Fr John O'Keeffe (PP 1964-1984)

Following the sudden passing of Fr McGinnell, Reverend John O'Keeffe was appointed by the bishop to be the 2nd parish priest of Ss Peter & Paul.

He was born in Manchester, attended St Anne's School, Higher Openshaw, St Gregory's Central School and St.Bede's College before going to Ushaw to train for the priesthood.

Fr O'Keeffe was ordained 26 July 1942 at the Holy Name Church, Manchester, being appointed immediately to the staff as a Professor St Bede's College teaching mathematics. He served 10 years at the College but ill health forced him to spend most of the next five years in a· sanatorium in Scotland. He then spent a year with the Catholic Missionary Society in Hampstead, London. He returned to the diocese in 1956 as curate at St Mary's Radcliffe, moving in 1959 to St Kentigen's, Fallowfield. He had been very popular at St Kentigen's, especially popular with the young people of the parish and started up a Youth Club.

Fr O'Keeffe arrived in the parish 1st August 1964 and at the end of the same month, Fr Francis McCauley was appointed as a temporary curate, staying only until November when he was appointed to St Chad's, Cheetham Hill. There was no replacement curate for the time being.

On the 29th November was a historic occasion - "Introduction of ENGLISH into the Mass - favourable reception and co-operation from the parishioners."

Mary Kane became his housekeeper. They had both been in the same class in the 'Infants' and 'Juniors'. Mary is remembered for her smile when she opened the door. She remained his housekeeper throughout his time at the Parish

In 1965, Fr Cornelius Sayers was appointed chaplain to the Irish Immigrants of Salford and although not officially a curate, Fr O'Keeffe described him as 'wonderful new year's gift'. The two priests worked well together and despite his full time role, he was a great help in the parish, especially at weekends.

The mass times were weekdays 7.15 and 7.45am, First Friday 7.15am and 6.30pm. Saturday 9am and 12 noon with an average attendance of 40 to 50. Novena every Thursday at 8pm. The Sunday mass times are not mentioned but, of an estimated Catholic population of 1300, the average mass attendance is 815.

The parish assessment for the School Emergency Fund was was raised from £600 to £1701. This meant raising even more money and new ideas were looked at: Garden Party, Armchair Bingo and of course another push on Covenants. 50 new Covenants were signed up. Armchair Bingo started with some opposition - there was already a Derby Sweepstake and a Whist Drive once a month in the hall. September saw the first Garden Party with inclement weather. Fr O'Keeffe wrote "Rain on Saturday (United at home too!) People who came were very generous ... PROFIT £230.0.0". The Annual dinner at the Race-Course Castle Irwell was considered expensive at 17 shillings and 6 pence a head and that was with a subsidy from the Derby Sweepstake. Fr O'Keeffe thought that they "must look for less sumptuous place" for the following year.

Fr O'Keeffe was certainly a fanatical Manchester United supporter and during his tenure the presbytery was painted red and white. One baby was presented for baptism in red and white bootees!

The social life of the parish was flourishing. The players' staged their first pantomime, Aladdin (written and produced by Mrs Stewart, the organist) followed by nine more productions, ending with Sleeping Beauty. The UCM went from strength to strength and the ladies of the Altar Society were busy: the ladies were flower arranging and a rota system was set up to keep the church clean.

In 1967 there were numerous complaints from local residents about parked cars on the road and the police were involved. Work started on the creation of a car park!

1967 was the year of Fr O'Keeffe's silver jubilee. It was celebrated on the 26th July with an evening held at St Lawrence's High School which included a "This is your Life". As one person wrote "Everyone enjoyed it except him! He felt so embarassed". The Parks' Committee decorated the hall with red and white flower baskets and arrangements covering the foot of the stage. Fr O'Keeffe wrote about the day: "A good old fashioned High Mass assisted by Frs McClernon and Rylands though short parts of the mass sung in English. Fr McClernon preached. Parish concert the following evening at St Lawrence School. Horror of horrors - unsuspectingly walked into a 'This is your life' programme secretly organised by Fr Sayers. One of the participants was Bishop Holland also Sandy Busby (son of Matt Busby), Sister Charles (his sister) who he thought was miles away, Mrs. Potter who took him a cup of tea on to the stage whilst the U .C.M. recorded "I like a nice cup of tea", Marcelle McNevin (a friend from St Kentigem's), Hugh Davy, and Michael Stuart who represented the youth of the parish. Cheque received for £550 and a new set of golf clubs". Later, when Manchester United won the European cup, he was overwhelmed. In the photo above, Fr O'Keeffe is on the left and Fr Sayers is on the right.

On the financial front things were happier and the parish debt was down to £13000. Some interesting statistics were recorded. Mass attendance 781, Baptisms 36 (28 from our parish), Converts 9, Marriages 20 (9 mixed)

In 1968, the annual dinner was in March and held at the Talk of the North. "Excellent buffet - profit made - but not really suitable atmosphere for Catholic gathering, cabaret doubtful."  Despite that, there was a return to the Talk of the North in the November. "Must change the venue if we are to continue". That was the last annual dinner for a while until there was a far more appropriate Dinner Dance at Buile Hill Park in 1976 "Most enjoyable". But £2.50 a head was quite a price and the following year it was cancelled through lack of support.

In 1969 Fr Sayers was recalled to Ireland however he often came back to visit during the '70's. Fr Michael Loftus came for a short period, also as Chaplain to the Irish of Salford & Eccles and after he left Fr John McKeown came to live at the presbytery. He was the full time secretary at Wardley so no parish duties. The system of covenants was introduced and with the tax benefits that this brought an additional £2830 was received from the Inland Revenue and the debt was brought down to £8300.

In 1969 Rev Brian Murphy was ordained by Bishop Holland at a concelebrated mass. It was lovely sunny day and an altar had been set up on the lawn. October saw another Catholic milestone, the rearrangemnt of the Sanctuary. The altar was brought forward and the Tabernacle fixed to a pillar made by a parishioner, Mr Rodgers. Another parishioner, Mr Lewis, bought the lights so the total cost to the church was £3 which was the cost to french polish the pedestal. 

In 1973, Fr Michael Watson was appointed curate. Activities from the parish increased, Christmas Fairs, concerts and the pantomime productions continued each year. UCM was raising money selling rhubarb and custard, cookery demonstrations, fashion shows, film shows, raffles and jumble sales. Meanwhile the spiritual life continued with rosaries, retreats. The parish was active in anti-abortion rallies, a Blessed Sacrament procession from the Cathedral to Piccadilly and a Rosary crusade in Heaton Park.

By 1974, the parish debt had been paid off and money could now be raised towards a new church. Ecumenism was now actively promoted with services held in together with Hope Church. 

The church roof developed problems and the cost was £2500. To help raise money to cover some of that cost a production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' was staged!

Fr O'Keeffe was also a singer. he had a tenor voice and sang duets with his brother who took part in "Merrie England" and other musicals at St Anne's Openshaw.

During May 1979 there was a mission conducted by Fr Fahy, Redemptorist and a Bolton Wanderers supporter no less! The 1st week was spent visiting parishioners, the 2nd week featured Mass and instruction "Attendance could have been better", however there was a dramatic incident during his mission. A parishioner collapsed and died at the beginning of 6.30pm Mass on the first Sunday. Fr O'Keeffe wrote, "I was saying Mass and Fr Fahy announted (the parisioner) and the Mass continued - Fr Fahy giving a wonderful homily."

In 1980 Fr Gallagher was appointed curate and in addition he was to be chaplain to De La Salle 6th Form College. Undoubtedly his support was necessary for Fr O'Keeffe whose health was failing. There was another huge task ahead which was the preparations for the visit of Pope John Paul II to United Kingdom and more specifically to Heaton Park. Fr Gallagher also took some of the youth to Cardiff.

During 1983 Fr O'Keeffe had a number of stays in hospital, he had a slight stroke but then later a massive heart attack. He was hospitalised and following his treatment it was decided by the bishop together with his family and Fr Gallagher that Fr O'Keeffe should go to the St Mary's Nursing Home run by the Alexian Brothers. During this time Fr Phelan came to the parish in March 1984 although not officially appointed until later.

Fr John O'Keeffe did not recover and he died at 7.45am on 6th May 1984. He is remembered as a friendly caring priest who made sure he knew the people of his parish. Fr Phelan wrote "Very Reverend Fr John O'Keeffe was called to his eternal reward R.I.P. the funeral took place on Thursday 10th May in the presence of Bishops Kelly and Burke and some 70 of the bretheren. Fr John was buried at the Campo Sancto at Moston"

 

Sources

  • Ss Peter & Paul parish log
  • A history of Ss Peter & Paul (anonymous handwritten)
  • Catholic Lancashire, Past and Present


Can you help?

  • Do you remember any other events of this time? We are also interested to know about the societies and people of the parish as well as the clergy.
  • Photos of Fr O'Keeffe
  • Photos of the pantomime productions
  • Does anyone have memories to add?

 

Parish History Group

If you would like to help research the history of the Parish or have any stories or photos then please get in touch. history@ourladyofhope.org.uk or speak to Paul Ashton, Stephanie McDonough or Pat Murray

We have some specific requests for information

  • Photos of our Assistant Priests/Curates
  • Photos and stories of the Charter Players
  • Photo
    • Fr J Leo McGinnell
    • James O'Garr  (1891-1979)
    • Billy Brady Sr
  • Servicemen of WWII (your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents ?)
  • Early photos of Ss Peter and Paul