Popular Pastor Leaving St. Barnabas R.C. Church in Bayville
Very Rev. Kevin J. Keelen moving on to a parish in Jackson
For more than nine years, Father Kevin J. Keelen has been at the helm of St. Barnabas R.C. Church in Bayville.
He has said many Masses, comforted the sick, scared and dying, baptized babies, married couples, heard confessions and reached out to all members of the parish community. In short, he has done everything a Catholic priest is supposed to do.
But Keelen has become much more than that during his tenure at St. Barnabas. The much-loved "Father Kevin" has become like a family member to many in the parish.
So many were shocked last Sunday when he announced at the end of 12 o'clock Mass that he was being transferred to St. Aloysius R.C. Church in Jackson on July 1.
"Just heard the devastating news our beloved Father Kevin is leaving us," Maryann Williams wrote on the church's Facebook page. "Truly a sad day at St. Barnabas in Bayville."
"We will try to welcome our new pastor with open arms," wrote Valerie Bello. "But he has some big shoes to fill. Thanks for all you've done for your parish, in ways you may never know."
Sometimes change is necessary for the greater good of the Diocese, Keelen wrote in the April 1 church bulletin posted on the parish website.
"Beyond a doubt, I will miss St. Barnabas with all my heart," he wrote. "But alas, a pastorate never lasts forever."
But that doesn't mean he wasn't surprised to learn he had been transferred.
"I know that this is most unexpected," Keelen wrote. "Believe me, nobody was more surprised than I was when I first found out. After I got over the initial shock, I took it to prayer and the Lord helped me to realize very clearly and deeply that he has always put me where I needed to be."
"Although it will be very difficult and painful to leave what has become a beloved home here at St. Barnabas, I have grown to accept and trust the Holy Spirit's role in my life and the Church," he said in the bulletin. "And although I had hoped for at least three more years here, I accept this transfer with an open heart."
Keelen also asks parishioners to accept the bishop's decision, as he has.
"I hope and pray that you will graciously accept this change, as painful as it might be for some and not take any measures to try to change the course of events that are very much already in place," he wrote in the bulletin.
The 1944 film "Going My Way" ends on a bittersweet note. Father O'Malley - aptly played by Bing Crosby - has just learned that he is being transferred from St. Dominic's to another parish.
"So you're leaving us," croaks veteran actor Barry Fitzgerald, who played Father Fitzgibbon in the movie.
The movie ends with Father O'Malley quietly slipping out the church door, after watching a reunion between Fitzgibbon and his aging mother.
Chances are, the parishioners of St. Barnabas won't let Father Kevin go that quietly.
Berkeley Patch will follow up on this story by posting events leading up to his departure. We also hope to interview Father Keelen before he leaves for St. Aloysius.