by NZ CATHOLIC staff
GISBORNE — Eight months after celebrating 70 years as a priest, Fr Phil Keane died in Gisborne on July 13.
Phelim John Keane was born on October 14, 1920, and ordained to the
priesthood on November 19, 1944.
Fr Keane was known for his jokes — usually delivered deadpan. Like
the time he told a congregation he had better end his sermon because
one parishioner had been looking at his watch . . . and now he was winding it.
His life’s work had its foundation in his upbringing by Irish immigrant parents who lived in Gisborne before lack of work forced them to Auckland.
He grew up in St Benedict’s parish, Newton, where the priests were good friends of the family. Their sort of life appealed. He attended Sacred Heart College in Auckland.
The effects of the 1932 riots by the Auckland unemployed also affected him deeply and for him the issues boiled down to social justice, on which he read widely.
At 16, he entered the seminary 70 years of service, humour remembered
with the words of the Marist Brothers in his ears: “If you are going to be a priest, be a good one.” Six other priests came from his group: Frs T. Liddy, T. Duffy, F. Garty, D. Angland, J. Bradley
and M. Ryan.
Three years after he was ordained, he was on loan to Christchurch
diocese when he witnessed the 1947 Ballantyne’s department store fire.
That night he walked with a policeman under the store verandah, giving absolution to people he could not see, but who, it was thought, might be unconscious in the cellars.
Back in his home diocese, he was appointed to St Mary’s parish, Hamilton, and then to Epsom and to Ellerslie, during which time he was chaplain to Green Lane Hospital, National Women’s Hospital and Cornwall Geriatric Hospital.
Postings to Ponsonby and Meadowbank followed.
In 1973, he went to Gisborne, supposedly for three weeks. However, the country priest, Fr Ron McKendry, had leukemia, so Fr Keane had to stay.
In almost a lifetime of parish work, “being there when you are wanted” had been among the most satisfying aspects.
Hospital work and ministering to the dying had special significance.
Fr Keane enjoyed a ham radio hobby that started with a cigar-box
crystal set when he was eight, and had time for photography.
His requiem Mass was celebrated in Gisborne on July 20.