John J. Kelly, known as "Jack," got his first full-time job at age 15 as a pressman in New York City when World War II caused a manpower shortage.
The longtime St. James resident eventually went on to become director of development for the Diocese of Rockville Centre and helped spearhead a groundbreaking fundraising effort called the Bishop's Appeal that brought in millions for the church.
Kelly died at Stony Brook Hospital on May 29 of complications from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, said one of his sons, Keith Kelly, a media reporter for the New York Post. Kelly was 86.
Jack Kelly "was never a win-at-all costs type of guy," Keith Kelly said in a eulogy delivered Wednesday at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James. "His greatest quality was his ability, after you faltered, to make you feel it was not so bad. Things would be all right."
Msgr. John Gilmartin, a former head of Catholic Charities for the diocese, said, "Jack was a great guy" who was "all about relationships with people. He had great relationships with the pastors and really wove himself into the fabric of the diocese."
Russ Kittel, a businessman from Oakdale who served as a lay volunteer to help Kelly implement the fundraising program, said it was a model many other dioceses adopted.
Kelly "was a gentle guy. He just cared about everybody," Kittel said. "He had no agenda other than to try to help the church reach its goal."
Kelly was born in Brooklyn, and after working at the New York Daily News as a pressman, enlisted in the Army at age 18 toward the end of World War II. He was among the troops that occupied Japan when the war ended, and rose to the rank of three-stripe sergeant in 18 months, his son said.
After the war, he attended Villanova University on the GI Bill, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in economics. He later went to work for Community Counseling Service, a professional fundraising company that ran a campaign for the Diocese of Brooklyn in part to help build schools.
Kelly later worked for F.J. Remey & Co. in Mineola, a business that supplied church collection envelopes to dioceses throughout the Northeast.
He joined the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 1983, and remained director of development until 1999. The Bishop's Appeal easily broke its goal of $5 million in the first year, Kittel said.
He also led a campaign to help retired nuns and religious brothers, producing a brochure that showed a nun in a nursing home and the words, "She taught you history in the sixth grade, now she needs your help."
In addition to his son, Kelly is survived by his wife of 61 years, Virginia; three other sons, Kevin Kelly of Garden City, Kirk Kelly of Manhattan, and Kenneth Kelly of Cocoa Beach, Florida; a daughter, Kathleen Kelly Dorrian of St. James; and 10 grandchildren.
He was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.