In Memoriam (Father Keeler)

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

Father Keeler died February 28, 1880, in Mobile, Ala.
Inscribed to his sister.

"Sweet Christ! let him live, ah! we need his life,
And woe to us if he goes!
Oh! his life is beautiful, sweet, and fair,
Like a holy hymn, and the stillest prayer;
Let him linger to help us in the strife
On earth, with our sins and woes."

'Twas the cry of thousands who loved him so,
The Angel of Death said: "No! oh! no!"
He was passing away -- and none might save
The virgin priest from a spotless grave.

"O God! spare his life, we plead and pray,
He taught us to love You so --
So, so much -- his life is so sweet and fair --
A still, still song -- and a holy prayer;
He is our Father; oh! let him stay --
He gone, to whom shall we go?"

'Twas the wail of thousands who loved him so,
But the Angel of Death murmured low: "No, no;"
And the voice of his angel from far away,
Sang to Christ in heav'n: "He must not stay."

"O Mary! kneel at the great white throne,
And pray with your children there --
Our hearts need his heart -- 'tis sweet and fair,
Like the sound of hymns and the breath of prayer,
Goeth he now -- we are lone -- so lone,
And who is there left to care?"

'Twas the cry of the souls who loved him so --
But the Angel of Death sang: "Children, no!"
And a voice like Christ's from the far away,
Sounded sweet and low: "He may not stay."

From his sister's heart swept the wildest moan:
"O God let my brother stay --
I need him the most -- oh! me! how lone,
If he passes from earth away --
O beautiful Christ, for my poor sake
Let him live for me, else my heart will break."

But the Angel of Death wept: "Poor child! no,"
And Christ sang: "Child, I will soothe thy woe."

"O Christ! let his sister's prayer be heard,
Let her look on his face once more!
Ah! that prayer was a wail -- without a word --
She will look on him nevermore!"

The long gray distances unmoved swept
'Tween the dying eyes and the eyes that wept.

He was dying fast, and the hours went by,
Ah! desolate hours were they!
His mind had hidden away somewhere
Back of a fretted and wearied brow,
Ere he passed from life away.
And one who loved him (at dead of night),
Crept up to an altar, where the light
That guards Christ's Eucharistic sleep,
Shone strangely down on his vow:
"Spare him! O God! -- O God! for me,
Take me, beautiful Christ, instead;
Let me taste of death and come to Thee,
I will sleep for him with the dead."

The Angel of Death said: "No! Priest! No!
You must suffer and live, but he must go."
And a voice like Christ's sang far away:
"He will come to me, but you must stay."

We leaned on hope that was all in vain,
'Till the terrible word at last
Told our stricken hearts he was out of pain,
And his beautiful life had passed.

Oh! take him away from where he died;
Put him not with the common dead
(For he was so pure and fair);
And the city was stirred, and thousands cried
Whose tears were a very prayer.

No, no, no, take him home again,
For his bishop's heart beats there;
Cast him not with the common dead,
Let him go home and rest his head,
Ah! his weary and grief-worn head,
On the heart of his father -- he is mild
For he loved him as his own child.

And they brought him home to the home he blest,
With his life so sweet and fair,
He blessed it more in his deathly rest --
His face was a chiseled prayer,
White as the snow, pure as the foam
Of a weary wave on the sea,
He drifted back -- and they placed him where
He would love at last to be.

His Father in God thought over the years
Of the beautiful happy past;
Ah! me! we were happy then; but now,
The sorrow has come, and saddest tears
Kiss the dead priest's virgin brow.

Who will watch o'er the dead young priest,
People and priests and all?
No, no, no, 'tis his spirit's feast;
When the evening shadows fall,
Let him rest alone -- unwatched, alone,
Just beneath the altar's light,
The holy hosts on their humble throne
Will watch him all thro' the night.

The doors were closed -- he was still and fair,
What sound moved up the aisles?
The dead priests come with soundless prayer,
Their faces wearing smiles.
And this was the soundless hymn they sung:
"We watch o'er you to-night,
Your life was beautiful, fair, and young,
Not a cloud upon its light.
To-morrow -- to-morrow you will rest
With the virgin priests whom Christ has blest."

Kyrie Eleison! the stricken crowd
Bowed down their heads in tears
O'er the sweet young priest in his vestment shroud
(Ah! the happy, happy years!)
They are dead and gone, and the Requiem Mass
Went slowly, mournfully on,
The Pontiff's singing was all a wail,
The altars cried, and the people wept,
The fairest flower in the church's vale
(Ah! me! how soon we pass!)
In the vase of his coffin slept.

We bore him out to his resting place,
Children, priests, and all;
There was sorrow on almost ev'ry face --
And ah! what tears did fall!
Tears from hearts, for a heart asleep,
Tears from sorrow's deepest deep.

"Dust to dust," he was lowered down;
Children! kneel and pray --
"Give the white rose priest a flower and crown,
For the white rose passed away."

And we wept our tears and left him there.
And brought his memory home --
Ah! he was beautiful, sweet, and fair,
A heavenly hymn -- a sweet, still prayer,
Pure as the snow, white as the foam,

That seeks a lone, far shore.
Dead Priest! bless from amid the blest,
The hearts that will guard thy place of rest,
Forever, forever, forever more.

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