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Sister Catherine Keogh (formerly known as Sister Mary Concilia)

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 15/05/2020

SMSM SistersSr. Catherine Keogh, smsm

(formerly known as Sr. Mary Concilia, smsm)

April 22nd 1923 – May 15th, 2020


Catherine Keogh was born in New York City, NY, on April 22nd, 1923, the second of seven children born to John Joseph Keogh and Johanna Moran Keogh, both of whom had been born in Ireland.  Catherine’s father was a veteran of the First World War and often suffered from ailments that resulted from the gas used in that war. He worked as a casual laborer, and died in 1942, when Catherine was 19.

Catherine completed high school at the age of 16.  Too young to get a job, she attended Hunter College in New York for one year. Her first job was a part-time one at the candy counter at Woolworths, where you could eat all the candy you wanted…  She said that after the first few weeks, she’d had enough!

The Sisters of Charity helped Catherine to get a job at a bank in August 1941. After December 1941, when the USA entered the Second World War, most of the men in the bank were drafted into the armed services and Catherine was given more responsibility as a Commercial and Foreign Personal Loan Teller. Her salary quadrupled. She said that she loved her work and the people she worked with, but something else was stirring in her heart – a religious vocation.  She was torn between an attraction to Carmel or to “some form of missionary life”.  She read Mother Mary Rose’s book, “Saving the Solomons” which she thought at first was “an interesting travel book”. But, she later wrote, “at the end, without warning, a voice inside said, ‘This is where you will be.’”

Catherine also joined a Mission Vocation Club whose members included three other New Yorkers who would become SMSM - Srs. Mary Carol, Philothea, and Betteann McDermott. She said that the fact that they entered ahead of her gave her “courage to step out into the unknown.”

Catherine Keogh entered the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 31st, 1952. When she entered the novitiate in Bedford 6 months later, she was given the name, Sister Mary Concilia.  She made her first vows on February 2nd, 1955. That same evening, she received her mission destination. Two months later, four Sisters set out by train across the USA to San Francisco. One was assigned to the community there, and the other three boarded the ship the Orion to travel to the South Pacific.  Srs. Catherine and Frances Dunn were destined for Bougainville, and Sr. Mary Susanna (Grace Shafer) was to go to Makogai in Fiji. When the ship stopped in Auckland Sr. Catherine was happy to meet Mother Mary Rose, whose book had inspired her on the path to the SMSM. 

From Sydney, Frances and Catherine left by cargo ship for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and then travelled to Rabaul.  From there they travelled by sea plane – which was Catherine’s very first flight in a plane – to Buka.  They crossed over to Hantoa to meet the Regional Superior, Mother Mary Giselle.  Sr. Catherine was assigned to Tearouki to begin a teaching career that would span most of the next 50 years.  She began teaching grades 3 and 4, which in those days included students who ranged in age from 10 to 20. Catherine used English in the classroom but quickly learned Pidgin in order to be able to converse with the families.  Eventually she used Pidgin to explain things in the classroom, and also permitted students who were giving a presentation to use it in order to build up their confidence. During the next nine years, Catherine taught in several other mission schools in Hantoa, Piano and Morotona.

In 1964, Catherine returned to the USA for her “Second Novitiate” and home visit. When she returned to Bougainville in 1965, she was asked to work with the CSN (Congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth) to help upgrade the level of education of the younger Sisters in a Juniorate.   

In 1967 Catherine served as teacher and supervisor at the Primary schools in Sovele and from 1968-70 did the same in Turiboiru.  In 1971 she had a complete change of ministry when she became the receptionist and bookkeeper at the Dental Clinic where Sr. Margaret Woeste was the dentist.

After a home visit in 1972, Catherine returned to Chabai to work with the CSN Sisters.  She taught novices and postulants and also trained a Sister as bursar.  From 1977-79 she served as the Regional Superior for the SMSM Sisters in Bougainville and lived at Tubiana. In 1980 and ’81 she served on a pastoral team teaching religious education in government vocational and high schools.

In 1982 Catherine returned to the USA on leave. In September of that year she was appointed to the staff of the novitiate in Belmont.  She assisted the Novice Directress, Sr. Mary Jane Kenney, for the next 5 years and helped with the move of the novitiate to Arlington. 

After a time of Renewal, Catherine headed back to Bougainville in 1987 and did office work at the health center in Tearouki. In 1990 the SMSM had to leave Bougainville suddenly due to the increasing violence of the fight over the proceeds of the copper mine and the desire for independence. As medical personnel, the Sisters at Tearouki had to treat both rebels and soldiers alike and they were warned that the lives of both the Sisters and their staff were at risk.  The decision to leave was taken at an evening meal, and the Sisters had to leave the next morning.  Catherine later wrote, “This hasty departure with no time for good-byes was traumatic.”

After some transition time in Australia, Catherine was appointed to the “mainland” of Papua New Guinea, serving first for some months in Erave, at the Catechists Training Center, and then at Goroka, where she taught in a program called CODE that enabled young adults to get their secondary school education.  When the SMSM community was closed there in 1999, Catherine continued her work with the students while living at the Melanesian Institute. She remained at Goroka until 2005.

Returning to the USA in 2005 Catherine was assigned to the Belmont community and was an active member for the next 7 years, taking part in parish activities, teaching English as a second language, assisting Sr. Catia with the Marist Volunteer Program and, as always, being a gracious, joyful, and hospitable presence for all.  Throughout her life she was well-known for her sense of humor, and brought a lot of joy and laughter to her community and to visitors.

In 2012 Catherine fell and fractured her hip. After surgery and some months of recuperation, she returned to the Belmont community and remained there until June 2014 when she was missioned to the Marillac community in Wellesley Hills. When she needed more care, she was moved to the Elizabeth Seton Residence in February, 2019.  On April 9th 2020, she tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.  She seemed to rally for a time, but died on May 15th, 2020.  May she receive a hundred-fold for all the care and joy she brought to others.


Gratefully in Mary,

Sister Helen Muller, smsm                                                      Sister Virginia Fornasa, smsm

Regional Leader                                                                     Communications Secretary