Late Fr. Seán Kealy C.S.Sp., missionary priest from Thurles
Fr. Seán Kealy C.S.Sp. – a Spiritan (Holy Ghost) missionary priest, educator and writer – has died. He was aged 81. A native of Castle Avenue, Thurles, he was educated locally by the Christian Brothers. A gifted student, who did a number of his subjects as Gaeilge, he excelled at Greek and Latin. Outside of school he played tennis and, as a young adult, loved badminton.
Seán was the youngest of 4 children of Patrick Kealy and his wife Mary (Minnie) Kelly. Both the Kealy and Kelly families were from Ballingarry. Seán’s dad, an accomplished amateur athlete, had served in the police force in both South Africa and pre-independence Zimbabwe.
After his Leaving Cert., 17-year-old Seán began his training for the priesthood in the Spiritan Novitiate which at the time was in Kilshane, He then moved to his congregation’s seminary in Kimmage Manor in Dublin where he was known for his fine tenor voice. His training for the priesthood went hand in hand with his studies in UCD where he gained an M.A. in Classics. He completed his secondary teaching qualifications while ‘prefecting’ in Rockwell College.
Sent to Rome, he did further studies in both the Gregorian University and the Biblical Institute. He loved to recall that he was in Rome for both the 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council and its closing in December 1965. At his funeral it was remarked that he “was infected with the spirit of Vatican II for life” and had taken up the consequent challenge to make biblical scholarship available to the wider public. He wrote some 18 books and did a variety of studies in spirituality as well as commentaries on the Gospels. Articles and reviews of his were carried in such diverse publications as Doctrine & Life, The Duquesne Law Review, The Tablet, The Furrow, SEDOS, and The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He gave a number of retreats.
Ordained in Dublin in 1965 by Mgr Marcel Lefebvre, his congregation’s then Superior General, Fr. Seán went on to lecture extensively in Africa, America and Europe on the Gospels and on the history of biblical scholarship. He taught in Kimmage as well as in Niagara University in New York. In 1970 he began a decade of teaching scripture in Kenya, initially in St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, and for several years in Kenyatta University, Nairobi. A lecture tour in China during which he visited the Great Wall was perhaps matched only by the memory that he retained of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at well over 19,000’.
In Ireland for most of the 1980s and early 1990s, Fr. Seán held many roles including Director of Theologians, Provincial Councillor for Education, and President of Blackrock College. He taught in Duquesne University in the US from 1995 until 2014. On hearing of his death, college president Mr. Ken Gormley recalled his “wit, warmth, storytelling and Gaelic singing skills”.
Fr. Seán celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his ordination in 2015. He lived his final years in Kimmage, and it was in the Spiritans’ nursing home there that he died on 11th July 2018. He is survived by sisters Kathleen and Mary, brother Donal, extended family and fellow Spiritans.
At his Funeral Mass, his county-man Fr. Paddy Ryan C.S.Sp. recalled a life that was “guided by the Spirit and filled with the message of Christ” but also the life of a man who loved poetry and theatre, as well a good novel or film and enjoyed an occasional glass of Tullamore Dew!
Fr. Seán was buried in Shanganagh Cemetery.