Father Gerard Keane, SJ

Born: 02 December 1926, Shelbourne Road, Limerick, Ireland
Entered: 07 September 1944, St Mary’s, Emo, County Laois, Ireland
Ordained: 31 July 1958, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 22 April 1977, Kingsmead Hall, Singapore
Died: 27 November 2018, Assisi Hospice, Thomson Road, Singapore

Father Keane did his regency training in Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. He returned to Ireland for his theological studies and was ordained a priest in 1958.

Father Keane was missioned to Singapore in 1960. He was an assistant parish priest to Father O’Dwyer of the parish of St Ignatius in Singapore when it was first established on 12 February 1961. Having taught in Hong Kong where he mastered Cantonese, he also learned Hokkien to communicate with many of his Singapore parishioners. He was also the spiritual director of the first praesidium of the Legion of Mary.

His parish work continued over the next few decades. He directed the choir, singing tenor, but also from time to time being caught whistling, if not singing the hits songs of the day. However, he made the songs relevant and current by incorporating them in his various productions – including the Christmas pageants which he scripted and filled with children of all ages.

His scope of influence has been extensive, including involvement in many ministries such as Social and Economic Life in Asia and the Catholic Teachers’ Movement. He gave regular talks to the Singapore Spiritual and Cultural Society on topics such as “The Christian Notion of God”, “Ecumenism” and “Catholic Worship”. He was also spiritual director of the Catholic Family and Social Movement.

From 1969 to 1972, he was editor of the Malaysian Catholic News. Through this paper, he hoped to influence Catholics to take their faith “beyond family to society.” He wanted “to make people grow and become more mature in their faith”. However, his less than conventional approach saw him stepping down in 1972, the last of the six Jesuit editors of the paper.

Father Keane also broadcasted on Radio Singapore. Older parishioners remember his 45-minute broadcasts at 6pm on Radio Singapore for more than 10 years from the late 1960s. These broadcasts, which he delivered in his inimitable style, brief but powerful and revealing, earned him a reputation outside of the parish. He never wrote down his script, merely jotting down a few points.

Other roles included chaplain at Catholic Junior College (CJC) for 22 years, director of the CJC Hostel from 1984 to 1992; local superior of the Jesuit community from 1976 to 1983 and from 1994 to 2001; and director of the Ignatian spirituality and counselling centre from 1999 to 2002.

When Fr Keane lost his voice to cancer in 2001, it brought home to him how much of his life – his teaching, broadcasting, singing, joking, counseling – had been governed by speech. However, he soon learned that his voice was only one means to convey the Word as he felt it, as he knew it and so it did not stop there. Nor did it thwart his sense of humour.

Despite his increasing frailty, he continues to share his reflections in the Sunday bulletins, writing homilies for others to deliver and participating in Bible-sharing groups.

Towards the end of his life, he stayed at the Kingsmead Jesuit residence with full time nurses on hand. On 27 November 2018, Father Keane was transferred to Assisi Hospice as more medical care was needed. He passed away peacefully later on the same day. He was the last of the Irish Jesuits who served in the Region of Malaysia-Singapore to have died.

Book: 50 years of the parish of the Church of St Ignatius, 2012

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