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Holy Name priest and nun achieve remarkable lives of service

Holy Name Catholic Church - parish priest Father John Keegan will celebrate 60 years as a priest and Sister Margaret 50 years as a Sister of Mercy. Photo: Bev Lacey / The Chronicle
Holy Name Catholic Church - parish priest Father John Keegan will celebrate 60 years as a priest and Sister Margaret 50 years as a Sister of Mercy. Photo: Bev Lacey / The Chronicle Bev Lacey

IN A time when people change jobs as often as hairstyles, one man's lifelong commitment to the Catholic Church stands out like a beacon.

Fr Thomas Keegan has spent the past 60 years doing God's work in Australia, after arriving by boat from Ireland in 1953.

His story is an inspiring one, littered with tales of sacrifice and fulfilment.

As a child, Fr Keegan always knew his life's path lay with the church.

"Every time my Aunt Lizzie and the other women would come over, they would ask me 'What are you going to be when you grow up Tommy? You're going to be a priest, aren't you?'"

"'Oh, of course,' I would reply.

"That was when I was four or five years old."

He went straight from school to the seminary at St Patrick's College in Tipperary - the same college in which the first bishop of Toowoomba James Byrne was educated and ordained.

"We went in and became kinds of mercenaries," Fr Keegan said.

"It was a case of 'Where do I go now to be a priest?'

The rector, a former neighbour of Bishop James Byrne, suggested Toowoomba.

"When I asked what sort of a place Toowoomba was, he told me there was lots of elbow room," Fr Keegan said.

"Never a truer word was spoken."

Times have certainly changed since Fr Keegan came ashore on Australian soil and headed to Toowoomba in 1953.

There were six other priests on board the ship, alongside 14 nuns.

"I've been here from the days of camel traffic to the days of the satellite," he said.

"In those days, there was an abundance of priests in the Toowoomba Diocese."

So many, in fact, that one-fifth were "on loan" to other dioceses as far afield as Western Australia

Fr Keegan's first placement was closer to home, spending his first few years of priesthood in Warwick.

His first post as a parish priest was in Cunnamulla, before eventually taking up the post at the Holy Name Parish in 1988.

"I used to love writing home to tell my family that my parish was twice the size of the whole of Ireland," he said.

 

Half century of devotion

VERY few things have remained the same over the past 50 years, but Sr Margaret Norris' devotion to upholding the values of the Catholic Church has broken that mould.

In February, she will celebrate half a century since becoming a Sister of Mercy and setting about doing God's work.

Her path was not always clear to her, but her faith was always strong - as was her love of music.

Born-and-bred in Toowoomba, Sr Margaret received her childhood education at St Saviour's College.

"Music played a big part in teaching at Catholic schools in those days," she said.

St Saviour's would become permanent fixture in her life, returning after graduation to become a music teacher.

For six years, she continued in the role before joining the Sisters of Mercy.

The idea first came to her at 19, but soon fell by the wayside.

"Circumstances brought the idea back into my mind at the age of 23," she said.

Five years of training followed before she was professed and entered a journey that took her all across southern Queensland.

She was living and working at All Hallows' Convent in Brisbane in 1975 when a St Saviour's nun fell ill and she was transferred to take her place.

"Life was so different then," she said.

"When I arrived here we had 20 sisters - now there are only two."

She still lives at the school but joined Holy Name Parish in 1993.

She continued teaching music at St Saviour's until 2006, but the school still holds a dear place in her heart.

"When I came back to teaching at St Saviour's the children would very often some come in and ask if I remembered their mothers from school," she said.

"Eventually, they began asking if I knew their grandmothers.

"If I was still teaching, I think they would be asking about their great-grandmothers now."

  • Fr Thomas Keegan will celebrate his 60th Jubilee together with Sr Margaret Norris's 50th anniversary on Sunday, February 10 at Holy Name Catholic Church.
  • All parishioners are welcome to attend the 10.30am mass, followed by a celebration lunch.
  • To RSVP call 4632 1899.

Topics:  catholic church history religion toowoomba



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