Devoted to St. Peregrine, and not letting cancer slow him down

'St. Peregrine would tell me to fight it out and to put all my trust in the Lord'

Gregory Kelly of Minneapolis builds a model of a tipi. Photo: Dana Kelly
“Presentation of the Temple” by Fra’ Filippo Lippi, OCarm, (circa 1406–1469) with St. Philip Benizi (LEFT) and St. Peregrine Laziosi (RIGHT). Photo: Web Gallery of Art/Public Domain

St. Peregrine Laziosi is an Italian saint of the Servite Order. He is best known for having a vision of Jesus touching his leg the night before it was amputated because of its cancerous infection. St. Peregrine found himself to have been miraculously cured by the next morning. Because of this, St. Peregrine became the patron saint for those suffering from cancer. St. Peregrine’s feast day is May 1.

Catholic Digest spoke with Gregory Kelly of Minneapolis, whose family owned and operated a religious gift shop for many years. Kelly was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago and has had a devotion to St. Peregrine ever since. Kelly also creates scale models including a 6,400 piece, 4-foot long replica of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the home of the Minnesota Vikings and the site of Super Bowl LII this past February.

“Every day I thank the Lord that I am still here. I pray every morning before getting up and it makes me feel so much better,” Kelly said. “Whenever I get an ache or pain, St. Peregrine is right alongside me, telling me to tough it out like he did, to offer it all up to Jesus.”

Q: How did your family come to have a religious goods shop?

A: In Southern California, my family operated a religious gift shop for 44 years. Next door I also operated my hobby shop. My dad built a 3,000 square-foot commercial building in Tustin, California. It was on fabled El Camino Real with mission bells adorning the sidewalks. At first, the building was divided up into six units and my dad rented them out.

Then in a few months my mother wanted her own gift shop. She raised all 12 of us Kelly kids and now it was time for her to start up something new. Her opening inventory consisted of a few candles and a lot of hope. As soon as another unit became available, my dad offered any of us the opportunity to open our own shop, too.

When I was 20, I opened my hobby shop next to the gift shop in February of 1972. The gift shop had opened in November of 1971. My mother dedicated her shop to St. Martin de Porres who had interceded with a miracle for her when she had a brain hemorrhage in 1968.

Eventually the other tenants moved on and the gift shop was able to expand into other units and we added the religious goods selection. A few of my sisters stepped in and ran the religious goods department. They did this for many years and would leave only when they got married. Eventually my parents took over running the religious goods shop and I would assist whenever possible.

Q: What was it like to run your shops?

A: We had very extensive religious offerings, including medals, statues, and rosaries. It felt like we were an extension of the Church itself. Many came in great need; funerals for loved ones, first Communions, Confirmations, and weddings. When my mom or a dad got really busy, I would help select medals for customers. That’s when very sad people would request St. Peregrine medals. I felt like it was a vocation for me to help people in times of need. When they would leave with their medal I would look at the list and see what that saint was the patron of. I looked up St. Peregrine and read about him and filed it away in my mind.

Q: When were you diagnosed with cancer?

A: I was hit with prostate cancer about seven years ago. I dismissed it and didn’t do anything about it as I was taking care of my mother in her last days. Eventually, I got married, the shops closed, my wife Dana and I moved to Minneapolis in 2015. Life was good. Then Dana would barely touch my shoulders or hip and it would be very painful. I even got a fever of 102 degrees.  Dana took me to her doctor who ordered up tests. My PSA number (prostate specific antigen) had escalated to 1,500! I got worried and wondered who I should pray to. That’s when I remembered St. Peregrine.

Q: How has St. Peregrine helped you throughout your treatments?

A: I fervently prayed to him and thought I’d at least have another friend when I got to heaven. I went through every test imaginable. St. Peregrine would tell me to fight it out and to put all my trust in the Lord. To date, I’ve had 12 chemotherapy treatments. The doctors tell me my PSA is now down to 5.7. Hopefully, I just have a few more treatments to go. Though I still have to take pills and get scanned periodically, I sure miss running those shops. I keep busy building scale models in our basement now. I think St. Peregrine will always be with me, too. I keep a holy card in my pocket.

Gregory Kelly stands with a model of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Photo: Dana Kelly

Q: Can you tell us about your models?

A: I am always very happy to share my works with everyone. Most of them have been donated to schools, museums, and libraries. I am not a natural-born artist. I have to work very hard and diligently to make my work believable. I try and project myself into the work like a painter can do with a paintbrush. The U.S. Bank Stadium model now decorates our living room. I still can’t believe I made it, thanks to St. Peregrine. It was on exhibition at the “Minneapolis Miracle” game on Jan. 14. (That’s the NFL playoff game where the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints 29–24 on a last-second touchdown pass.)

Gregory Kelly with a model that he built of the grand staircase from the Titanic. Photo: Dana Kelly

Q: What is your next model project?

A: Before the completion of the U.S. Bank Stadium, I thought about what was next and what have I not done yet. That’s the hardest part of model building: figuring out what you are going to do. We have lilac bushes alongside our back. I put two and two together and thought the straight branches would be perfect for tipi poles. I went and cut about eight pieces, 3 inches long. I took them down in the basement and cut off the bark and tapered them and got started on a Native American tipi. I’ve decorated intricate designs with thousands of toothpicks.



For a novena to St. Peregrine, click here.

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