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Remembering prolific architect Patrick C. Keely

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In a career spanning 49 years, Keely would design 16 cathedrals, and an estimated 500 to 700 other church buildings, mostly in the neo-/Victorian Gothic style.

August 9, 2016, marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of architect Patrick Charles Keely.

Keely, sometimes spelled Kiely or Keily, was born in Ireland and believed to have learned his trade from his father, an architect and carpenter. He immigrated to the United States, arriving around 1841 or 1842, and worked for several years before designing his first notable church building. The opportunity came through his friendship with Father Sylvester Malone who was sent to Williamsburg (now Brooklyn), New York, to establish a parish and asked Keely to design the new church.

The design for the church was originally rejected as too expensive, but Archbishop John Hughes eventually relented, and the church was completed in 1848, and dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The new church attracted the attention of other clergy, many of whom would later contract him to design church buildings in their respective parishes.

In a career spanning 49 years, Keely would design 16 cathedrals, and an estimated 500 to 700 other church buildings, mostly in the neo-/Victorian Gothic style. Part of his success, one author notes, is the use of local laborers and materials to build his designs at a reasonable cost. Remarkably, he was also known to have designed stained glass windows, sculptured features of the buildings, and other details, in addition to the main structure itself.

Keely's churches can be found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, including a significant number of those found in the New England dioceses. While his legacy is preserved in the countless churches he designed, and which remain in use today, his work was also recognized during his lifetime. In 1884, he became the second recipient of the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, given to one, according to their website, "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity."

Keely had 16 children with his wife, Sarah Farmer, 10 of whom reached adulthood. Several of his sons and other relatives worked alongside him, and continued the work after his passing in Brooklyn, New York, on August 11, 1896.

Pictured here is a letter from Keely to Bishop John J. Williams dated January 17, 1878. It provides insight into the extent of the demand for Keely's work, as he mentions several ongoing projects such as new sketches for stained glass windows to be approved, windows currently being manufactured, and an altar. In addition, he alludes to several other manufacturers and agents who were assisting him with these various projects, which would have been necessary to complete projects over such a large geographic area. He also alludes to the fact that he has not seen all of the windows installed in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, dedicated in December, 1875, and will do so the next time he visits Boston.

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