By William T. Clew
“Tom just shows up to do this on his own,” Father James S. Mazzone, director of the diocesan Office for Vocations said.
Father Mazzone is talking about Thomas F. Keegan, professional photographer from Shrewsbury, who has been taking pictures of ordinations of priests in the Diocese for 60 years.
He takes pictures of all the seminarians in his studio in Shrewsbury, the ordination Mass in St. Paul Cathedral, activities behinds the scene and at the reception after the Mass, Father Mazzone said.
Father Mazzone has been diocesan vocations director for 11 years and, he said, Mr. Keegan has never sent him a bill.
Mr. Keegan admitted that he hasn’t sent in a bill for photographing ordinations for at least 30 years.
“God has been good to us in other ways,” he said. “Priests always have been special to me. All of them have been good to me.”
Mr. Keegan said that, early on, when he used film, many new priests bought photo albums of their ordination. Now, in the computer age, pictures are taken electronically and, he said, he puts together CDs and gives them to Father Mazzone.
Mr. Keegan grew up in Shrewsbury and graduated from Beal High School before it became Shrewsbury High..
“I was blown out of high school,” he said.
On June 9, 1953, the day before his graduation was to have taken place, the Worcester Tornado devastated sections of Worcester, Shrewsbury and other communities, and the ceremony was postponed for several days.
He said he didn’t plan to be a photographer. He went to work after high school at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, but, within a year, his cousin Carlton LaPorte called him. Mr. LaPorte ran a photography studio on Highland Street and he had lost a couple of employees because of the Korean Conflict. He asked Mr. Keegan to work with him.
Mr. Keegan apprenticed with his cousin, and later attended the New England School of Photography. In 1991, he received a master’s degree in photography.
After his cousin died, Mr. Keegan continued to work at the studio. During that time, some of the work came from seminarians who were about to be ordained and wanted their portraits done.
“We called the Chancery and asked if it would be all right if we covered the ordination and Bishop Wright said OK.”
That was in 1955, he said. And it marked the start of a 60-year tradition. Mr. Keegan said he and another photographer went to the cathedral before the ordination ceremony “to study the setup.” Over time they have done it often enough to be very familiar with every detail.
If for some reason the bishop didn’t show up for an ordination, Mr. Keegan said with a laugh, “we could probably do it ourselves.”
Since the Diocese of Worcester was created in 1950 out of the Diocese of Springfield, it has had five bishops, starting with Bishop John J. Wright, then Bernard J. Flanagan, Timothy J. Harrington, Daniel P. Reilly, and Robert J. McManus and Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger. Mr. Keegan has photographed all of them.
When Bishop Rueger was named auxiliary bishop, Father John Barrett, then diocesan communications director, brought him to Mr. Keegan’s home and studio the night before the appointment was made public. Mr. Keegan made pictures and, per order of Father Barrett, made up 200 prints to be distributed at the next morning’s press conference.
In those days of film, the pictures had to be printed in a darkroom. Mr. Keegan worked all night and delivered the prints at 7 a.m., in plenty of time for the press conference.
Photographing diocesan events has been only a part of Mr. Keegan’s work. He has had an active business in his studio, which he moved many years ago from Highland Street in Worcester. It now is at 647 Main St., Shrewsbury, across the street from his parish church, St. Mary’s.
He did weddings, social events, portraits and took pictures for the Shrewsbury Police Department and, sometimes, the State Police in the days before they did that work themselves.
He’d get calls from the police, sometimes in the middle of the night, to go take pictures of accidents. The police wanted the pictures of the scene before anyone moved the vehicles. Some of the scenes were pretty gruesome, he said.
“I was happy when they got their own cameras,” he said.
He and the other photographers in his studio also took graduation pictures of most of the high schools, public and private, in the area, as well as some of the local colleges, he said.
In fact, it was while arranging to take graduation photos at Sutton High School that he met his wife, Anne. She was working with the senior class and, when she walked into the school office and Mr. Keegan saw her for the first time, it was like being hit by lightning, he said.
He said he knew on the spot that he wanted to marry her. And, 10 years later, he did. They have been married for 41 years, he said.
She taught French, Latin and Spanish at Sutton for 40 years. When she retired, St. Bernadette School in Northborough was looking for a language teacher. They asked her to teach there for a year and she agreed, Mr. Keegan said. Ten years later, she is still there.
Mr. Keegan has taken pictures of some famous people. He photographed Pope John Paul II in the pouring rain when the pontiff visited Boston Oct. 1, 1979. He photographed President John F. Kennedy in Worcester and on Cape Cod, President Lyndon B. Johnson when he was commencement speaker June 11, 1964, at the College of the Holy Cross, and President Jimmy Carter when, on March 16 and 17, 1977, the President visited Clinton (Massachusetts, not Bill).
When Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to Clark University in 1966, Mr. Keegan, armed with press credentials cleared by the Secret Service, was there to take pictures. He said he was standing next to Evening Gazette photographer George Cocaine, who whispered to him, “Tom, if I can get close to the vice president, will you take a picture of me with him?”
Mr. Humphrey heard Mr. Cocaine – not a quiet whisperer. He came over, put his arm around Mr. Keegan’s shoulders and asked, “Doesn’t this young man deserve to have a picture with me?”
Mr. Cocaine took the picture, Mr. Keegan said, “and I still have it. I can’t remember whether I took George’s picture with him.”
Over the years, Mr. Keegan has served as director of the New England Institute for Professional Photograpers as well as president of other professional photographers associations in Massachusetts and New England.
He is also Faithful Navigator of the Bishop O’Reilly Assembly, Fourth Degree, Knights of Columbus, at St. John’s Parish, Worcester. Earlier this month he was named Knight of the Year by the Assembly.
Father Mazzone has given him one more title.
“He’s a real Catholic gentleman,” Father Mazzone said.
By Tanya Connor
“Coming down in the car he said, ‘This is going to be weird, because it’s the first time I don’t have to carry the camera around.’”
Albert Kraqczyk was talking about traveling with his friend Thomas F. Keegan and their wives, Anne Keegan and Joan Kraqczyk, Friday to an open house at Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies. Held at the home for seminarians the night before the Diocese’s largest priestly ordination in decades, the event honored Mr. Keegan, ordination photographer since 1955.
In presenting him with a medal, Father James S. Mazzone, director of the Diocesan Office for Vocations said: “Whether photographing a pope, a cardinal, a bishop, a priest, areligious brother or sister, a deacon, a seminarian, a layperson, a U.S. president, a congressman, or a senator, Thomas F. Keegan has always done so as a true professional and a steadfast Catholic gentleman. A grateful Diocese honors him for his 60 years of extraordinary service.”
Father Mazzone said Mr. Keegan can look at photos he took of all the Diocese’s bishops and tell you what was happening that day – and what kind of mood the bishop was in! Not many people have that institutional memory, he said.
Mr. Keegan has been honored before. He said that in 1991 he received the Photographic Craftsman Award, one of the highest given by the Professional Photographers Association of America. In 1992 he got the Diamond Award which Kodak Corporation gave to only six people over the years, Father Mazzone said, quipping that that makes Mr. Keegan one in a billion. He said Mr. Keegan has photographed more than one million people; he’s always encountering people who say, “You photographed me.”
Mr. Keegan’s pastor, Msgr. Michael F. Rose, of St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury, said he’s senior altar server, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus, Eucharistic minister and photographer of St. Mary Elementary School students.
Mr. Keegan told the crowd of clergy, seminarians and laity (including many family members) that it’s been his privilege to serve them, and he couldn’t express what it’s meant to his own faith.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the outpouring of love,” he told The Catholic Free Press. His praises were sung by family, other photographers and priests.
It was nice to see him recognized, said his brother, Paul Keegan, of St. Anne Parish in Shrewsbury. He said one couldn’t ask for a better brother.
Their sister Rita Decklever, of North Carolina, agreed.
“I lost my husband early on and I had two daughters he’d take wherever he could to keep them entertained. He’s been a wonderful brother.”
Lee Brusa said when he got out of the service more than 45 years ago he wanted to do photography. All the photographers told him to go see Mr. Keegan, who taught him about photography – and life – and had him help with ordinations and other events.
“In the beginning he was like a second father,” Mr. Brusa said. “Then he became like a brother.”
Mr. Krawczyk said this would be his second ordination helping Mr. Keegan, whom he’s known for 40 years.
“He knows how to get the picture, where to stand, when to go up, when to pull back,” said Father Thomas E. Mahoney, once an industrial photographer and photographer for the seminaries he attended. A retired priest who helps at St. Gabriel, the Archangel Parish in Upton, he said Mr. Keegan photographed him a few times.
“He loves the Church” and focuses on the good priests do, said Father Robert A. Grattaroti, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton.
Asked before the ordination Saturday if he remembers the names of all the ordinands he’s photographed, Mr. Keegan said he does, pretty much.
“I guess they made a lasting impression.”