In Memoriam: Joseph Killilea

Joseph Patrick Killilea, who for nearly six decades was a devoted “jack of all trades” to the Boston College Jesuit Community, will be remembered at a Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday, June 23, at 10 a.m. in St. Mary’s Chapel—an honor normally afforded only to community members. He died on May 17 at the age of 86.

Roses in St. Mary's garden
The Rose Garden at St. Mary's Hall, tended for many years by Joseph Killilea. (Lee Pellegrini)

A native of Ireland who came to the United States as a teenager and eventually found a home at Boston College, Mr. Killilea became a beloved presence at the Jesuit residence in St. Mary’s Hall, where he lived while overseeing domestic arrangements related to the kitchen, housekeeping, automobiles, and maintenance.

“Though not a Jesuit himself, Joe had a well-informed appreciation of religious life and regularly participated in daily Mass in St. Mary’s Chapel,” said Jesuit Community Rector Robert Keane, S.J. “He was a prayerful man of grace, dignity, humility, generosity, and discretion.”

“You might say the community became his family,” said Joseph A. Appleyard, S.J., a longtime senior administrator at BC  who was Jesuit rector from 1991-1997. “He moved into a room in the basement, and successive ministers gave him more and more responsibility over the domestic side of the house. All of us came to depend on Joe for his many skills.”

Born near Galway on February 22, 1932, Mr. Killilea was only a few years old when his mother died and his father placed him in a child care facility. As a youth, he worked at a local hotel, where he met American tourists Catherine and Patrick O’Connor. With their encouragement, Mr. Killilea moved to Boston as a teenager, where he enrolled in and graduated from a vocational-technical high school.

In 1957, following several years of custodial work and rental property management, Mr. Killilea began his long affiliation with Boston College. During his first job at the Heights—painting the benches in the new football stadium, which had been relocated from what was then known as "the Dustbowl" on Middle Campus to its present location on Beacon Street—the young man encountered Joseph Walsh, S.J., then minister of the Jesuit Community.

“He asked Joe where he was from in Ireland, and when he responded that Galway was his home, Fr. Walsh immediately offered him a job in St. Mary's Hall,” said Fr. Keane.

"Joe [came to know] more about St. Mary's Hall and its occupants than anyone else alive today,” said Fr. Keane, noting that in addition to his regular work, Mr. Killilea contributed many voluntary services to the community, including driving some of the older Jesuits. His eventual retirement from Boston College allowed him to spend the winter months in Florida, where he owned a condominum, Fr. Keane said, but Mr. Killilea regularly returned to St. Mary’s Hall to celebrate the major holidays and feast days with the Jesuit Community.

Of particular interest to Mr. Killilea, whose favorite hobby was gardening, was the Rose Garden at St. Mary’s. “Joe became an expert on roses,” said Fr. Appleyard, as well as on decorating for Christmas, Easter, and other occasions such as Thanksgiving. "He delighted in preparing our residence for the holidays.”

A medical episode in December 2017 necessitated Mr. Killilea's hospitalization in Florida, which was followed by a transfer to a convalescent center. During the admission process, it came to light that he had a nephew, Jeff Kennedy, in Massachusetts—of whom the Jesuit Community had had no knowledge.

“Joe was an intensely private man,” Fr. Keane noted. “For decades it had been understood that he was an orphan and had no family—which is partially true.  What was not known is that Joe was legally adopted by Jeff’s grandparents—the American tourists who befriended him in Galway.”

In April, his nephew’s family brought Mr. Killilea to a memory care facility in Westwood, Mass., and were devoted to him and his care. Family members and Jesuit Community representatives were at his bedside at the end of his life.

“Joe slipped away quietly, with dignity and faith—just as he had lived his life,” said Fr. Keane.

Following the funeral Mass, the remains of Mr. Killilea—who was cremated according to his wishes—will be interred in a Kennedy family grave at 2 p.m. in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury.

Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications