Kelly, Michael (1850–1940), catholic archbishop of Sydney, was born 13 February 1850 in Waterford, the son of James Kelly of Camlin Woods, New Ross, Co. Wexford, and Mary Kelly (née Grant) of Glenmore, Co. Kilkenny. He was educated at the CBS, Waterford, and the Classical Academy, New Ross. In preparation for the priesthood, he attended St Peter's College, Wexford, and the Irish College, Rome, and was ordained 1 November 1872. After ordination he spent until 1891 attached to the House of Missions, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. There, he became a leader in the House of Missions's temperance campaign, which eventually led to the formation of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart in 1901. He achieved prominence within the Irish catholic church owing to his writing and preaching on temperance. The principles he outlined for the establishment of a successful temperance organisation in the article ‘The suppression of intemperance’ (Irish Ecclesiastical Review (1889)) were adopted by Fr James Cullen (qv) when he founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in 1898. In 1891 Kelly was appointed rector pro tempore of the Irish College, Rome. He assumed the rectorship in 1895 and while in Rome strove with some success to arrest the college's decline.
On 20 July 1901 he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Sydney under Cardinal Patrick Moran (qv), and succeeded Moran on his death in 1911. During his long tenure as archbishop, Kelly retained a pious and conservative stance on the many issues in which he was involved. He was an enthusiastic advocate of state aid to catholic education, but was not sympathetic to university education. His initial support for the Great War dissipated because of his opposition to conscription and the British government's reaction to the 1916 rising, which offended his strong Irish nationalist beliefs. Kelly robustly defended the catholic position during the anti-catholic agitation in New South Wales in the 1920s and he was a strong opponent of mixed marriages. In 1928 he gloriously reigned over the eucharistic congress in Sydney which demonstrated the strength of the Australian catholic church. During the 1930s he retired from the public eye, although he still retained control over his archdiocese and was a firm advocate of the social principles of Catholic Action. Indeed, such was his longevity that his coadjutor archbishop, Dr Michael Sheehan (qv), eventually resigned in 1937 after waiting fifteen years to succeed him. While no significant changes were made under Kelly's episcopacy, his longevity as archbishop meant that his attitudes, originating in nineteenth-century Ireland, influenced the catholic church in New South Wales well into the next century.
Kelly died on 8 March 1940 and was buried in the Kelly Memorial Chapel in the crypt of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. He had been created count of the Holy Roman Empire and assistant at the pontifical throne in 1926. A bronze statue by Bertram McKenna is located at the main entrance to St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, and a small oil portrait (artist unknown) of Kelly as a young priest is held by the Church of Mary Immaculate, Manly, New South Wales. His papers are in the diocesan archives at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.