Father Kieran Neilson died peacefully in the Lord at Belmont Abbey on Wednesday, February 27, strengthened by the sacraments. Alexander Patrick Neilson, known as Paddy to his family and friends, was born on July 2, 1932 in Charlotte, NC, the son of the late Alexander J. and Catherine Jones Neilson. He attended O’Donoghue School in Charlotte for his elementary and secondary education, testing the patience and skill of the Sisters of Mercy, to whom he remained devoted throughout his life. He graduated from Belmont Abbey College in 1954 and entered the novitiate, receiving the name Kieran in honor of his Irish heritage. He was professed on July 2, 1955. After studies at the Belmont Abbey Seminary, he was ordained a priest on May 26, 1960.
In North Carolina, Father Kieran served at various times as Subprior and Formation Director in the monastic community, as Chaplain at Belmont Abbey College, instructor at Sacred Heart College, and Parochial Vicar at St. Michael’s Parish, Gastonia, NC. He was assigned to St. Benedict Priory in Richmond, VA, from 1960-65, and again from 1976-89, serving at St. Benedict’s Parish, Benedictine High School, and as Chaplain at McGuire Veterans Hospital. When the Richmond community became independent in 1989, Father Kieran returned to Belmont Abbey and his family in Charlotte. He was a beloved presence on campus, a popular figure well known among students who were drawn to his cheerful smile, hearty laugh, and warm nature. This past spring, he celebrated the 59th anniversary of his ordination.
Growing up in the small Catholic community in Charlotte, Father Kieran was acquainted with the monks of Belmont Abbey from his youth. After God, Father Kieran loved his large, extended family, his Irish heritage, and Notre Dame athletics. Father Kieran cherished a life-long love of automobiles, which he indulged on a daily basis. At one point, he had a car donated for his personal use, which he parked at a discreet distance from the monastery — a happy situation which met with an infelicitous end when it became known to the abbot. He was an outgoing, friendly man with an extensive circle of loyal friends. His wide-ranging travels and gregarious nature made him the Abbey’s best-known monk and good will ambassador. He had a nickname for everyone and was not shy with his comments and remarks.
For more than 50 years he served as a monk and priest at the Abbey. Fr. Kieran had particularly fond memories of his early days at the Abbey including the farm, which the monks tended during the 50’s and early 60’s on a plot of land directly adjacent to the monastery. When he wasn’t tending to the farm, Fr. Kieran taught Sociology and Theology at the Sacred Heart campus in Belmont. At one point he acted as the resident disciplinarian at Benedictine College Preparatory School in Richmond, Virginia. “I saw those young men later grow up as doctors and such; and they came back to see me with their children and thanked me for what I did for them. That’s what really makes me feel good,” said Kieran when asked about his time in Richmond.
In an interview in 2015, Fr. Kieran said it’s the happiness he received from knowing the good he had done that gave him the most satisfaction. “What is so wonderful for me about my life so far is the people I served over those years -the joy they gave me in being able to minister to them. That’s something I’ll never lose sight of and never forget.”
In addition to his parents, Father Kieran was preceded in death by his brothers Joseph and John. He is survived by the monks of Belmont Abbey, by his sisters, Kathleen Potter, Mary Ann Frantz and Patricia Neilson, and by his large extended family. His body was received on Friday evening Vespers, March 1, at the Abbey. The funeral was celebrated on Saturday, March 2, at St. Michael’s Church, Gastonia, NC, at 10:00 a.m. with burial following in the Abbey cemetery.