Priest reached out to fellow mental illness sufferers

Father Con Keogh was born in 1921, the son of a carpenter in Maldon, Victoria. He was ordained a priest for Sydney Archdiocese, in Rome in 1945, just after the city's liberation. He became a doctor of divinity and theology.

Back in Sydney in 1953, while driving a group of nuns home from a meeting, he started talking gibberish. He was taken to a St John of God home, where he threw one of the brothers through a glass window.

After he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, he looked for a self-help group, but could only find Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). He joined them, and eventually set up a dedicated self-help group, based on the AA model, for those recovering from serious mental illness. He founded GROW in 1957 and the organisation spread internationally.

After his breakdown, AA ''really got me back on my feet", Keogh said later, in an interview with the Catholic Weekly.

"I got from them the principle of mutual help for the mentally ill," he said. “We started with 20 people. We would sit around and speak about our experiences together. Eventually we realised we didn't have to keep coming to the group; we were staying well.”

Keogh served as an assistant priest and was chaplain at Long Bay prison. But from 1968, he devoted himself full-time to GROW, which spread throughout Australia and overseas.

He kept the movement non-denominational because he did not want a barrier to anyone seeking help. That brought him into conflict with Cardinal Norman Gilroy, who believed God should be at the centre of the movement, but everyone who dealt with Keogh knew he was a priest and that his faith had helped him in his own recovery and his direction in life.

Keogh was on a constant round of overseas travel, writing, teaching and speaking engagements. In 1996, following a triple bypass, he started to cut back, and he retired in 2002.

He died on November 24


Father began mutual help for mentally ill (Sydney Morning Herald)



Conversation: Fr Con Keogh, honoured for helping people rehabilitate themselves - ‘Insane’ priest who draws others to God (Catholic Weekly)

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