On December 19, 2020, 29 years and three days after his burial in Lautoka, Fiji, a small group went from Ba parish to investigate the condition of Fr. Keelan’s grave, and pay him a Christmas visit. The group was Columban Fr. Teakare Betero, assistant parish priest, along with Paul Qalo and his son Isaac. Armed with knives normally used for cutting the sugar cane for which Fiji is famous, as well as a kerosene powered brush cutter, they located the grave with the help of the prisons department (who normally dig our graves here in Fiji) and set to cutting adjacent grass and washing it.
Paul, who remembered his father-in-law, would often reminisce about the late night, motorbike-chugging visits of Fr. Keelan, was determined to return and paint the grave, to protect it further from the extreme heat and frequent monsoon rains that batter this part of the island. They also spotted the grave of Sr. Loyola Grehan and cleaned it too. A chance for further work came the following Wednesday when Paul and the parish priest of Ba, Columban Fr. Patrick Colgan, went with oil based white gloss and brushes.
The sunny but cool conditions were perfect. We met prisoner officers supervising more grave digging and one of them, a Catholic, proudly remarked that he too would sometimes visit the graves of the Irish missionaries buried there. Fr. Keelan was born in Dublin in 1935 and died of a sudden heart attack while working the parish of Lautoka in 1991. He was a Clongowes Wood and Boston College graduate, and taught at the Columban school of Xavier College for 20 years. He was famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of English literature, his fluency in many languages including Spanish, Fijian and Hindi, and his nightly ritual of kava drinking accompanied by a fixed succession of tobacco products – Benson and Hedges, sukhi (local tobacco wrapped in newspaper), pipe and finally one Cuban cigar per night. And of course, his noisy motorbike!
In contast, Sr. Loyola was born on December 27, 1918, in Drummore West, Co Sligo, a month after the end of World War One. From 1947 to 1962 she taught in New Zealand and Australia. In 1962 she came to Fiji and taught at Loreto High School and then at Saint John’s College, Levuka. It is remembered that she taught with passion and an expectation of only the best from her students, both in the classroom and out of it. She died at the age of 100 on July 31, 2019. May they both rest in peace.
Columban Fr. Patrick Colgan lives and works in Fiji.