The Quintessential Good Samaritan: The Authorized Biography of John Joseph Kelly, Champion of Social Justice

By Thomas Huening, Congresswoman Jackie Speier

“Fellow healer John Kelly devoted his life to the physical, emotional, and psychological healing of the socially and racially disadvantaged. His story inspires in these troubled times.” – Deepak Chopra

John Joseph Kelly—the quintessential Good Samaritan—changed the lives of thousands of people in need, first as a devoted Catholic priest; then as a champion of the poor and a father figure to troubled minority youth; and finally, as a one-on-one mentor offering hope and guidance to hardcore San Quentin inmates.

A humble man, Kelly shared traits with St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Mahatma Gandhi…but was embarrassed by these comparisons. Kelly was nevertheless a spiritual superstar and a role model for anyone who truly desired to make a difference in their own community, or on a grand scale, to help solve growing income inequality and racial disparity. When he died in 2019 at age ninety, thousands who knew him recalled the credo that marked his life: “We need to take what God has given us, discover it, and use it for justice and good.”

Father Kelly, tall and lanky with close cropped hair, one whose eyes displayed an alert intelligence, did exactly this when he traded his Catholic collar for a work shirt in 1979. He dropped his cassock in dramatic fashion after his final mass to pursue “justice and good” for the next forty years. Kelly showed the courage of his convictions when he struggled with Church bureaucracy, hypocrisy, internal politics, silk vestments, and processions, ultimately deciding he could help more people by being less faithful to Catholic dogma, and do more as a lay person devoted to the teachings of Jesus, Muhammad, and Krishna. Kelly then dedicated his life to inspiring others to become instrumental in helping thousands of people—many of them homeless—who were hungry and needed food, shelter, and adequate clothing.