Centenarians’ Serving Spirit Hailed On Birthdays
Published: July 2, 2009
(Clockwise, from top right) Jim Kelly and his Holy Cross Church friends Barbara Emerson, Lynn King and Sister of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd Connie Thompson pray over their breakfast at the nearby Galaxy Diner following morning Mass. Kelly celebrated his centennial birthday at the establishment last year. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—Two Catholics here recently celebrated 100 years or more of life.
Nettie Singleton, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, was honored by the Atlanta City Council. She turned 100 on May 31.
Meanwhile, Jim Kelly is not to be outdone. A longtime member of Holy Cross Church, Kelly’s 101st birthday was June 22.
A religious man, Kelly for years helped set up the altar for daily Mass.
“He probably hasn’t missed six (Sunday Mass) times in his life,” said Linda Kelly, a longtime friend of Kelly.
“I would love to go to the sacrifice of the Mass every day, if I could,” said Kelly, sitting in the church just days before his birthday. He had on suspenders and a blue shirt. Hanging from his walker handle were baseball caps proclaiming him the Number 1 Dad.
At the parish, Kelly’s service as a sacristan and his role with the Young At Heart senior citizen ministry is recalled fondly.
Jim Kelly bows his head in prayer during the 9:15 a.m. Mass at Holy Cross Church, Atlanta. Although Kelly is unable to attend daily Mass as often as he once did, for many years he served as the parish sacristan.
His memory fails him in some areas. But he recites a funny poem about an Irishman sneaking past the pearly gates without skipping a beat. He grew up in Philadelphia where he met his late wife, Margaret. She died right before their 50th wedding anniversary. They had four children. Kelly worked as an electrical engineer. His projects included building the water gates at Lake Lanier dams.
Kelly loves a meal out when he isn’t at the retirement home where he lives. A group of ladies regularly take him to Galaxy Diner, a popular family eatery around the corner from the church on Henderson Mill Road. Oatmeal is one of Kelly’s favorites, sprinkled with brown sugar and raisins.
“I’ve never had a bad day in my life,” he recalled. “I think Almighty God loves all us sinners and takes care of us,” he said.
Kathleen Kelly, his oldest daughter, said her father was always an extrovert, reaching out to people.
“Nice doesn’t quite cover it. Dad is very upbeat. Nobody is ever a stranger,” she said.
Holy Cross Church parishioner Jim Kelly turned 101 on June 22. The Philadelphia native and widower retired from General Electric as an engineer.
Dominican Sister Nora Ryan kisses 100-year-old Our Lady of Lourdes Church parishioner Nettie Singleton during her birthday celebration following the noon Mass, May 31.
The work of the Atlanta City Council came to a halt on June 1 as council members and the audience applauded Singleton. The day was named Nettie Singleton Day in Atlanta.
“I just can’t believe I’m that old,” said Singleton, as she waited at Atlanta City Hall. She had on a rose corsage, wire-rimmed glasses and a polka-dotted blue dress. More than a dozen friends, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and adopted family celebrated the moment. Father John Adamski, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, attended. She met Mayor Shirley Franklin.
Singleton still attends the parish, weather permitting. It is a place she has known since 1919 when she attended the parish’s now closed elementary school. She recalls meeting St. Katharine Drexel as a student, when the founder of the Blessed Sacrament sisters who helped Lourdes start came to visit. In 1933 Singleton joined the Catholic Church even though her Methodist mother wasn’t pleased.
(Sitting) Birthday honoree Nettie Singleton, left, and her great-granddaughter Erika Reid join (standing, l-r) her grandsons Christopher and Francis Reid and family friends, Steve and Pat Belcher.
She lived with a devotion to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, whom she calls “my husband man.”
Juanesta Chapman is one of Singleton’s church family.
“She brings others to the church. She is a real model for us,” said Chapman, who waited at City Hall.
The proclamation from the Atlanta City Council noted, “Her 100 years on earth have touched the lives of so many people who are grateful for all she has done and who are appreciative of all of the kindness she has given; and, she has a great personality, is extremely caring, and always has time to help others. She is a positive influence in all of the lives she touches.”
Waiting outside the Atlanta City Council chambers, Nettie Singleton, right, gets a birthday greeting from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin as she walks down the hall.