But swim he did. For many students of my generation, college presented the opportunity to sleep in on Sundays, away from parental pressure to visit one’s house of worship. If God were everywhere, why did we have to go there? Besides, it was the Age of Aquarius, the Moon was in the Seventh House, and we were all smitten with a “Let the Sun Shine” spirituality.
But that only took us so far.
At some point, it all started to seem silly. At some point, our parents’ ideas started to seem not so bad. At that point, hesitantly, curiously, we wandering sheep would, sometimes sheepishly, find our way to Father Kealy. And he always welcomed us – no questions asked. He would greet us on our own terms, and he made faith seem real and genuine and deep.
Most important, he grew a community. Linda Rovtar Hopkins ’78 remembers Father Kealy’s 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass in Nevin Chapel as “standing room only.” “It was always full – not just with students, but with faculty, staff and members of the Lancaster community,” she recalls. “I remember one weekend when my family was visiting and how amazed they were to see so many young people at church.”
But what really made an impression was how deeply Father Kealy lived his faith. “When the collection plate went around,” she recalls, “he said that if anyone needed help, they should take something from the basket, not put something into it. That was a man who practiced what he preached.”
He could be joyous too. “One beautiful spring day,” Linda continues, “just as Mass was about to begin, he announced that he was moving it to Buchanan Park. He said it was too perfect a day to worship God inside.”
When Cathy Voelker ’75 and her husband, Joe ’69, returned to Lancaster and were expecting their first child, they needed a priest for the baptism. “Someone told me about this great young priest at F&M,” Cathy recalls. “So I called Father Kealy. He said he’d be happy to baptize our baby, and that he’d drop by to meet us.
“Then one night, the doorbell rang. A total stranger was standing there in the cold, all bundled up in a pea coat and ski cap. ‘Hi, I’m Hugh Kealy,’ he said. ‘May I help you?’ my husband asked. ‘Oh, sorry – I’m Father Hugh Kealy,’ he answered. We invited him in, and we had a great talk over a few beers. He performed the most beautiful baptism for our Julia in Nevin Chapel. Then he baptized our Jessica two years later. “
My husband, Walter McDonough ’76, recalls Father Kealy’s reaction when he and I got engaged. “We wanted Father Kealy to perform the ceremony. But the wedding would be at Rosemary’s parish, four hours away. We couldn’t ask him for such a favor. But we didn’t have to. As soon as we told him we were engaged, he said, ‘Great! Can I do the wedding?’” And, driving his beat-up, old MG, he gamely made his debut trip to Long Island, back before MapQuest or GPS could soften the blow of New York traffic.
Not everybody knew what to make of Father Kealy. I introduced my parents to him before Mass one Saturday. My dad was an old-school Italian Catholic who never adjusted to the church’s embrace of modern ways. We met Father Kealy on the landing in front of Nevin Chapel. There he stood, with his tinted glasses and big Afro, putting on his vestments over a tee shirt that read, “Virginia is for Lovers.” “Are you sure he’s a real priest?” my father grumbled. The poor man went to his grave not certain that his daughter had been married in a “legitimate” ceremony.
But we knew. Father Kealy was legitimate all right. He was the real thing, the genuine article who helped many of us return to and deepen our faith. As another friend reflects, “He loved our faith, and he helped so many people find their way to the church.”
A generation has come and gone since Father Kealy’s ministry. But his spirit lives on through the many F&M students and alumni he touched – people who saw in him the best that Christianity has to offer, a life of kindness and compassion, peace and generosity.
—Rosemary Calabrese McDonough ’76, P’11