Invited to Preach in a Church Where I Was an Altar Boy

Rev. Charles Keeney, diocesan Director of the Propagation of the Faith with Sister of St. Dominic Noreen Carroll, formerly Sister Timothy Maureen.

By Father Charles P. Keeney

Experiences in grammar school can positively influence a person for the rest of one’s life. This was certainly true for me. In 1965 I graduated from Sacred Heart Grammar School in East Glendale. I had an extremely positive experience as a little child in that parish school, and in the country-style church that is Sacred Heart. The Dominican Sisters, who taught my siblings and me, planted the seeds in us to be lifelong Catholics who appreciated our faith.

Near the end of the second grade, I received the sacraments of first penance and Holy Communion. I wanted to be an altar boy so I gathered the nerve to ask a priest in the parish how that could happen. The priest I asked, Father Donald Berran, said classes would normally begin in September but he made an exception and he trained me every Saturday morning to learn the Latin prayers and movements around the altar. He was new and I was his first altar boy (even today when we meet he
reminds me of this fact).

My family moved to Elmhurst when I was in college, so my very-pleasant association with Sacred Heart came to an end. The seeds of faith and vocation that were planted in me there continued to grow into Catholic high school, college, and the Seminary in Huntington. I was ordained a priest in 1978 and served in many different parishes and institutions of this diocese, in which I now work as the Director of the Missions.

A few weeks ago, pastors were notified of an additional special collection for the visiting missionaries who could not make their summer appeals because of the coronavirus. The pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Father Fred Marano, called and asked if I would like to make the appeal in person. I was delighted to say yes. I have said Mass many places, even around the
world, but I never said a parish Mass in Sacred Heart. It was like going home.

On the weekend of Nov. 21 and 22, I shared at the various Masses that I was a product of the parish. I told them I received many of my sacraments there and often served Mass in this sanctuary, but never before had the opportunity to celebrate a parish Mass or preach at Sacred Heart. The people were very responsive and generous to the appeal I made about the missions in general and one mission in particular in the African country of Tanzania. Sister Noreen Carroll, formerly Sister Timothy Maureen, was among the parishioners I spoke with after one of the Masses. She taught back in the 1960s when I attended as a boy! We enjoyed reconnecting after so many years.

Afterward, I felt fulfilled on many levels. I got a chance to work as the Director of the Missions, to teach about the missionary work and needs in our church, and most importantly, to thank the good priests, sisters, and parishioners of Sacred Heart for helping me live the life and vocation of a priest of Brooklyn for the past four decades. I think the priests, sisters, and people of the parish were also grateful that one of their own was ministering to them that day in Glendale. They also felt proud that their former altar boy had ministered to so many other people in many different places for so long.

There are many good people in all of our 179 parishes; I hope other pastors follow the example of Father Fred Marano and invite me to promote the missions in their parishes. Even without the homecoming I experienced, it would be fulfilling to promote the missionary work of our church.

Father Keeney is the diocesan director for the Propagation of the Faith.

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