Since earning a graduate degree from the University of Dallas in 2000, Rich Kelly, MTS ’00, has shared the fruits of his UD education in humble and faithful service to the church. In addition to being an active member of the Knights of Malta and serving as a sacristan for daily Mass at Christ the King, the successful Dallas businessman and formerly fallen-away Catholic chose UD to help others discover the beauty of Scripture and the richness of the church’s tradition.
Kelly recently made a $3 million commitment to support two faculty chair positions in art and theology. Kelly sat down with Tower to discuss his love for learning and teaching, his UD experience and his advice to others on their own faith journeys.
You’re a graduate of the MTS program. How did you find out about the University of Dallas?
I graduated in 2000, and at the time it was part of the Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies. I had been living in Dallas for a while, so I had heard of the university. But I’m also a revert. I grew up in a Catholic family and went to Catholic grade school, high school and Georgetown University, but I was away from the church between the ages of about 25 to 35.
My office was in the area of Christ the King parish, so I started going to daily Mass. I made a good confession and started getting involved in Bible studies. Some of the things I had learned in Catholic school stuck with me, so I could actually talk more than most people about the church and theology. The leadership at the parish asked me to lead a Bible study, but I didn’t feel competent. So I met with the pastor, Monsignor Don Zimmerman, [BA ’69 MTh ’73,] who had been a UD trustee, and he encouraged me to study at UD.
Looking back at your UD experience, were there any courses or faculty members that were particularly memorable?
I really enjoyed Fathers of the Church and History of the Church with Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Scripture with Fr. Mitch Pacwa, and Dr. Mark Lowery [professor emeritus and chair of the Department of Theology, who passed away in 2021]. I am really passionate about patristics, and I also very much enjoy St. John Henry Newman and the thinkers of the Ressourcement movement of the early 20th century, which reintroduced the Church Fathers into our consciousness.
What was the inspiration for your gift?
I have been very successful in business; the Lord has been good to me. About 25 years ago, I fell in love with a woman, Candyce Tara Eoff. We never married. I had assumed I would die well before she did, so I took steps to structure my estate to ensure she’d be taken care of for the rest of her life. She died unexpectedly in October 2020 at the young age of 49, which was very shocking.
At a certain point, you realize that you really don’t really own your wealth and that you’re just a steward of what you’ve been given. UD had been one of the organizations I had planned for in my estate, but I began thinking, why not do it now? Originally, I was planning to endow a chair to memorialize and honor Candyce’s name, but when I was presented with an opportunity to support other chairs, I agreed to do two.
How has your life changed as a result of your experience at UD?
I came here to UD to learn for myself, but the Holy Spirit has a funny way of saying, “You have a great gift here in what you’ve learned, and you need to share it.” So I have been very involved in my parish, leading Bible studies for 20 years. I’m also a lector, a Eucharistic minister, training altar servers, and I’ve given a lot of talks at the parish, to the Knights of Malta, to Legatus — I love to talk — so I do a lot of teaching.
Are there role models you look up to who have been important in your faith journey?
The principal of my high school, Bishop Denis O’Connell High School in northern Virginia, was Fr. Ted Perperno, a Christian Brother. He was very influential. He has since died, but he headed up the drama department, and I was very involved in the stage crew there for three years. Also, John Henry Newman is one of my favorite saints. The thinking and writings of many Fathers of the Church — Ignatius of Antioch, and Irenaeus, for example — had a big impact on me.
Knowing that what the church believes and does today is largely the same as the first and second centuries is very comforting to me. In my own life, I’d say Monsignor Don Zimmerman, Doug Bushman, [former director of UD’s Institute for Religion and Pastoral Studies], and my parents. My parents were very Catholic; in fact, my father baptized me in the delivery room, just out of precaution — not that I had any problems or issues. I remember when I was around 12 or 13 helping my mom go to the basement to retrieve the statues for the crèche scene.
What advice would you have for people in the pews who could benefit from a UD education?
I encourage everyone to continue their education in the faith, in theology and in the history of the church — all of it. It doesn’t have to be a formal program, but do something. UD is an excellent resource.
If I were speaking to a group of college students, I would say: Take time out of your life and work on your vocation. Listen, pray, go on a retreat; do whatever it is to determine your vocation, because that is how you’re going to get to heaven. For people in the pews, whether they’re volunteering or working in ministry or just want to grow in their faith, I’d encourage them to sign up for a course, or audit a course. UD is in many ways a hidden gem, especially for the growing number of Catholics right here in the Dallas/Fort Worth community.