The president and CEO of Mount St. Joseph High School will receive the most prestigious award a member of the laity can receive from the pope Sunday, according to a release from the all-boys Catholic high school in Baltimore.

Brother James Kelly, the school's president for the last 10 years, will receive the Cross of Honour during a Nov. 20 prayer service at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, the release stated.

The award, established in 1888, is given to laity and clergy who show distinguished service to the church.

"Obviously, I'm incredibly honored," Kelly said. "I've just done my job as best as I think it should be done as a man who works for the church. I was never expecting any awards for it."


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Three years ago, doctors diagnosed Kelly with stage IV metastatic prostate cancer.

Despite receiving regular chemotherapy treatments, he has continued to serve as the school's president and teach class.

Every few months, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien would call Kelly and check on his health.

In September, a secretary told Kelly that he had a phone call from O'Brien, who was in Rome at the time.

Kelly assumed it was just another checkup, but O'Brien surprised him with news of the award for which he nominated Kelly.

"I just didn't know what to say," Kelly said. "I was just left speechless."

O'Brien said he has handed out fewer than 10 of these awards since he came to the archdiocese in 2007.

"He's been the epitome of a religious (figure) who has set the mark in his vocation in forming young people in character, virtue and faith," said O'Brien, who in August received a new job leading a global order of Catholic knights, a post that will likely lead to his elevation to cardinal.

Once Kelly found the words to say something, O'Brien said that Kelly talked about continuing work.

"He didn't want sympathy. He didn't want any kind of special honors from me," O'Brien said. "He's just doing his job."

In previous school years, Kelly has utilized Skype, a software application that allows for real-time video conferencing, to teach his class when his treatments made him too weak to attend.

Now, Kelly said, he is too weak to go to school. But he continues to teach his class using Skype each day.

He said he will soon be in hospice care

"The last thing I want to give up is teaching," Kelly said. "I miss the kids. They're the ones that give you life and energize you. I miss not seeing them every day."

Kelly also misses spending time with the school's faculty, a group he called "a very devoted group of men and women.

"It's just a joy for me to see them work with the kids," Kelly said.

This story has been updated.