James Patrick Kennelly

August 11, 1938 ~ May 22, 2021 (age 82)


James Patrick Kennelly, 1938-2021
James Patrick Kennelly, age 82, passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Jim was born to Catherine and John Kennelly in 1938 in Belleville, New Jersey. Jim and his four older brothers – Johnno, Jerry, Bernie and Frannie – grew up in a tight-knit extended family and were loved and cared for by aunts, uncles and cousins throughout their lives.
Jim graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Saint Mary’s College in 1962 and was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1964. As a priest, he served disadvantaged communities in Washington, D.C. and was actively involved in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Jim left the priesthood in 1968 after he and 44 other priests – a group that became known as the “Washington Priests” – challenged the church’s ban on birth control. Still, he remained a faithful and devout Catholic for the remainder of his life.
While earning a Masters of Education at Harvard University in Boston in 1971, Jim - the former priest - fell head over heels in love with Mary Jane Campbell - a former nun. They married within months and moved back to the D.C. area. Their daughter, Eileen, was born a few years later. Together, they showered her with love and support, and generally spoiled her rotten. Her gratitude for them is overflowing.
Settling first in Chevy Chase and then Bethesda, Maryland, Jim worked for the federal government. He was the Health Director of the Appalachian Regional Commission for many years, and started an insurance business upon his retirement.
Jim and Mary Jane built a beautiful life together. Both from large Irish families, they were happiest with a crowd around the dinner table. They were truly a team. They had a wide circle of fabulous friends who were like family. They loved big, and that love came back to them tenfold. In their final years together, they finally bought their dream beach house and spent many happy days in Vero Beach, Florida.
After Mary Jane’s passing in 2005, Jim became a grandfather to two beautiful grandchildren – Sophia and Luca – whom he adored. He moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey to be close to them. He delighted in watching them grow up. He beamed with pride that Sophia inherited his beautiful red hair, and he loved to listen to her play the guitar. He loved to watch Luca play baseball and to listen to his stories.
Jim’s personality was too big to capture in a summary. He was gregarious. He filled a room and never knew a stranger. He could tell a story that would keep you on the edge of your seat, only to leave you falling off with laughter by the end. When he hugged you, he enveloped you and held on until you wriggled free. If you really made him laugh, he would pound the table with an open palm to let you know just how happy you made him. He had a beautiful singing voice and was famous for his graveside rendition of “Danny Boy” at family funerals (being Irish, there have been many). He sang in many church choirs over the years. He officiated several family weddings – he was a sucker for a good love story. He danced with Tina Turner in a bar in the early 1970s – boy, was he proud of that. If you argued politics with him, you lost the argument. If you sat at his table, you drank more than you intended because he made sure your glass was never empty.
If you were a guest in Jim’s house, you woke to the smell of bacon cooking and the sound of coffee beans being ground (he insisted it was the only way). He and his wife Mary Jane loved hosting guests – one summer vacation, he woke early to set up 17 beach chairs every morning to ensure all of his guests had a spot for the day. In Vero Beach, he bought a four-foot tall statue of a monkey and insisted – much to Mary Jane’s chagrin – that it be displayed in the front hall. If you came to the house and admired the monkey, he had one shipped to your house. Many of their daughter’s friends and young family members took up residence at Chez Kennelly at one time or another, and Jim and Mary Jane loved having “the kids” around.
More than anything, Jim adored his wife. Every morning, he started her car and put a hot cup of coffee and an English Muffin on the dashboard. He made sure she never did the dishes. He brought her flowers weekly. He declared “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner “their song,” and he would turn up the volume and sing it to her at the top of his lungs. The adoration was mutual and though they faced challenges, they did so together. After Mary Jane passed, Jim was unmoored. His loved ones are comforted by the belief that they are together again.
Jim was keenly interested in current affairs and was an avid political junkie, reading the New York Times cover-to-cover every day right up to the end. In his later years at his assisted living community, Jim was known affectionately as “The Mayor.” The family is grateful to the staff of Brighton Gardens of Saddle River for the kind and loving care they provided to Jim in his final years.
True to form, his daughter and grandchildren were his world. Every call or message to his daughter started with an enthusiastic “Hello, beautiful!” and ended with “you go kiss those beautiful babies of yours for me and tell them their Pop-Pop loves them.” He loved spending time with them, celebrating the big moments and the small. He was one-of-a-kind and he made his people feel loved and special. He will be truly and deeply missed.
Jim is survived by his daughter, Eileen Kennelly Sorabella, his granddaughter Sophia, and his grandson Luca; his sisters-in-law Florence Kennelly, Leona Gans; brothers-in-law James Campbell and wife Nancy, Robert Campbell, John Campbell, Timothy Campbell and wife Joy, and Douglas Perley. He is also survived by nieces and nephews who were precious to him: Suzanne Kennelly and husband Tom, Kathleen Kennelly and husband Michael, Kara Kennelly, Maribeth McCarthy, Paul Kennelly, Sean Kennelly, Coleen Kennelly Wade, Michael Kennelly, Jeffrey Gans and wife Tara, Jennifer Gans, James Campbell and wife Melissa, Christopher Campbell and wife Robyn, Kelly Campbell and husband Will, Marlene Campbell, Danielle Campbell, Lindsay Campbell Agnos and husband Adam, Peter James Campbell, Colin Campbell and fiancé Erika, Ryan Campbell and wife Samantha, Erin Campbell, Meghan Campbell Leggett and husband Carter, Kathleen Campbell Perley and husband Nick; and cousins, grandnieces and grandnephews too numerous to list. He is preceded in death by the love of his life, Mary Jane; his brothers John Kennelly, Jerry Kennelly, Bernie Kennelly, and Frannie Kennelly; his sisters-in-law Eileen Campbell, Connie Campbell, Mary Joan McCarthy, and Suzanne Kennelly; his brother-in-law Robert Gans; his nephew Kevin Kennelly; his niece Julia Kennelly; his parents; and his aunt and uncle Ellen and Henry Martin, who loved him like their own.
Friends are cordially invited to a visitation with the family from six o’clock until eight o’clock in the evening on Thursday, the 27th of May, at the Feeney Funeral Home, 232 Franklin Avenue, Ridgewood, NJ.
The funeral Mass will be held on Friday, the 28th of May, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, 1 Passaic Street, Ridgewood, NJ.
Immediately following the Mass, all guests are invited to greet the family during a reception held at Park West Loft, 30 Oak Street, Ridgewood, NJ.
In lieu of customary remembrances and in memory of Jim, the family requests that memorial contributions be directed toward one of the following:
·The Foundation Schools, Attn: The Mary Jane and Jim Kennelly Scholarship Fund, 1330 McCormick Drive, Largo, Maryland 20774, . For more than 45 years, the Foundation Schools have been providing innovative educational, mental health, and support services to children and adolescents with emotional disabilities and learning challenges. Mary Jane was the co-founder of the Foundation Schools and served as its Executive Director.
·Loyola Early Learning Center, Attn: Development Office, 801 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, . The Loyola Early Learning Center was founded by Jim’s cousin, Fr. William J. “Bill” Watters, S.J., to address the lack of quality early learning opportunities for low-income children in Baltimore City, Maryland.
The Funeral Mass will be live streamed on 5/28/21 at 10:00 AM. Please click on one of the following links to view the live stream:
Parish website:




To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of James Patrick Kennelly, please visit our floral store.


May 27, 2021

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Feeney Funeral Home
232 Franklin Avenue
Ridgewood, NJ 07450

May 28, 2021

10:00 AM
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel RC Church
1 Passaic Street
Ridgewood, NJ

© 2021 Feeney Funeral Home. All Rights Reserved. | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy