PATRICK KEEGAN b. 11.2.16 – d. 8.3.90.
Outside a close circle of friends little was heard or seen of Pat Keegan over the last decade. Perhaps it is not surprising that a man so gifted and of such nervous energy should succumb to ill–health and the onset of old age by withdrawing from a life time of intense apostolic activity into a retirement of contemplation.
An earlier recovery from cancer had left him nervous about his health but when the final signal came, death had no terrors for Pat. His work was done and he was quite content to await the final call of the Lord whom he privately and frequently referred to as the Beloved. To a friend who phoned to ask if he might visit, Pat said he would be welcome provided he brought a bottle of champagne. I was reminded if Pat’s father who on his deathbed chuckled and joked about a bottle of beer he allegedly had hidden under the bedclothes. The priest friend who ministered to Pat to the end said that seldom had he ever seen such a peaceful and happy death.
Others were, of course, involved and we often joked about the hundred founders but there is no doubt that Keegan was the key lay founder of the English YCW. His father was from Ireland and progressed from farm–labourer to miner to steel worker. His mother was Lancashire born and a four–loom weaver. The need of his work and wage precluded a grammar-school scholarship and at fourteen Pat started work in a garage and left that later for better money – sixteen shillings a week with stoppages – as a little piecer in Howbridge Mills. Laughter greeted him when he arrived for training in the garage boilersuit. It was very hot work piecing bobbins at the mule spinning and work started at 7.45 a.m. and finished at 5.30 p.m. Like the others Pat was soon topless and barefooted.
The Keegans lived in Hindley near Wigan. Pat has recalled the Benedictine led parish community with great affection. He was trained to make the sign of the Cross as he buttoned up his coat to go out and would eat his breakfast sandwiches at school after weekday Mass and communion. Sunday evenings in the parish club brought the occasional visiting speaker. One Winter evening in 1937 this was Gerard Rimmer, curate from the neighbouring St Joseph’s parish armed with the newly launched Catholic Worker. Keegan responded to the priest’s appeal for door to door sellers and still more to the priest’s interest in himself. He soon found himself part of a large group of the Catholic Social Guild.
Fr Rimmer felt more was needed than studying Catholic Social teaching. Correspondence with and publications from Brussels pointed to Jocism as the answer and this was settled by a visit from Fr Kothen, assistant to Joseph Cardijn. So there started what was probably the first genuine YCW leaders’ group in England with a post-office, a miner, a dye-worker and Pat. Each had to form his own group or team. Pat started his in his own parish at Hindley and this developed in to a full YCW section as did a girls’ group started by Pat’s sister Molly.
The leaders’ groups combined reflection on the Gospel with review of life and action on such problems as short–time, unemployment and housing. One of the early successes was getting the local authority to repair some disgraceful council housing property.
Pat and the others would pore over colour illustrations of JOC events like the mammoth Paris congress in 1337 which opened their eyes to the size and importance of the movement they had joined. Then at one meeting Fr Rimmer quietly announced that he had been raising money by begging so he could go with them to Belgium to meet the YCW founder. Pat remarked later that it was the first time he had ever packed a suitcase and he seemed to have done little else since.
Then came an offer, generous but with strings, from Fr Charles Carr of more office space in Vauxhall Bridge Road. Strings? The YCW would help to run and influence the Westminster youth club Fr Carr had started. Hindsight sees the acceptance as unwise it was to lead to another clash of interests. It was there, in my first year of ordination that I first met Pat Keegan, there in the company of Fr Eugene Langdale, a YCW chaplain in Chelsea who was filling in as chaplain guide for Fr Rimmer who was unable to leave Liverpool. For me it war the first of many fascinating visits and Pat came down to me in Kent for a few weekly visits to help get me started with a YCW group, from which a few budding leaders cycled to Birmingham (this was in 1939) to join delegates from some forty or fifty YCW sections at an inspiring study week–end. The then Birmingham auxiliary, Bernard Griffin, showed an instinctive grasp of the unique value and importance of the YCW. Another auxiliary, David Mathew, became bishop protector of the English YCW.
So many moves. The next, through the kindness of Yvonne Bosch of the Grail, was to Golders Green, with the gift or loan of a whole house. It was a very useful centre for more extension but the war had started and after a few months a bomb fell and made the house unusable. Then it was back North where Mgr Adamson, responsible for Catholic Action in Liverpool, got the HQ installed and fed, too, by nuns at Seafield, Crosby – by now it was 1940. Despite casualties and call-up, it was a period of strong growth with Middlesborough now an important development area.
Bishop Mathew got Pat a temporary deferment from call-up until 1942 when the RAF pat off to Aden for four years, leaving behind him a good small team at YCW HQ. Pat was now part of a far-flung Forces apostolate but he kept in touch with home and came back with a clutch of exercise books full of reflections, ideas and plans for the post-war YCW. Still in uniform he called at the London YCW centre near Kennington Oval; then, using his talents as secretary of the CO of his station, he got billeted with the YCW and still in uniform went over to Brussels for the first post–war international gathering of the YCW.
A steady stream of other former leaders called in; a number stayed and on demob, an initial six pooled their gratuities and formed a net; team of fulltime organisers.
The national HQ came back again to London, followed later by the team of girl fulltimers from Salford, with a gradual unifying of the overly separate male and female branches of the movement.
“Extraordinary fellow,” remarked the headmaster of Ampleforth about Pat, “considering he’s had no formal education.” This was during a study week there and it was to be repeated with hilarity among the fulltime leaders. But it was true. Pat had quite unusual charisms of leadership, charm, humour, rich imagery of expression which, with his deep faith and conviction made him an exceptional educator and communicator. He would give himself in deep one to one encounters with key leaders and while he disliked and always tried to avoid formal prepared talks, he had considerable gifts of oratory which would flow forth at unforeseen moments or when it came to him to bring an important meeting to its conclusion.
Over a hundred full–time organisers passed through his hands or under his spell including other English–speaking YCW founders like Tyacke of South Africa or Maione of Canada and priest visitors, chaplains and bishops similarly. I recall an Australian priest citing Pat as the personality among the many encounters made in a fairly long trip to Europe.
Increasing international involvement made it necessary for Pat to hand over to others the top leadership of the English YCW. Besides big events like the 1947 international YCW
council in Montreal there were regular meetings of the international bureau as a kind of executive, meeting mostly in Brussels and also in Paris, Rome and London and Pat was elected first as chairman of this and later as international president. There were long extension tours and visits, through India with Cardijn, annually to North America.
In 1951 he helped set up the national lay apostolate group – later NCLA, which formed this country’s delegation to the first world congress of the lay apostolate in Rome. This broke down old barriers between main movements and organisations and helped form valuable and enduring friendships.
As with other leaders, in 1957, the time came for Pat to leave the YCW. He helped then in setting up its adult counterpart, Family and Social Action, continued his contribution in home aw. a member of the laity commission. He wan a lay auditor at Vatican II and was, I think, the first layman to address the Council.
As always his apostolic influence was on a deeply personal and human level. I can see him still in the hotel lounge on the Via della Conciliazione literally the centre of interest in a group of bishops. I think God alone was the only one Pat ever feared that with a deeply filial and loving fear. Successive Popes knew him just as Pat and he had known them as friends before their election. He had a special love and reverence for Paul VI and John Paul II literally wept on Pat’s shoulder after his election.
For Pat they were his priests and top ones at that. He epitomised the lay apostle hut his deep sense of the Church gave him an abiding conviction of the necessity and value of priest/lay complementary partnership in the total mission of the Church.
Like all of us he had his troubled times. These for him are now over. May he rest in peace in the embrace of the Beloved whom he loved and served so well.
English YCW Archives