By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
You might say Cardinal Dennis Dougherty was looking at a full deck in his cathedral on June 3, 1939. Fifty-two young men were presenting themselves for ordination. Time has taken its toll; now there is only one left, but he’s an ace.
At age 95 and 70 years ordained, Father Daniel J. Kehoe, Philadelphia’s senior priest, is still going strong. He is pastor emeritus and still living at Holy Spirit Parish, Sharon Hill. He still celebrates Mass there regularly and every few weeks drives himself to Our Lady of Consolation in Northeast Philadelphia to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary rite in Latin.
In a sense, Father Kehoe was literally ordained for the priesthood. Born in Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, the son of Patrick B. and Mary G. (O’Donnell) Kehoe, it was presumed by the family he would follow in the footsteps of his uncle and namesake, Father Daniel J. Kehoe, a professor at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
This was certainly his dream too, and after Our Lady of the Rosary School and two years at West Catholic High School for Boys, he entered the seminary. Following ordination and a brief assignment as parochial vicar at St. Laurence, Upper Darby, he was sent to St. Thomas More High School where he taught mostly English and religion for 18 years.
Following this, in 1957, he was named founding principal of Bishop Shanahan High when it became a diocesan high school. In 1962 he moved over to Bishop McDevitt High School, Wyncote, and remained until 1969, when he became pastor of Holy Spirit.
Looking back at his three decades in Catholic secondary school education, he said, “I enjoyed my years as a teacher much more than my years as an administrator.”
There were other activities too. Father Kehoe, who received further degrees from La Salle University and the University of Pennsylvania, also taught philosophy at the old St. John’s Night School in Center City. He was spiritual director for the Pennsylvania Railroad Holy Name Society, which was huge in its day.
He was director for the Catholic Hour on radio station WIP and later the Chester County Catholic Hour on another station.
Father Kehoe officially retired and became pastor emeritus of Holy Spirit in 1987. The following year, Cardinal John Krol called a meeting for interested priests to discuss the revival of the Tridentine Latin Mass, which by special indult would be allowed on a limited basis. This Mass had been replaced by the ordinary form of the Mass under Pope Paul in 1970, which among other differences was celebrated in the vernacular languages of the people.
At the meeting it was asked if anyone would volunteer to celebrate the Mass in the older form in Latin and Father Kehoe agreed to do so. Since then he has celebrated Mass in what is now known as the extraordinary form at St. John the Evangelist in Center City, St. Louis, Yeadon, and Our Lady of Consolation.
“I had done it for so long it was second nature,” he explained.
But for Father Kehoe, it is not the language that is important.
“I will do what the Church wants. We believe the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and I will do what the Holy Spirit wishes,” he said. “The greatest joy a priest can have is celebrating Mass. It’s the greatest thing anyone can do.”
His advice for newly ordained priests?
Listen carefully and follow the instructions of your ordinary. Celebrate Mass with dignae, attente et devote. That is, “with dignity, attention and devotion.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.