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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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in memoriam
Friday

Rev. Keaveny, former Provincial, dies at 67

Redemptorist Father George Keaveney, a three-term former Father Provincial of the Baltimore Province, died of cancer May 23 at the Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, NY. For the past six years he had been serving as the Rector of Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat House, Esopus, NY.

A Wake Service was held Sunday, May 25, at Mount St. Alphonsus, with a longtime friend, Father Robert Pagliari, C.Ss.R, preaching and Father Eugene Grohe, C.ss.R. speaking on behalf of the Esopus community. Baltimore Father Provincial Patrick Woods, who had served for nine years with Father Keaveney on the Provincial Government, preached at the Funeral Mass the following morning. Burial was in the Redemptorist cemetery in Esopus.

Acknowledging the Father Keaveney never liked being the center of attention and was happiest in the background, Father Woods said: "I will find it hard not to embarrass George in this homily since he was one of the finest confreres that I have ever known, and I truly consider him one of the great men in the history of the Baltimore Province." Father Keaveney was known above all for his great kindness to his confreres, the students whom he taught, his parishioners, and, as Baltimore Provincial, to members of the Congregation throughout the world.

He was the second of three children, born Feb. 4, 1941, in Boston, to James and Margaret Phalan Keaveney. From the age of nine he dreamed of becoming a priest and, after attending Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Boston, he was accepted into the Redemptorist minor seminary in North East, PA. He made his novitiate in Ilchester, MD, and made his first profession of vows in 1961 and his final profession in 1964. He earned a BA, BD, and MRE in Theology at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus and was ordained to the priesthood there on June 19, 1966. He later earned an MA in History at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Father John Lavin, a classmate from grammar school, said, "George was always the smartest kid in the class" until he reached North East and became "the second smartest after (Father) Tim Keating." He was involved in sports and in putting on skits and, especially, unobtrusively helping other students to understand the lessons that came so easily to him. "He did it in a way that never made you embarrassed; he was great," Father Lavin said.

Another seminary classmate, Father Daniel Carboy, recalled, "Back in the ’60s, it was a troubling time, but George was always a steady man, always faithful … he was always happy, laughing, joyous and supportive."

When he had completed his Master’s degree, Father Keaveney was assigned to teach at the Redemptorist Seminary in Suffield, CT, and was named Co-Prefect there in 1974 and Rector for two terms beginning in 1978. Father Frank Browne, who also taught at Suffield for six years, said, "He was the kindest rector/superior I’ve ever known in my life. He could teach anything and he used to help out in different parishes. He took so many Masses at Christmas that he didn’t get away, and he’d come back to the seminary and cook a big dinner for everyone who was around. He was a real priest and knew what service meant." When classes broke for the summer, he added, Father Keaveney would take a group of students up to Maine to work with Bible camps for the youth there.

In 1984, Father Keaveney was appointed Rector of the Redemptorist retreat house in Tobyhanna, PA, and, two years later, when the Province agreed to accept the pastoral care of St. Martin of Tours Church in Bethpage, NY, he became the first Redemptorist Rector there. 1984 also was the year he was elected by his confreres to serve on the Extraordinary Pastoral Council. He was reelected in 1987 and 1990, the same year he was elected as a delegate to the Congregation’s General Chapter.

Father Keaveney was elected Baltimore Provincial Superior in 1993, 1996 and 1999. The Baltimore Provincial Residence in Brooklyn became his home during those years. His work involved countless hours on the road and in airplanes. The road trips usually involved Father Woods and Father Francis (Biff) O’Rourke. Father Woods recalled: "George loved to stop and eat at a restaurant rather than rush home … there was a lesson. No matter how stressful and demanding is the work, God invites us to share it and enjoy life with one another. As Provincial, George never took himself too seriously and that is a good lesson for all of us. He was a humble man."

Listing some of the difficult decisions Father Keaveney had to make in his terms of office, Father Woods mentioned the challenge of the Province leaving 12 parishes and assigning those who staffed them elsewhere and, at the same time, caring for disappointed parishioners. "He moved the Caribbean islands to becoming a Region, he brought the Sisters of Perpetual Help to the Province to enhance our Spanish ministry, he approved the development of the Sarnelli Ministry, was the first Provincial to accept Lay Missionaries of the Most Holy Redeemer. George reached out to our former confreres and brought about much healing; he brought the General Chapter to West End (NJ) in 1997 and showed the entire Congregation the great work being done in the Baltimore Province. His time as Provincial was most challenging and called for difficult decisions. Yet, I do not think there is a confrere in the Province who could say that George did not treat each one of them with the greatest kindness and respect."

He also was known as a soft touch for those in need. He was instrumental in helping to build a great church in Grodno, Belarus; awarded grants to inner city children so they could attend Catholic schools; offered support to communities of Sisters who had been part of the Redemptorist ministries; and funded new ministries for inner city parishes.

His kindness was very personal, too. He would fill in for a parish priest who was ill or in need of a long-delayed vacation. After completing his administrative service, Father Keaveney was asked to serve as Rector of Mount St. Alphonsus, where he became beloved as a father not only to the confreres, but also to the staff there, as well as to the Redemptoristine Sisters, whose monastery is on the same grounds. No one was hesitant to go to him with some concern, major or minor, and he always responded with sympathy and encouragement.

Father Thomas Travers of the Esopus community described Father Keaveney as "a terrific leader." He led by encouraging others to use their talents, he said. "He enables us, he pushed us forward," he added. "He’d plan and provide for everything and then say, ’Why don’t you go up and stand by the bishop – I’ll be in the back."

Over the years, the best vacations he had were spent with his younger sibling, Sister Margaret Keaveney, Visatrix of the Western unit of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. "Not many people vacation in south central L.A., but that’s where he’d come to see me at the motherhouse," Sister Margaret said. "He was always a kind and loving fellow," she said. "I was the baby of the family, but at times I’d make him feel he was – he was such a gentle, loving kid." Obviously proud of his sister’s dedication to the poor and her administration of hospitals, Father Keaveney would sometimes take her up on the joke of their reversal of ages: "Confreres who have an older sister know what it is to take orders and stay on the right course," he would tell the Redemptorists.

In his homily, Father Woods told Sister Margaret: "When I visited George, I could see him looking at you, trusting you, knowing he was in the safest hands and not alone. You were a rock to him, even though your sorrow was so strong." Turning to their older brother, he said, "He was proud of you, Jim, and your family."

The time between Father Keaveney’s diagnosis and death was very brief. "When the doctor told him his cancer was incurable, I sobbed," Sister Margaret said. "I couldn’t get my mind around it. But he looked at me and said, ‘Marge, everything is gift of God.’"

Father Keaveney is survived by his sister, brother and sister-in-law and their children, and numerous cousins.

 

Rev. George J. Keaveney C.Ss.R

  • Born: February 4, 1941
  • Professed: August 2, 1961
  • Ordained: June 19, 1966
  • Died: May 23, 2008

 

Services

Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat House
Esopus, NY

Funeral: Monday, May 26, 2008, 11:00 A.M.
Wake: Sunday, May 25, 2008, 7:00 P.M. (services at 7:30 p.m. )
Burial: Mt. St. Alphonsus Cemetery