October 14, 2022

Deacon Kellams, Judge James Sweeney honored on evening of Red Mass

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks with Christina Kellams at a reception in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 4. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson speaks with Christina Kellams at a reception in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 4. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

It was a moment for legal professionals to spiritually “catch [their] breath.”

It was also an occasion to memorialize the late Deacon Marc Kellams.

And it was an opportunity to honor U.S. District of Southern Indiana Judge James Sweeney with the 2022 “Man for All Seasons” award.

Those three elements comprised the evening of Oct. 4, when both Catholics and non-Catholics in the legal profession gathered for the annual Red Mass and dinner reception at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center, both in Indianapolis.

“We stop the clock each year when the [United States] Supreme Court begins its new term, and we ask God to help us do jobs we’re not sure we can do,” explained Judge David Certo. Certo, a member of

St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, serves in the Marion County Superior Court. He is president of the St. Thomas More Society of Central Indiana, which sponsored the event.

The society encourages “Catholic lawyers, judges and law students to grow in the practice of our faith and to work with other legal professionals to promote justice and ethical behavior in our community,” according to its website.

The evening began with a Mass concelebrated by five priests, with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson as the principal celebrant.

Faith permeates justice

The annual Red Mass “provides an opportunity to celebrate and pray for all those involved in the judicial system,” the archbishop explained in his homily. “This includes, of course, judges, lawyers, legal staff, legislators, law professors, law students, even those working in our Catholic tribunal.”

He noted how, especially during the last several months, “judicial rulings and legislative actions concerning the law can have far-reaching impact on individuals and communities,” in reference to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

Archbishop Thompson said the Catholic faith “is meant to permeate every aspect of our lives, including the way we understand, discern and carry out justice in society. …

“For us, justice is rooted in the proper understanding and appreciation for the dignity of persons and sacredness of life from the moment of conception to natural death,” including “concern for religious liberty, the unborn, the family, the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee, victims of human trafficking, the unjustly incarcerated and even creation itself.”

The archbishop called on those in the legal profession to spend time in prayer.

“Authentic prayer enables us to be attentive to listen, especially to the Holy Spirit, the great counselor in our lives,” he advised.

‘Marc did not sit still for a moment’

At the reception following the Mass, Deacon David Henn offered a tribute to Deacon Kellams, a former Monroe County circuit court judge who died in a car accident on July 29.

Deacon Henn, an attorney who serves at St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, said Deacon Kellams “invested himself in those who came to him, whether that was as a judge or as a deacon or just as a community leader and friend.”

During the memorial, he quoted from a talk that Deacon Kellams gave at the 2007 Red Mass reception.

The late deacon had noted “there must be something greater than himself that enabled him to do the job that was set before him to do,” Deacon Henn recalled.

“But it is God’s grace, and it is the strength of the Church that you stand with and cling to, that give you the ability to carry on with that mission that has been put before you.”

Deacon Henn recalled Deacon Kellams’ constant service to others as a judge, professor, husband, father and friend.

Even in his retirement, “Marc did not sit still for a moment,” he said. “He became the director of prison ministry for the archdiocese and did wonderful and tremendous things there.”

Deacon Kellams’ wife Christina and other family members were present for the Mass and reception.

“He took his profession very seriously, and he was always willing to help someone with any kind of problem to try and sort it out,” she said.

“It’s very special” that the St. Thomas More Society offered a memorial to her late husband at the reception, Kellams added. “It just would mean so much to him, being a deacon, to be honored in that way. I think he attended every Red Mass, and I think he would be thrilled. I was really taken that they would do this for him.”

‘Follow the example of St. Thomas More’

After the tribute, St. Thomas More Society’s 2022 “Man for All Seasons” award was presented to Sweeney. The honor is given to a legal professional whose life and work exemplify the ideals of St. Thomas More.

Sweeney was introduced as having so many accolades that “we would have to pitch a tent here for the night” to list them.

Sweeney graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps on active and reserve duty, retiring as a colonel in 2013. He graduated magna cum laude from University of Notre Dame’s law school in 1996 and worked as an attorney for almost 20 years at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Indianapolis, retiring as a partner in 2018 when he was appointed to his current position by then-President Donald Trump.

Sweeney designed and led the first airstrike of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991 at the age of 29. He recounted the event through the lens of the sacrament of reconciliation.

“The only thread I could find running through those various careers is that I’ve been a sinner throughout,” he said.

He recalled his first confession at the age of 7, telling the priest, “I didn’t make my bed.”

How greatly that confession differed from the one he gave on the night of Jan. 15, 1991, the night he was told to execute and lead the top-secret airstrike he engineered “to liberate the people of Kuwait from the atrocities” of an Iraqi invasion.

“I was concerned not only for the success of the mission but for my eternal soul,” said Sweeney. He had assigned himself the role of flying to draw enemy fire.

Before the mission, he met with a Catholic chaplain.

“Father, I can’t tell you what’s going on [due to the mission’s top-secret nature], but I need to go to confession,” he recalled saying.

“He looked at me with great discernment in his eyes, and with even greater understanding in his voice, said, ‘I understand, Captain Sweeney. Are you sorry for your sins?’ ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘They are forgiven, my son. God speed.’

“So, while left unspoken in that moment, there was an intense examination and confession of sins, absolution and penance—the most pure remorse, forgiveness and redemption that I had ever experienced before.

“The weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. But unlike the weight lifted from that 7-year-old, this one mattered. I felt I could meet my maker if that came to be.”

Sweeney noted that similar atrocities are being repeated today in Ukraine. He called on those present to pray for an end to such war and aggression, as well as for “the women and girls of Afghanistan and other oppressed and persecuted peoples and religions.”

After noting the comfort he received through 25 consecutive years worshipping at the annual Red Mass, Sweeney offered these final words to his peers:

“As best we can, we are called to do the right thing in the right way—to make our beds, to fairly, impartially and diligently perform our duties with patience, dignity, respect and courtesy to all—in short, [to] follow the example of St. Thomas More.” †

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