Knight of St Gregory


IT is unusual for the Holy Father to award the Knighthood of St. Gregory to a man when he is still only 42. In fact I think Pat Keegan is probably unique in receiving the award so early in life. The reason for the award is also unusual. It comes more commonly to a public figure after a lifetime of labour for the Catholic cause in the affairs of the nation, or devoted work within a national Catholic society, hard persevering labour in one place. Pat has been occupied for the last eleven years in a different sort of labour. He was seldom to be found at home. He was a nomad, travelling all over the world with Mgr. Joseph Cardijn, often in Rome, in some years having several individual audiences with the Holy Father. The latter were not a matter of courteous recognition of the national status of some revered figure. No one but a few Catholics in England had heard of Pat. His visits to Rome. His familiarity with not a few Cardinals. and other officials of the Church there were a sign of a quickened approach by the Church to the business of converting the world, a change. for which Pius XI had prepared the way. 

Conversion by the workers

THE laity were now needed, desperately needed, in the work of the apostolate. If the majority of people were to be converted, if the ordinary men and women, working in the docks, in the factories, in the fields, were to be convinced that Christ had come to save them, and that he had established the Catholic Church to carry on His work, they most receive evidence of this from their own friends and fellow workers.

Mgr. Cardijn first established the idea of converting workers by workers, and Pius XI raised this method up into a standard way for all the laity. the conversion of like by like.

Pat Keegan was a cotton worker in Wigan when a local priest, Fr. Rimmer, began to try to apply the principles of the Jeunesse Ouvriere Catholique to the local situation, in 1937. Other priests were of a similar mind all over the country, so the Y.C.W. grew rapidly and was established as a national Catholic society in England before the beginning of the war in 1939.

These two years were a hectic time for Pat who became secretary of the Y.C.W. in 1939, working with Harry Tollfree as president and Gerry Sherry as treasurer. Pat’s home was his family’s council house at Hindley Green, Wigan. 

The headquarters of the movement were at Bob and Molly Walsh’s House of Hospitality in Wigan; the back page of ” The Catholic Worker ” was the News Sheet. After the move to London in 1939, Pat operated from a quick succession of addresses, an office in a block of flats owned by the Church of England at Euston, then from a shop in the Vauxhall Bridge Road. then from the Boys’ Club, St. George’s Square, Westminster. Young cotton worker Pat, having moved to London. was drawing the dole.

A National Campaign

IN 1941. the Headquarters went to Liverpool; and in the same year Pat was called up. For three years he could only keep contact with the movement by letter and on occasional leaves. By 1944. he was back in London from Aden, as Leading Aircraftsman Keegan, and able to begin plans for the post-war activities

In November headquarters were formally set up at 42 OffIey Road, S.W.5, which is now the home of Fr. Mitchinson, the chaplain general of the movement. Pat was now President, and Ordinary Seaman Kevin Muir joined with him as National Secretary. Soon others arrived and a national campaign for promoting the movement became possible.

In 1948 Pat was elected International President of the J.O.C. and from that point it is almost impossible to follow him, travelling all over the world with Mgr. Cardijn. conscious of the full backing of the Holy Father.

It was an attempt to establish branches of the movement among young people everywhere, bringing to them the message of Christianity that the Church was set up for the good of all men, for the good of their bodies as well as their souls.

It was not an anti-Communist campaign. It was an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of pre-Christian religions and superstitions, with Christian hope. to fill the vacuum left alongside modern secularist materialism with a faith rooted in the certainty of the spiritual, a faith which was manifest in its practical concern for the food. the clothing, the housing, the working conditions, the social conditions, the status of the family, the rights of citizens amongst the poorest paid people everywhere.

Journey to Knighthood

WE don’t need any turns of rhetoric to see something moving and encouraging in this story of the progress of a Lancashire cotton piecer to a Papal Knight. Pat’s mother was Lancashire born and bred; his father was an Irishman and a miner. Their qualities can be seen in Pat’s work in the international field.

His achievement is directly related to his dynamic, persevering and irrepressible human approach to every problem. Impossible to convey it all in these brief words. And to quote any of his obiter dicta would be to give a wrong impression. They are always bitingly pertinent! Perhaps most characteristic are the sort of qualities one is used to assuming that the Englishman nurtured in our Public School and University traditions possesses a sense of humour, tolerance and judgment. so valuable in the international field. In Pat these qualities are fired with the inspiration of the most important Catholic movement of the century. One is proud to see this addition to British international achievement. The Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne seemed in many ways to be essentially a continental movement. It is encouraging to find its great priest-founder, Mgr. Cardijn choosing an Englishman as his lieutenant over a ten year long campaign. in many ways the Church in England often seems to be entirely oblivious of the pulsing Catholic life in other countries, changing and developing so many of our accepted conventions. We may give thanks that in this direction, and that probably the most important of all. we have had something to offer to others, and a means of receiving from them. Thanks, Pat! Ad multos annos.