steroids. This can go on and off for months and with terrible effects.

After his diagnosis, his family applied to the Make-a-Wish Foundation: he wanted to meet the pope. Make-a-Wish didn’t quite believe him since only one other child had ever asked for that. So they met with him privately, tempted him with Disney World, a submarine ride, baseball stars. They wanted to make sure meeting the pope was his wish and not his parents’. Brendan insisted.

         A wish come true: Brendan Kelly meets John Paul II

In September 2001, the family gathered with others at Castel Gandolfo waiting to meet John Paul II. When the pope entered, rather than wait his turn, Brendan broke and ran to the pope and stood holding his arm as he greeted all the other pilgrims.  Brendan would not move and the pope loved it. He kept glancing at Brendan and smiling.

As the pope began to leave, indeed when he was out the door and around the corner, Brendan shouted out, “Good-bye Pope.” John Paul the Great returned and the family snapped the picture you see in this column.

Brendan was a mystic. He carried on a continuous conversation with Jesus and his Guardian Angel. After confession one evening, he made an extended penance. Outside, his father asked what took him so long, and Brendan said he was talking to Jesus. "In the tabernacle?,” his father asked. “No, in the light above the tabernacle,” except according to Father Alexander Drummond, the Church was utterly dark.

Brendan would not pass a church without blowing a kiss and shouting, “Hi, Jesus.” So normal and natural was this that a priest of Opus Dei still sermonizes about this as an advanced state of the interior life.

So in love was he with the Eucharist that after chemo, when he had to be isolated because his immune system was ravaged, the family would sit outside the church in their massive black Suburban. At Communion, Father Drummond would walk down the aisle, leave the church, and go outside. Brendan’s window went down and the priest would give him the Blessed Sacrament.

Brendan suffered with leukemia nearly his entire life. He got it at 4 and underwent two-and-a-half years of treatment. It returned at age 10 with another two years of treatment. At 14, it came again and he underwent a bone marrow transplant.

He offered all his pain for others. Among his special intentions has been Bella Santorum. Because of her own devastating disability, she should have died within hours of birth.  In intense pain Brendan would shout, “I love you, Bella.”  Bella still lives.

There are many remarkable stories about Brendan Kelly. One day his father received an urgent email from a colleague who had been taken hostage by terrorists in Mumbai. He asked for Brendan’s prayers. Brendan prayed and said the man would be rescued. That he was rescued that very night is less interesting than, at a moment of abject terror, he asked for the intercession of the boy with Down syndrome and leukemia.

Brendan was a normal boy. He loved sports and movies, and sometimes showed a scatological sense of humor. He did not want to be sick – or die – and wondered why God answered all his prayers except those for himself. He sometimes suffered anxiety and even depression. Father Drummond says Brendan was willing to carry even these as the Cross.

When Father Drummond asked if he wanted to be an altar boy, Brendan immediately said yes. Told he would have to wear a cassock and surplice, he “got a far away look in his eyes and whispered, “I love those.”

Brendan Kelly was buried a month ago in his cassock and surplice. Brendan Kelly, pray for us.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (18)Add Comment
written by ken tremendous, June 13, 2013
awesome article, Austin. Very moving. Thanks!!
written by DeGaulle, June 14, 2013
I am quite the unsentimental type, but this caused the tears to roll down my face. Brendan gives us so much Hope.
written by Jack,CT, June 14, 2013
Brendan Kelly please pray for those with Cancer and
all of us,May the Lord Bless all whom suffer from the
same ilnesses you so bravely endured in Life.
In Jesus name,
written by Jack,CT, June 14, 2013
Thanks Austin I feel truly blessed,almost like
I need to get my >>>> together and stop complain-
May the lord bless all those suffering today
especially the children who suffer so for a
chance to live.
Cancer has taken all the people on my Dads
side and the Cross may very well be mine
to bear some day.....I shall think of you
Brandan and ask for you to stand beside me.
God Bless the parents who gave this Saintly
boy Life-
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, June 14, 2013
God sends us Brendans so that the rest of us might be humbled.
written by debby, June 14, 2013
Austin, these real children, our own Family, witnesses to living the Gospel in all simplicity and in the midst of who & where "you are", are the most hopeful and helpful words that i recall you writing. thank you - over and over - thank you.

these suffering children.....
what if each one is God's choice of being the "eye" of the "Body of Christ"(1 Corin 12)?
what "windows to the soul"!
but we are(i am) so terribly conformed to the world and resist the loving surrender to our Lord; do we (i) close those very "eyes"?
we pray with our lips, "Thy Will be done" but cling to "our own understanding", questioning the Creator's plan.
what have we done?
what have i done?
today, let me fall on my face before all of you, my dear TCT family, the angels and Saints, and repent for all my past questioning, agony of unbelief in God's love, faith in my own abilities.
Little holy ones, Audrey, Margaret, Brendan, pray for me, your very crippled sister who has tried to run this race so often under her own steam. hopefully, with your intercession, no longer.
"Thy Will Be Done"....for real.
(stanley anderson - "BE" before "DOne" whatever the 'great' philosophers may argue!)
written by Dan Deeny, June 14, 2013
Amazing. Wonderful. Try to find more stories like this. They are inspiring. They help all of us.
written by Stanley Anderson, June 14, 2013
I recall with great fondness at a former church many years ago a wonderful and beloved parishioner there who put together a monthly newsletter for the church. Apparently unfamiliar with the slightly archaic use of the word “suffer” found in the KJV, he spread across the cover of one issue a phrase I’m sure he thought must have been an actual quotation, recalled from memory. There in large letters at the top we read “Suffer not the little children…”

A very charming error, and of course we all know what was meant and the love that was intended. But in light of today’s column (and the previous two columns in this series), the memory of that misquote has an especially poignant quality.

(debby wrote “…’Thy Will Be Done’…’BE’ before ‘DOne’…”. Or, I suppose, in Latin, "fiat voluntas tua," where the two ideas are neither before nor after but unified into the single word, "fiat." And since this was pre-echoed three decades earlier by the Blessed Virgin, I suppose I could learn a thing or two from her since she simply accepted rather than argue with that other 'great' philosopher, the angel Gabriel, after he succinctly answered her honest question. But again, “holistic” concepts like the Trinity, or Christ’s Hypostasis, or indeed of how “being and doing” might exist in an unfallen state are hard for any of us to fully comprehend in our present fallen state. Pax, which, in this case, truly passes understanding!)
written by Roseanne Sullivan, June 14, 2013
I am glad to read this story and am grateful to God for the faith of this lovely disabled boy. But I am confused by some of the detail. You started by writing that Brendan was 200 pounds when he was dying, and yet the boy shaking hands with the Pope is tiny. I think having a date for the time he weighed so much would have helped. It must have been much later. What year did he die. Another problem is that each Church has a red light near the Tabernacle, so no Catholic Church can be "competely dark."
written by Seanachie, June 14, 2013
Outstanding piece, Austin...Brendan was/is a magnificent example of living and doing the Gospel...a model for all to follow.
written by debby, June 14, 2013
@stanley - LOVE your FIAT words! thank you!
i do not know Latin (i do not know very much at all...)
but the idea you have shared is so holy; it must be truth.
and Her Fiat & Magnificat are my most favorite of all prayers recorded in Scripture. such pure, excellent radiance!
the fallen creature i am, on the other hand, is always at war with the "do" vs the "be". union, union! that will be Heaven! only the Kingdom of God is "within" so this struggle must be the work of sanctification.
yes, the Angel Gabriel as Philosopher - love that! i bet St. Thomas Aquinas is smiling at you right now.
and did not this young man, Brendan, live union in his broken flesh to such a crystal clear level that in fact others could see God?
then, the Pure in Heart see God in others
and in those who are such,
us not very Pure get to see God in them.
God Will Be Discovered won't He?
written by Jack,CT, June 14, 2013
Sorry, I change Subject:
Please pray for the
people of West Texas who will recieve little
help from FEMA,this modest town will need our
Thankyou for allowing me to divert from topic.
written by Austin Ruse, June 14, 2013

I think if you go back and read a bit more carefully, you will see the opening paragraph explains that he was 200 pounds at the time of his death, which would have placed him at 16. Also, the scene with John Paul II was after he was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 4.

written by Mack, June 14, 2013
Thank you. Yes. Amen.
written by John Ryan, June 14, 2013
Roseanne Sullivan, Brendan died May 2013. The picture with John Paul II was taken in Sep. 2001 when Brendan was 4.
written by Christopher Manion, June 15, 2013
Brendan's love for Jesus brought many people closer to Jesus and, quite miraculously in some cases, to each other.

Thanks for this, Austin.
written by Christine, August 04, 2013
We read an article with this photo in Faith and Family magazine several years ago and enjoyed reading how he was loved Blessed JPII. It really stuck with us because we then had our own "Brendan", our John Paul was born with DS in '04. What a beautiful story.
written by Deacon Joseph, April 27, 2014
God bless the family of this pure innocent Brendan and comfort them.He sure sounds like a Saintly boy, like St. Domminic Salvio. If I has the money I would commission an Icon be made of him and reproduce the Image, and give them to people for private devotions and for asking of intercessions. I would not be at all surprised if many would be healed by his prayers to God.

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