Larger-than-life Greyfriar 'Fr Fritz' dies at the age of 90

By David tucker

Published 08/10/2016 | 00:00

The late Fr 'Fritz' Malachy.
The late Fr 'Fritz' Malachy.

THE DEATH has taken place of well-known missionary priest Fr Malachy O'Kelly, who celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this year.

Based at the Franciscan Friary in Wexford for the past years, Fr Malachy was better known as the singing, joke-telling and inspirational preacher and missioner 'Fr. Fritz' who helped Christy Moore start his career in Manchester.

Christy Moore described him in his (Christy's) own book as a 'renegade priest' who used organise folk music clubs in Manchester, Australia and Zambia.

Fr Fritz, who spent more than 40 years on the missions in Africa, Australia and in the UK, adopted Wexford and the Friary as his home.

In failing health, he was the focus of attention of 20 or more priests and brothers and a huge congregation including family members from near and far for his birthday celebration in February.

A native of Grange in Co Limerick, Fr Fritz is the son of a German mother, Olga Moller, and Jeremiah O'Kelly, an agent for the Great Western Railway.

Given his parentage, he was known as Fritz as a young man, a name that was to remain with him after his ordination as a Franciscan, just as his maternal parentage was to create in the young Malachy an admirer of Hitler's Germany, a sentiment that remained with him in later life.

Many of his cousins were in the German Wehrmacht during the war, fighting against the Russians in Operation Barbarossa, as well as in the German air force conducting operations against British ships.

One of them, Alfred Kammer, was a Luftwaffe bomber pilot.

A contemporary photograph of him with his bomber in a photo album Fr Fritz kept at the Friary shows the silhouettes of Allied ships he sank during the war on the aircraft's tail.

Asked in a 2014 interview with this newspaper about how and his friends viewed the German defeat and the fall of Hitler, of whom he has cutouts in his 'early days' photo album alongside pictures of himself in military uniform and mocked up pictures of the then British royal family wearing Swastika armbands, he replied: 'We weren't very happy about it.'

From Limerick, his family moved to Cobh, Co Cork, where as a teenager, he met 168 German sailors who survived a naval engagement with British warships in the Bay of Biscay during World War II, and were brought to safety by the Wexford ship, the Kerlogue.

As a fluent speaker in Irish, English and German he became interpreter and life-long friend of the sailors.

Fr Fritz became a frequent visitor to The Curragh, where they were interned until the end of the war.

In 1946 they were repatriated to Germany, but the Greyfriar remained friends with four of the men, whom he visited in Germany over the years. Recalling the survivors speaking to him after their incarceration, he said many more could have been saved by the British Royal Navy warships which had sunk their vessels during the 1942 engagement, but 'they did nothing to help - they left them in the water'. The then-Malachy Kelly felt so strongly about what had happened that he later voluntered to join the German air force, the Luftwaffe, prompting a polite response from the ambassador in Dublin thanking him for his interest, but saying it would be impossible to transport him to Germany for his pilot training. He said all of the survivors were Nazis, but that was never an issue. 'They were ordinary loyal soldiers, boys of 17 or 18 years of age, who would have far rather been defending their homeland than locked up in Ireland for the duration of the war.' A former accountant in Cork City, Malachy Kelly went to England to join the Greyfriars in 1950 and travelled extensively with the friars before setting at Wexford Friary. Fr Fritz is the author of the best-seller 'Love from Zambia', a book of his letters from that country. He will be removed to the Friary on Wednesday and reposed from 11 a.m., right through on Thursday and Friday with prayers at the Friary on Friday at 7 p.m. Requiem Mass will take place there at 11 a.m. on Saturday followed by burial at Dardistown Cemetery, in Santry, at around 3 p.m.

Wexford People

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