Brother John Martin Holly, OFM Cap. passed on Friday, March 3, 2023 at the age of 69 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Br. John was born in Chicago, IL on August 26, 1953. He was the first born of four sons to Daniel Holly and Margaret McKillen.
In 8th grade, a recruiter from St. Lawrence Seminary (SLS) visited his school in Oak Park to invite him to attend high school in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin. In his words: “I came as a freshman in high school, without understanding what a Capuchin was…” Through his high school experience, his formation set him on a path that he never expected.
Br. John graduated from SLS in 1971 and was invested with the Capuchin habit that same August…2 weeks prior to his 18th birthday. He professed solemn vows in 1978, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1980.
Understanding the importance of promoting vocations, Br. John’s first ministry was to be assistant director of the Associate Program for the Capuchins, a program that was created to help SLS grads and other prospective men as they discerned religious life. He later became director, and in 1987 he also took on the ministry of forming “post-novices,” or friars that were still preparing to take solemn vows. He would be called to other ministries in his life, but formation was always an important part of his role as a Capuchin.
In 1993, Br. John was made the pastor of St. Joe’s Parish in Appleton, WI. He is remembered for his kindness and sense of humor as a pastor, while also leading the parish community in several new ministries. In 1995, the old convent was converted into “Project Open Door,” a ministry that provided residency for homeless families in transition. In 1996, he helped the parish create Midwest Outreach Ministry, moving the food pantry from the basement to a new facility. In 2002, he helped the parish create new meeting spaces. This became the St. Joseph Parish Center, with an area named “Holly Hall” in his remembrance.
After his time in Appleton, he returned to formation and vocation ministry in his hometown of Chicago. He was present as the number of vocations to the Capuchins began to grow, allowing him to accompany and advise new friars as they were formed and educated. In 2011, he desired to step back from formation work and bring his gifts to St. Lawrence Seminary, in hopes of inspiring students to Capuchin life. He moved back to SLS as the guardian of the local community of friars.
Within a year, he would be called on again to rebuild. In July of 2012, Br. John was called upon to fill in for the previous rector, a task that would require healing and a new vision forward. Appointed as rector, Br. John was committed to educating the lives of young men as well as strengthening the Capuchin identity. “One of the greatest vocational ideas,” in Br. John’s words, “has been for students to simply observe how the friars relate to one another.” His connection with younger friars drew other friars to minister along with him and to be witnesses of Capuchin life.
In 2014, Br. John helped the school when St. Joseph Hall caught fire and was destroyed. This was a great loss to the students and the faculty. Through his hard work and dedication, Br. John was able to facilitate the rebuilding of St. Joseph Hall while also raising funds to rebuild the adjacent St. Thomas Hall.
Br. John suffered a broken hip in 2017 and retired from his role as rector of Saint Lawrence Seminary. H desired to inspire young men just as he had been inspired, and wanted to encourage them to experience a life of faith. In one of his last messages as rector, Br. John told the students: “I am truly blessed. Thank you to all of you for wonderful years!”
Br. John is preceded in death by his parents Daniel Holly and Margaret McKillen, as well as his brother Brian. He is survived by his brothers George (Mary Ann) Holly, Patrick (Sue) Holly, as well as his many Capuchin brothers with whom he lived, prayed, and ministered for over 50 years.
The funeral liturgy for Br. John will be held at 11:00 AM on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 at St. Lawrence Seminary Student Chapel, located at 301 Church Street in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. Visitation will begin in the chapel at 9:00 AM.