Born: Drummond, Ireland, in 1823.
Took the habit: Penzance, December 31, 1843.
Vows: N.-D. de l’Osier, January 1, 1845 (No. 132).
Priestly ordination: Marseilles, September 26, 1847.
Missionary in Ceylon: 1847-1882.
Left the Congregation in April 1882.
Louis Marie Keating was born in Drummond, Ireland, in 1823. He began his novitiate in Penzance on December 31, 1843 and continued in Notre-Dame de l’Osier where he took vows on January 1, 1845. After two years and some months studying theology in the major seminary of Marseilles, Bishop de Mazenod ordained him priest in Marseilles on September 26, 1847. Some days later he set out for Ceylon in the company of Fathers Semeria and Ciamin and Brother Gaspare de Steffanis. Bishop de Mazenod’s deion of them is that they were “models”. In a letter addressed to Cardinal Franzoni of Propaganda and dated September 25, 1847, he said that Keating was “an angel in his appearance and in his habits. I chose him from among our Irish Oblates because the English language is necessary in this country; he can be an interpreter and teacher for his companions.”
During the first years in Ceylon, Father Keating was an ongoing cause of concern to Father Semeria. From the beginning he was spitting blood and his health was very fragile. Later, discontent that he had been sent so far away, he complained of the excessive heat and refused to learn the language of the country. He even threatened to ask for a dispensation from his vows. In a letter to Father Semeria dated August 17, 1848, Bishop de Mazenod speaks of “the waywardness and insubordination of Father Keating” and he adds “I would never have thought this young priest, so mild in appearance, could cause you so much worry. Certainly he is not at all like his compatriots who are all models of punctuality and obedience.”
In his letters to the Founder, which have now disappeared, Father Semeria speaks of the extravagance of Father Keating and his dreams of an imaginary perfection. Bishop de Mazenod considered that this man is “a sort of madman” (letter of June 3, 1851) and gave Father Semeria permission to send him back to Europe. On January 26, 1854, he wrote: “If his condition is incurable, you have the means of sending him away. It is better that the disorder should be outside than inside.”
Gradually Father adapted to the situation. He was sent to Trincomalee and he remained there for about thirty years, pastor to the whites and to the Irish soldiers who were in that area, while another priest ministered to the Ceylonese Catholics. In his report to Father Fabre, in 1863, Bishop Semeria wrote that the two priests in Trincomalee were “occupied with catechizing, hearing confessions, visiting the sick and prisoners, helping the two congregations to overcome the differences that arise among the 2,000 Catholics.” (Missions OMI, 1865, pp.246-247).
On May 22, 1872, Father Pélissier wrote that Father Keating “is always in a difficult mood. He will not bear being contradicted on anything, nor accept any observation”. We find him as military chaplain at Point Pedro in 1874-1875 and then in Jaffna in 1876-1877 and then back again in Trincomalee. On the occasion of the visitation by Father Soullier in 1879, Father Keating demanded to see the visitor “to speak to him of something on which my eternal salvation and my religious perfection partly depend”. He wished to enter the Trappists.
Later he wrote to the Prefect of Propaganda to ask for a dispensation from his vows and changes in the Oblate rule. On February 12, 1882 he received a reply from Cardinal Simeoni who gave the superior general the faculty to dispense him from his vows, but making it obligatory for him to leave the vicariate. He refused to leave. Bishop Bonjean lost patience with him and gave him fifteen days to decide if he wished to remain an Oblate or leave Ceylon. Meantime he was dispensed from exercising his ministry.
Father Keating left Ceylon at the end of April. In his manu on Le diocèse de Jaffna et les Oblats de M.I. (1845-1893), Father Batayron wrote (IV, p.218): “It was a cause of much pain to the Oblates to see the doyen of their presence in Ceylon, who had come here in 1847 with Father Semeria, now leaving his splendid vocation after having been faithful to it for 35 years. We heard that when he returned to England he obtained from the British government an appointment as chaplain to the navy and that, we believe, was on the recommendation of Bishop Bonjean who continued to show concern for him.”
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.