The Tablet

The Tablet


Patrick Keegan

Mr Patrick Keegan, who played a leading part in the Young Christian Workers movement in Britain and internationally, died on 8 March at the age of 74. He was invited to be a lay auditor at the Second Vatican Council and on 13 October, 1964, had the distinction of being the first layman in modern times to address an ecumenical council. He spoke on the subject of the role of the laity in the mission of the Church in the world. Pope Paul VI made him a member of the Vatican council for the laity, and later for the family.

Keegan was brought up near Wigan in Lancashire in the 1930s. His father came from Ireland as a farmworker and became a miner; his mother was born in Lancashire of Irish parents. Patrick went to the parish school and at 14 started work in a garage, then in a cotton mill. He remembered the common hardship of those days, especially in the midst of unemployment.

The Keegan family were observant Catholics. Patrick’s vocation was sparked by a talk at the parish club given by Fr Gerard Rimmer of St Joseph’s Wigan, who was inspired by the teaching of the Catholic Social Guild and had come to spread news of a local newspaper, The Catholic Worker, and recruit lads to sell it. Pat Keegan volunteered and there began a partnership between young man and priest that blossomed into the Young Christian Workers movement in Britain. They were, of course, under inspiration from Cardijn’s work in Belgium, and Keegan would recall seeing pictures of one of the great European Congresses where young carpenters set up the altar, young waiters and waitresses dressed it, and young bakers brought the bread. For the first time he saw a connection between the Mass and the world of work.

The ideas and aspirations that coalesced in that movement were, as is the way, developing elsewhere simultaneously. The Lancashire beginnings were matched in the West Country under the auspices of Dominicans. The first all-England gathering took place in December 1937 in Wigan. Harry Tolfree, from the West Country, became national president of the Young Christian Workers, Pat Keegan secretary and Fr Rimmer national chaplain. At the same time the movement got going in London. By the time war broke out in 1939 the movement had spread and rooted itself sufficiently to survive wartime dislocations and make its mark within the services.

On demobilisation from the RAF Pat Keegan assumed leadership of the movement. He recruited a team of half a dozen organisers, who pooled their gratuities and lived a common life at premises in Offley Road, Kennington, in south London, which became the headquarters. At that period, as before the war, Keegan was vigilant to maintain the identity of the YCW as a movement from within the working class in which young workers were agents of their own improvement. That meant disentangling it from the concept of being a social service that was present at the beginning and might have taken it over, from the more theoretical side of the Catholic Social Guild, and from diocesan attempts to draw it into the general provision of youth services.

The international dimension of the YCW took up more and more of Keegan’s time and energy. He was international president of the movement from 1947 for ten years. In 1957 he left office in the YCW after 20 years and turned to establishment of the lay apostolate movement in Britain and the World Movement of Christian Workers, of which he was president for six years from 1960.

Archbishop Derek Worlock presided at the funeral Mass in Clifton Cathedral on Thursday, 15 March. A message from Pope John Paul was read.