When Michael S. Kelly was a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, he chose children who had never acted in a play to star in “Bleacher Bums”.
The 16-year-old director knew they would bring the characters to life.
“It’s a play about rebels and eccentrics,” said her mother Karen Kelly. “He picked people who had never been on a show, and they could play those characters so well. It was an absolutely awesome show.
“He’s always been a kid people talked to or told about their problems,” she said. “So I wasn’t surprised when he decided to be a social worker. “
Mr. Kelly worked for 14 years as a school social worker at Indian Trail Middle School in Addison and Mann and Lincoln Elementary Schools in Oak Park.
“He was drawn to people others had abandoned, whether they were kids who refused to come to school or teachers everyone said, ‘Don’t even bother'” said Kate Phillippo, associate professor at Loyola University. Chicago.
Mr. Kelly became a professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University. He has helped write and edit five books, including “Christianity and Social Work” and “School Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research”.
He was a member of the Oxford Symposium on School Family Counseling, an international group of academics who come together at the University of Oxford to improve treatment through schools and families working together.
“He was the foremost researcher and practitioner of school-based family counseling in the area of social work,” said Brian Gerrard, Symposium Director.
Mr Kelly, 52, of Oak Park, committed suicide on September 2.
“He was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and exercising every day and taking his medication,” said his wife, Dr Lucy Fox.
But he lost his battle with depression and committed suicide, Fox said.
“I keep trying to say I spent 31 years with him, and 30 of them were really great,” she said. “I feel like I could talk about him for 31 more. He was an incredible man.
During the civil rights movement, his father Richard traveled to Mississippi to teach at a Freedom School established to improve the education of black children. Her mother admired Kwame Ture, the activist formerly known as Stokely Carmichael who was a leader in the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
They named their son, born in 1968, Michael Stokely Kelly.
His mother took him to the haunting movie “Grave of the Fireflies”. Young Michael also adored Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”.
He later shared his love of anime with his sons Benjamin, Isaac and Alfred.
“He made sure his boys saw all of these things,” his mother said.
While studying at Oak Park and River Forest High School, he made money answering phones at the Oak Park library and working at Russell’s Barbecue.
His mother said he was 13 when he told her, “Let’s go to Ireland”, where he listened to spirit and wisdom in his pubs. “He immediately started conversations,” she said.
This led to a lifelong love of Ireland and frequent travel. For a few summers he helped lead Rick Steves’ Irish tours.
He met his future wife at the University of Michigan.
“He was so cute, so interesting, smart and political,” she said.
He became her Scrabble buddy, but when they played, “I was so distracted,” she said. She kept asking herself, “Are we going to kiss each other tonight?”
He later received his masters and doctorate degrees in social work from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“He had a knack for letting young people know that his office was a safe space and a refuge for them to take off their burdens,” said Kila Bell-Bey, a social worker from School District 97 in Oak Park.
Goutham M. Menon, Dean of the Loyola School of Social Work, said: “He was an accomplished professional. Thoughtful, serious, funny, quirky, he brought his passion for school social work to life in so many ways for our students.
Tom Tebbe, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, said Mr. Kelly “really encouraged social workers with the ideas that they had the capabilities to do the job and do it well.”
Mr. Kelly ran 18 marathons. He loved the music of Van Morrison, U2, Alejandro Escovedo and Amy Ray. And he was the youth minister at St. Giles Catholic Church in Oak Park.
A memorial is planned on October 18 at 4 p.m. at the Madonna della Strada de Loyola chapel. It will be streamed live on YouTube at https://youtu.be/vVe5FcOHtbQ.