Fr. James M. Keegan, SJ, was born on July 19, 1940, in Franklin, a small city in central New Hampshire, where two rivers came together from the north and formed the Merrimack River and where, some years before Fr. Keegan, Daniel Webster had also been born. His Polish grandparents had settled there as sponsored immigrants during the first years of World War II. His Irish grandparents had come earlier. His father was part-owner of a hardware store; his mother was a high-school math teacher until Fr. Keegan was born and state regulation required her to give up teaching. Both were born in Franklin and met while skiing. There was also a grocery store in the family, opened by his Irish grandfather and Fr. Keegan worked there as a boy. Both had been born in Franklin and met while skiing. There was also a grocery store in the family, opened by his Irish grandfather and Fr. Keegan worked there as a boy.
He attended local Catholic schools and then went to Boston College. He was fond of theater on campus and in Boston, and in fact had already written a play that had been performed in his high school. At B.C. he wrote for the campus literary publication, Stylus, and hung around the Stylus office with students who would later make their way as wordsmiths—Marty Nolan, who would become editor of the Boston Globe, and George Higgins, who would write The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Jesuits at B.C.–Francis Sweeney, Joe Shea, Leo Fahey, who was a scholastic—had a big influence on Fr. Keegan’s decision about his future. When he graduated, in 1962, he painted houses for his father’s business for the summer and then entered the novitiate at Shadowbrook in 1962. Fr. Keegan said that he adapted fairly well to a rather strict Director of Novices, but also discovered that if you followed all the rules there was a kind of peace at the end of the day. Because he had graduated from B.C. as an English major he went directly to Weston and philosophy studies. As regency approached, James Leo Burke, Province Director of Studies, came to his room one day and asked him, “Do you like fish?” Fr. Keegan said, “Yes, I like fish.” Fr. Burke then said, “Good. There will be a lot of fish in Portland.” Fr. Keegan said that was his way of changing your life. So Fr. Keegan taught English and theology at Cheverus High School for two years, and then was assigned to Weston Jesuit School of Theology, in Cambridge, Mass., for theology studies. Fr. Keegan said that this was where he learned to pray, under the influence of Bill Barry, who was finishing his doctoral studies in psychology at the University of Michigan. With Bill Barry’s help, Fr. Keegan developed a relationship with Jesus, which made studies a prayer in themselves. These were joyful years for Fr. Keegan, culminating in his ordination as a priest in 1971.
From 1971 to 1975, he taught English and religion at Fairfield Preparatory School. In 1975, he then became assistant director of novices at the New England novitiate, on Newbury Street in Boston. In 1975-1976 he did his tertianship in the province’s two-summer programs. The first summer was spent making the long retreat at Gloucester, the second summer he spent in India, before returning to the novitiate. In 1978, Fr. Keegan felt the need for more training as a spiritual director, and so went to the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, a year-long practicum in spiritual direction. Fr. Keegan found this a difficult and emotionally intense time as he listened and learned how to listen. In 1979 he became the director of the Campion Renewal Center which the province had established at the old Weston. In 1985 he taught spirituality and retreat ministry at the Center for Religious Development.
In 1990 he was invited to become the Associate Director of the Louisville Archdiocesan Spirituality Office, which trained priests and spiritual directors. His work there had an impact that is still remembered in the church at Louisville. In these years, too, he was closely involved with the formation and direction of Spiritual Directors International, which led to his giving retreats and workshops around the world. In 2002, Jim was appointed director of the retreat program at Eastern Point Retreat House and superior of the Jesuit community there. Subsequently he worked with the Jesuit Collaborative, a program sponsored by the three East Coast Jesuit provinces, that worked with laypeople to develop forms of Ignatian spirituality in daily life.
In 2009, the first signs of Parkinson’s appeared and he moved to Campion Health Center, where he continued to provide spiritual direction and consulting to a wide variety of people, including his fellow Jesuits. The consequences of Parkinson’s grew more evident, but Fr. Keegan continued to welcome visitors with his engaging smile and willingness to listen. For years he had written poetry, drawn in good part from his wrestling with his unrelenting diminishment. One of these he called “A Farewell to Friends”:
Before my teeth fall out
and more joints start to click
like metronomes collecting silence
I want to say, “I love you,” once
and have it understood
the way the mirror
understands my face.”
In recent years, the illness took its toll more relentlessly, but Fr. Keegan accepted it with wit and a light-heartedness that drew on his deep faith and his understanding of how gently and respectfully God deals with those he loves. He died peacefully on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2018
Joseph T. Bennett was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 19th, 1926, the first of nine children of Helen (Frost) and Joseph T. Bennett. Three of the children died at birth. His family lived in Stoughton, a town south of Boston, where Joe attended the Catholic grammar school. In the Depression years his father and mother scraped together money to feed the large family, but Joe was able to attend Boston College High School because the pastor offered to pay half of the tuition. The long commute left him little time for sports or extracurricular activities. Since grade school he had been thinking about becoming a priest. Maryknoll was his first choice, moved by the appeal of its Chinese missions, but the Jesuits at B. C. High also impressed him, especially his freshman teacher Fr. Leo Pollard. He chose the Jesuits and, because of the war, he was admitted after only three years of high school. He arrived at the Shadowbrook novitiate on August 14th, 1944.
After philosophy studies at Weston College (1948-1951), Joe volunteered for the Japanese mission but the provincial talked him into applying for missions generally, with a preference for Japan, and then sent him to Baghdad. There he taught geometry, algebra and some religion at Baghdad College. He found the Arab boys very respectful, due to the way they were brought up at home, so they were patient with his attempts to teach in Arabic. Besides, he said, they all wanted to learn English, so it worked out. He was delighted that one of his students entered the Jesuits—Steve Bonian, now at Campion Center.
After three years as a regent, he returned to Weston for theology studies. He was ordained a priest, in 1957. A year later, he did tertianship at St. Robert’s Hall, in Pomfret, Connecticut.He volunteered to return to Baghdad and was there for the next decade, teaching math and struggling to learn Arabic. In 1968 a Baathist government came to power (Saddam Hussein was vice president and head of the police) and nationalized all private schools. In August the Jesuits at the college were given fifteen minutes to vacate the property (this was extended to three days thanks to the efforts of a local police officer). In all, some 60 Jesuits made their way to Beirut and from there to the States.
Traumatized by the experience and without an assignment, Joe went to Boston College for the rest of the academic year and earned a Master’s in mathematics. Told to look for a job, he visited the province high schools. B. C. High offered him a position as a math teacher and assistant prefect of discipline. In one version or another, these assignments occupied the rest of his working life.
In 1987 he took a year-long sabbatical, studying theology at Weston College. When he returned, he was asked to work fulltime in the discipline office. Here he was troubled by the unruly behavior of American teenagers, compared to the boys he had known in Baghdad. Around the end of his sabbatical the school was instituting a tutoring program for its own students and Joe was asked to take it over, supervising the National Honor Society students who were tutoring students. Later he was joined by another Jesuit, Fr. Jim O’Neill. For almost twenty years this assignment occupied most of his time and energy.
Nonetheless, one of his pastoral joys was working nights and weekends in parishes in Arlington, Weymouth, Neponset, and as far as West Springfield. And he developed a modest apostolate visiting students in Boston hospitals.
He continued these commitments almost to the end of his life. In August 2017 he moved to Campion Health Center, where his steady cheerfulness and humble demeanor endeared him to staff and community members. In September 2018 his health worsened. He was hospitalized for only a few days, but on Sunday, September 23rd, 2018, his generous heart failed him.