In 1998 Father Tom Keyes gave an excellent presentation at our Eucharistic Convention that year. Unfortunately we do not have a recording of the talk which is a shame because the people loved him.
The following article in the July 2005 Edition of Tui Moto has a lovely article about Fr Tom – enjoy the read.
Marysville “I first came to Invercargill in 1956,” says Fr Tom sitting back in his homely den at St Theresa’s presbytery. “I was sent by my parish priest to be chaplain at the Borstal. The inmates there were all young offenders from 15 to 18, and they came from Wellington and the South Island. “I was also running a parish youth group and sometimes three members of the group would come and visit the Borstal with me. They discovered that the Borstal lads had nowhere to go when they were released, so they invited some of them to join them in their flat. “After a few months I asked the parish priest if I could have the use of a house which the church owned, previously occupied by Dutch immigrants. The three youth club members formed the nucleus of a new community. That is how Marysville started and I was there for 15 years. “It was a night-and-day existence – you had to be young to put up with it. The house held 30 young people and sometimes some of the lads wouldn’t come in at night so that meant waiting up. But I found great satisfaction in the work. Our motto was that of St Benedict – every guest was Christ. Everyone was welcome, young offenders as well as down-and-outs. A woman called Joan Smith came and cooked for them and she stayed over ten years. Fortunately jobs were plentiful in those days and I was always able to get them work. “The neighbours were amazingly tolerant. The lads could be pretty noisy. If they got depressed they would tend to revert to criminal behaviour. I remember once taking them up to Lake Wakatipu station where we were given use of the shearing quarters. The boys used to go out on the lake in canoes. One day a canoe didn’t return. I managed to get a plane to search, and we found them. “When we got them in, we found they had stolen cigarettes and grog from a car. Since the boys were still technically under Borstal supervision, I said they would have to go back to there. However, they managed to find another car and took off up the West Coast and were eventually caught in Blenheim. “One of those boys, Bill, was in and out of gaol for ten years, mostly for drug offences; then he went to varsity and obtained a BA. I helped him. Eventually he came back down to Invercargill and became my ‘minder’. Sadly, he lapsed into taking drugs again and had another short spell in prison. “He became very depressed. In prison he was locked in his cell for up to 21 hours a day for four months. Even on Christmas Day he had to eat his dinner in his cell. When they were out for recreation, all the other inmates talked about was sex and drugs, and what they would be up to when they got out. Their criminal behaviour is reinforced by prison, and often they become embittered. “Bill’s background was shocking. His adoptive father abandoned the home when he was very young. His mother died when he was 10. He spent a couple of years in a boarding school. Then boys’ home, Borstal, prison. Then to Marysville. He has never really been able to rise above his origins. Now he can see only failure in his life, and the result is he becomes totally depressed. When he phones me I say: ‘Come back to Invercargill’. I pray that he will keep in touch. “When these young men get on drugs they lose all conscience and it is so difficult ever to wean them completely off the habit. It’s worse than alcoholism. I feel that Bill probably has some sort of mental sickness as well, which makes him periodically depressed. When they are depressed, drugs provide some sort of escape from a dull, aimless sort of existence. “Nearly all of these boys come from dysfunctional families. That is the root cause. There has been no real love. Many of them don’t know how to love. “Bill thought he could be a saviour to other addicts after he had got a degree. In fact, they were his downfall. I pray every day for him and all these fellows. Three of them have taken their own lives. One of them was only 29 when he died. He had visited me three times that week; yet he gave me no sign what he was about to do. It was the saddest funeral I can remember.” Fr Tom’s present apostolate “These days I still have about 30 fellows in Invercargill whom I take an active interest in. About 20 come regularly to a house Mass on a Monday. Most of them would never go near a church normally. But they come, and it gives them a Christian community to belong to. They would feel unwelcome if they went to a normal Sunday Mass. “Fifty two weeks of the year they come. There are no holidays. Holidays are a disaster for these people. Everything closes down. They have no money to enable them to go away. They are God’s poor. Or as Mother Teresa said: ‘they are Jesus in the distressing disguise of the least of his brethren.’ “Take Ted. He is schizophrenic. He tried to kill his minister and went to gaol. He is out now. He came down to live in Invercargill because he thought ‘the Chinese were after him’ – and he wanted to get as far away as possible! Slowly he has come back to the Catholic Church. He loves going to communion, but I’m not too sure about his theology. “Sometimes they can be really difficult to deal with. Like Stan. When he comes to me he is all smiles. But with the group he growls at everyone and upsets them. He is an orphan. Any money he has goes straight into the poker machines. There is no point in telling him where his money has gone: it only makes him feel worse about himself. So I give him food. Giving him money simply feeds his addiction. “The world doesn’t care a damn about a person like Stan. His ‘mother’ didn’t want him home for Easter. His poor self-image makes him angry. So I tell the others not to get upset when he flies off the handle. The great thing about the others is they are so tolerant. They put up with Stan. They never growl at him. I learn a good lesson in patience from them. “Our Mass together is very reflective. They all have their say. And after Mass we always have a cup of tea and something to eat. Phil is an interesting case. He has had terrible mental trouble, spent seven years in the mental health unit and put himself deliberately under a bus so that he was run over. He was often suicidal. His own family wanted to be rid of him. He has been coming along to Mass for some time, but he always had to go out sometime during Mass to have a smoke. He used to be totally addicted to cigarettes. He always wanted to give up. He would have a smoke, then cough his head off. He only has one lung. Six weeks ago I baptised him. He was confirmed and received communion. Then we had a great party to celebrate. “Since that day he hasn’t touched a smoke! He’s a different person. His answers at Mass are always full of insight. He is quite amazing. Since he was baptised he has become much more positive and his spirit has come alive. “On a Friday night the Catholic Women’s League prepares a supper for some of these men. There will be quite a few non-Catholics come along to that. And after the Sunday Mass at the Basilica I prepare a lunch for them and again quite a few come. “So each week I spend three times with them as a group – although the composition of the groups will vary. Otherwise I see them when I visit them at home. Mostly they live down south in the poorer part of town. The Basilica is their closest church. Often, after the priests have had lunch together there on Mondays, I gather up the leftovers and take them down to the flats where most of them live. Then the Salvation Army provide a meal on Tuesday. By that time of the week they are getting hungry because they don’t collect their benefits until Wednesday. Many of them are mental cases and the Salvation Army cares for them. “Sometimes I am taken in by these guys. And they come back to see me again because they never forget a ‘soft touch’! I pray that at least they will remember that someone listened to them and was kind to them – even if I was in fact conned by them.” The spirituality of care “These men are the ‘poorest of the poor’. It is hard sometimes to get them caring for each other. But within the group the grace of God is operating. I will pick the best reading of the week, something they can relate to. They will then talk about the theme. There are not many conversions. It’s a slow process. I’m reminded that Mother Teresa never looked for converts. She only wanted to give people love. I think this is the heritage she has given to us. The Holy Spirit operates in all people of good will. They don’t have to be Christians. “Praying for these people is very important. Now I am old I have more time to spend in praying for them. I pray for each one and ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to him. It is like a mantra for me. I get other people to pray for them too. I write to them and tell them how the boys are getting on. “One of my supporters, an 80-year-old lady in Wellington, tells me: ‘I relax in my armchair and let Jesus envelop me – and I pray for them all.’ She writes to me every week, and she often writes to them. I get the Carmelites and the Cistercians to pray for them too. I remember Bishop Kavanagh saying to me once: ‘You know you will never know until you are dead what success you have had with these boys’……
….. continued in Tui Moto: