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Centenary of Mgr Daniel Keller, PP, VG – Homily by V. Rev. Canon William Bermingham P.P. -6th November 2022

Centenary of Mgr Daniel Keller, PP, VG                    6th November 2022

 

“May the Lord turn your hearts towards the love of God and the fortitude of Christ.”

 

The words of St Paul in the second reading. And today those words are very apt. One hundred years ago this week, the death occurred of one of the most respected and longest serving Parish Priests in the history of our parish. Monsignor Daniel Keller came to Youghal in 1885 and served this parish until his death in 1922. A priest for sixty years, he spent thirty-seven of them here. It might have been that time would have erased much of his memory as time does – even for Parish Priests – and indeed, we may often be grateful that it does! But the times in which he lived and more especially, his response to the events of those times, have kept his memory alive. Daniel Keller undesignedly found himself at the centre of a storm which raged for number of years from 1886 to 1892. That storm was the tenants’ disputes with the landlord of the local estate, Mr Talbot Ponsonby, and the tragedy of the evictions which ensued. His story lives in the stories of the families involved. Daniel Keller lives in memory because he had earned the respect, the esteem and the gratitude of his people. His grave outside the door of this Church has a large monument. This was the peoples’ way of expressing their esteem. There he is described as “A priest who shed lustre on the priesthood, a pastor who went to jail for his people.” For that is the story that magnifies him through time and ensures that he is not forgotten. The Plan of Campaign was a movement to appeal for reduced rents at a time of economic hardship in agriculture – the tenants decided to offer what they considered a fair rent to the landlords and if that was not accepted, the money was paid into a fund to assist those who would be evicted. Fr Keller is widely believed to have been a local trustee of the Fund. He was found himself before the Courts and refused to answer questions on what he believed to be a matter of trust between priest and people. And he served two months in Kimainham Jail for that. While there he was appointed a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter in March 1887. The priests of the diocese chose him as their preferred candidate to be Bishop in 1894 and, having been spared that fate, probably for having a “record”, he became Dean of the Chapter and Vicar General to Bishop Browne, remaining happily in Youghal. He was made a Monsignor, a fairly new and then not widely bestowed honour from the Pope in 1900. That is significant because Daniel Keller’s support for the Plan of Campaign had  brought him into opposition with Pope Leo XIII who had condemned it. But he was supported by Bishop McCarthy, by another great Cloyne priest, Archbishop Croke of Cashel, who himself had faced down the Pope on this issue, and Archbishop Walsh of Dublin.

 

That is the history and it has been widely evoked in our commemorative lecture last night which will be broadcast on CRY. But today is not all about history – today we honour the memory and pray for the eternal reward so richly deserved by a priest whose heart was indeed turned to the love of God and the fortitude of Christ. What is fortitude? It is both a human moral virtue and also a gift of the Holy Spirit – the fortitude of Christ of which St Paul speaks in the second reading is a spiritual gift which supports us when in times of crisis, when faced with decisions that challenge our beliefs. It gives us perseverance to live out our faith especially when we are confronted with evil, with injustice, with human cruelty or disaster. The story of the Maccabees  had inspired the people of Jesus’ time – that story did not distinguish between faith and patriotism because for the Jews they were not separate realities. Their fortitude was remembered and is celebrated in our first reading today. But it is the fortitude of Jesus, by which He overcame all temptation, physical deprivation, the criticism of the powerful, betrayal and even death, which the true Christian seeks to imitate. Our often unhappy national history often raised conflicts of religion and patriotism – the two were closely interwoven but never quite identical. That reality was faced by Daniel Keller and he resolved it by his sense of what was right and just – a teacher of Philosophy in his younger days, his mind was one of his greatest assets and tools. His faith also inspired in him his sense of justice and right. In having the fortitude of Christ, he could follow his conscience with calm serenity whatever the consequences for himself. His efforts and those of the Plan of Campaign did not reap great rewards. But they earned him that place in the affection and gratitude of his people which would have meant more to him that any place he has found in history. The plaque erected to his memory in this Church which he loved, tells us that “he loved mostly the tabernacle”. From there he drew his strength, there his heart turned to the love of God and the fortitude of Christ. The plaque also says that “His name shall long be held in benediction.” That is not simply a pious aspiration, it is a promise – a promise written in marble, the promise of his people. And that is why we are here today, Bishop and clergy of Cloyne and people of the parish of Youghal, to honour that promise, to hold his name in benediction, to speak well of him who was true to Christ and to his people. In life Daniel Keller shed lustre on the priesthood and was a pastor who went to prison for his people. May that fortitude which was his to such a great degree also be ours as we face the spiritual, social and political challenges of our own times. May priests and people always continue to forge that bond which is based on a real and profound trust and which forms a mutual respect and affection which can endure beyond the grave. And may the prayers of this great priest and pastor, Monsignor Daniel Keller, inspire and encourage us. May his noble and faithful soul rest in eternal peace. Amen

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