Priesthood and the Class of ‘63

Father John A. Kiley

Our freshman class at Our Lady of Providence Seminary at Warwick Neck in 1958 was greeted by a senior class that this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary of ordination.

The ordination class of 1963 was large then and remains a large group in the priestly ministry today. Two members of this class, Fathers Prendiville and LaMontagne, have been in the active ministry out of state for some time.

The recent death of Father Donal Kehew, most of whose ministry was with the state’s college communities, was fittingly lamented by all, especially those who observed his courage in illness. Another class member, Father Robert Blais, who spent much of his priesthood as chaplain in the armed services, remains irrepressible as ever, showing up at assorted priestly gatherings in spite of some health concerns.

Over the five decades of their priestly service, these priests have honored the priesthood by truly assorted ministries. Father Robert Beirne, serving as missionary in Chile, wrote a letter to the editor of the former Providence Visitor chastising me for writing a column on the need for silence in church. Father Beirne’s argument, of course, was that camaraderie in church builds community, effecting a supportive atmosphere that makes parishioners welcome. This was probably not the only time that Father Beirne, whose ministry for social justice continues locally, felt like writing a corrective letter to The Quiet Corner. Father Alfred Lonardo, lately the pastor of St. Mary Church in Cranston, did much social justice work and then rescued the diocese at one point by accepting the challenge of becoming chaplain at the Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston after somewhat disruptive months at that institution. Father Charles McDermott was at one time secretary to Bishop Kenneth Angell and sometime pastor at St. Mary Church in Bristol, assuming the administration there after that parish had experienced a particularly difficult time. Father McDermott was also pastor at the former St. Joseph Church in Pawtucket when I was pastor at the former St. Leo Church in that city. Father McDermott was a good neighbor and was particularly supportive of ecumenical and interfaith activities in the Blackstone Valley.

Father Joseph Protano was a free spirit as a seminarian and continues to be a free spirit in the priesthood. Early on, Father Protano was assigned to St. Mary Church on Broadway in Providence whose rectory had long since forsaken its glory days. Father took one look at his third floor accommodations, called the Providence Fire Department and insisted that the lodgings be condemned. He would live elsewhere. Father Protano made a significant contribution, possibly even of national proportion, to the growing diocesan ministry of Catholic Marriage Instruction. Father’s Twelve Point Program of information, discussion, community work, seminars and liturgical preparation affected every parish in the diocese.

Father Thomas Keenan, retired pastor of St. Margaret Church in Rumford, had the possibly unique distinction of serving with the two most colorful pastors of the last century. Father Keenan served as assistant to Father Normand Leboeuf while teaching at St. Raphael Academy and residing at St. Edward parish in Pawtucket. Father Leboeuf was an early professor at OLP Seminary and an able musician with all the artistic flair that talent often engenders. Later Father Keenan served with Father William Lawless at St. Mark parish in Garden City. Father Lawless was renowned for his magic shows, imaginative outfits, and friendships with celebrities. Father Keenan must have remarkable memories of these notable clergymen. Father Eugene McKenna, once pastor of the American Church in Brussels, crossed paths with me on a number of occasions. Along with Fathers Maynard and Lynch, Father McKenna shared a team ministry at the former Sacred Heart Parish in Pawtucket, a delightful parish that had been my first assignment. Later I served as pastor at St. Francis parish in Warwick where Father McKenna’s family home was located. Father’s mother Mary was a faithful parishioner and a delightful woman. Even after his retirement from St. Lucy Church, Middletown, Father still works for the limitation of gambling on Aquidneck Island.

A half-century of wide-ranging service to the church, the diocese, and the people of Rhode Island says much about the class of ’63 and about the breadth of the Catholic priesthood itself.