Longest serving priest goes to God

Fr Frank Keogh laid to rest after 69 years of faithful service to the Archdiocese and the universal Church…

By Matthew Biddle

THE longest-serving priest in the history of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Fr Frank Keogh, was remembered fondly on December 11 by family, friends, parishioners and fellow clergy.

The 95-year-old passed away on December 6 in Harden, the place that had been his home for the majority of the last four decades.

Bishop Pat Power, who delivered the homily for the Funeral Mass for the repose of Fr Frank’s soul, described the cleric as a faithful shepherd who cared deeply for his flock.

“There was never a time in his life as a priest that he was not close to the earth and close to his people, attuned to their lives with all their joys and struggles,” he said.

“His ordination to the priesthood in his home parish of Taralga on July 25, 1946 was arguably the high point of his life. Yet from all I observed, for almost 70 years, Fr Frank Keogh never lost the enthusiasm or ideals of a newly ordained priest.”

Born on August 7, 1920, Fr Frank attended Catholic schools in Taralga and Goulburn. He began his seminary studies at St Columba’s College in Springwood at the age of 19, and completed them at St Patrick’s College in Manly.

After his ordination, he served in Bega, Goulburn, Delegate, Braidwood and Murrumburrah, where he was parish priest from 1972 to 2000.

Fr Frank also served in several other ministries, including spending two years as the administrator of the Cathedral in Goulburn (1960-1962), during which time the famous ‘Goulburn School Strike’ took place.

“Bishop John Cullinane is generally credited with being the driving force behind the drastic action which saw the closure of the Catholic schools in Goulburn and the pupils lining up to be enrolled in the government schools,” Bishop Pat recalled.

Fr Frank after celebrating Mass with Fr Pat Kenna at the St Lawrence’s Apartments aged care facility in Harden. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Fr Frank after celebrating Mass with Fr Pat Kenna at the St Lawrence’s Apartments aged care facility in Harden. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“Yet Bishop Cullinane in his own account of events points out that it was a group of prominent Catholic laymen who were the brains behind it all. But coordinating it was the much respected administrator of the Cathedral, Fr Frank Keogh. He is depicted with great competence, convening and chairing delicate meetings and being the ‘front man’ for much of what was going on behind the scenes.”

Despite his important role in the strike, it was Fr Frank’s ministry in rural parishes that he gained the most fulfillment from. And his parishioners responded with great fondness for their priest, Bishop Pat said.

“I have not known any other priest to have gained such universal love of parishioners and affection of his brother priests,” he said.

“Fr Frank had a great capacity to find unity in diversity and he enjoyed the respect of people of a great range of views. I am sure that much of that was attributable to his genuine holiness and depth of human goodness.”

During the eulogy for Fr Frank, his nieces Julie Young and Estelle Muller and nephew Martin Connor recalled happy memories of their uncle’s visits each year at Christmas and Easter.

Ms Young said Fr Frank would arrive with a variety of food, as well as clothing that he needed his sister Mary to mend, and of course his Missals and prayer books for saying the Divine Office and Mass.

“These daily Masses were a real feature of our holidays, and while we were not always super keen to go along, we will certainly always remember the sound of his deep voice echoing around the vast marble altar of the Taralga church,” she said.

Fr Frank would play tennis with his nieces and nephews, and loved playing the card game Euchre with the whole family.

“Perhaps as we went to bed he might spend time on his hobby, repairing wristwatches, tinkering over their small cogs with special tools,” Ms Young said. “But every night he would say his Office, which seemed a little mysterious to us as young children; it reminded us of his special commitment to God.”

Mr Connor spoke about Fr Frank’s generous spirit, and said he was always happy to give his time freely to his grand nephews.

“Before the passing of Bernie (Fr Frank’s brother), it was not uncommon for them to have phone conversations as late as 11pm or midnight, and this would also involve saying the Rosary over the phone together,” he said.

“Uncle Frank was kind, compassionate and generous to the poor.

“It was common for Uncle Frank to have people in need knocking on his presbytery door. He would give them the money from his own pocket.”

Ms Muller said Fr Frank “loved the people of Harden-Murrumburrah and the area became his true home”.

“He especially loved the way the local school children would involve him in their activities, and how they made an effort to remember his birthday,” she said.

“He was proud of his vocation to the priesthood, as were his parents and siblings, and all his nieces and nephews have always had a sense of pride in having such a wonderful priest in the family.

“From his own gentle, courteous nature and a lifetime devoted to Christ, he demonstrated the way of life that Jesus taught.”

Ms Muller thanked the Redemptorists at Galong who welcomed Fr Frank for lunch every Sunday for many years, as well as the priests and laity who had supported Fr Frank in recent years as his health declined.

Following the Funeral Mass, Fr Frank was buried at Taralga Stonequarry Cemetery, alongside his parents James and Florence and his siblings Patrick, Bernard and Mary.