Father James G. Keller, MM
Born: June 27, 1900
Ordained: August 15, 1925
Died: February 7, 1977
Father James G. Keller died at New York Hospital at 4 p.m., Monday, February 7.
Father Keller was born June 27, 1900 in Oakland, California. He studied in public schools and for seven years at St. Patrick’s Seminary, and joined Maryknoll in September 1921. His last year of theology was spent at Catholic University as a deacon where he obtained the M.A. (1924-25). He was a member of the Maryknoll Class of 1925 but was ordained separately on August 15, 1925 by Archbishop Hanna of San Francisco. He was the first Maryknoll priest from the West Coast. Instead of being sent overseas as he would have preferred, Father Keller spent the next 20 years in promotion work in California, the Midwest, and New York, acquainting people in the U.S. with the work of Maryknoll. He stressed that his hearers could be “Christophers”, Christ-bearers, in their own lives by showing personal responsibility based on their faith, in all areas of public and private life. By 1945, the “Christopher idea” led him to launch what has become a world-wide movement, “The Christophers”.
The Christophers was the great enthusiasm of the last three decades of Father Keller’s life, and he retained his interest to the end, insofar as he was able in the final difficult years. He launched Christopher News Notes, radio and television programs and a daily newspaper column, to bring the message of constructive individual action to the widest audience possible. His book, “You Can Change the World”, published in 1948, was a best seller both in hardbound and paperback editions. Because of declining health, Father Keller was forced to retire as Director of The Christophers in 1969; Father Richard Armstrong, M.M., succeeded him as Director. In 1973, Father Keller wrote: “Putting up with the weaknesses of old age is a novelty for me. But it is a good way to get ready for heaven.” Father Keller continued, however, his daily work at the Christopher offices in Manhattan just as long as he was able. In January 1976, Father Keller received the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Paul VI, in recognition of his service, during 50 years as a priest, to The Christophers and to the Maryknoll Fathers.
Christopher radio and television programs now reach a weekly audience of over 5 million, and Christopher News Notes have over a million readers around the world. Father Keller lived to see the Christopher motto carried to the farthest ends of the earth: “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” The title of his autobiography (1963) is To Light A Candle.
Father Keller’s life and work these last decades were very much linked with New York City and the Archdiocese of New York. Mass of the Resurrection was concelebrated at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, February 10. There was a wake in The Lady Chapel of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Thursday evening after the Mass. The body was then brought to Maryknoll.There was a Prayer Service for Father Keller at the Maryknoll Seminary Chapel at 8:15 a.m., Friday, February 11. Mass of the Resurrection was concelebrated at Maryknoll at 11:45 a.m. on Friday. Burial followed in the Maryknoll Cemetery.