May 29, 2003
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
Syracuse couple recipients of the 2003 Dorothy Day Award
It is fitting that Dick and Mary Keough, a couple who first met volunteering at Unity Soup Kitchen, will be honored for their commitment to a life of offering hospitality to those in need as recipients of the 2003 Dorothy Day Award. Parishioners of St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse, the Keoughs truly embody the lessons of inspirational Catholic Worker Dorothy Day –– to “feed, clothe and be with people in need.” Sitting in the living room of their Syracuse home, Dick and Mary said that over 30 years ago they made a commitment to continue visiting the soup kitchen until they had found Christ in the face of every person and learned to love unconditionally. By lives filled with service to those who are without a voice, they have accomplished this, but still they continue to work for peace and justice.
Volunteering has changed their lives for the better, said Mary. She recalled attending a Maryknoll Missionary talk about the thousands of women and children who were massacred in El Salvador in the early 80’s. Mary said that as a mother, wife and sister, she felt a sense of commonality with the women in that country. The event completely changed the direction of her life, Mary stated. She would quit her secure, well-paying job at Niagara Mohawk and join Witness for Peace, making three trips to Latin America to work for peace. “My family thought I was a little bit nuts, but you have to be a little bit nuts to be in this world to make it right. It is so much easier just to fit in and feel safe,” Mary said.
Dick also said that he was on the path to success. Working for IBM in what he referred to as a job that would “lead to the good life” –– with a decent income and job security –– Dick walked away to devote his life to something greater. Married for 29 years, Dick and Mary have made a life for themselves and their two daughters, now grown, without the amenities and luxuries most people see as the trappings of success. Yet, the couple insists that theirs is a full life indeed. “We have worked to give our daughters a sense of what is really important –– to live simply and love Christ,” explained Mary. “Yes, there have been times when we may not have spent money to buy things or to go places, but I think that giving them a legacy of taking care of people has made them stronger.” “Live simply so that others can simply live,” added Dick, recalling the words of Dorothy Day. Mary refers to the birth of Sarah House, a hospitality home she started to provide housing for relatives and loved ones of adult patients seeking medical care outside of their normal communities, as her “third child.” Sarah House is appropriately named after Sarah, the wife of Abraham who was granted a child in her old age. Sarah House is open to strangers and anyone who is in need. The house, which opened in 1993, is located just down the street from the Keough’s home on Roberts Ave.
“From experience, I know how an illness can devastate a family,” said Mary, referring to a nephew who was diagnosed with leukemia. “Sarah House is a wonderful place for people who need help to turn to.” Dick, who on two occasions met Dorothy Day, said that the Catholic Worker movement begun by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin is nothing more than living out the Gospel. “Dorothy Day was an advocate of personalism –– each person is responsible for what happens in the world around us and we all have an obligation to make things better,” he said. Dick has done his part to improve things for the community. He recently returned from a Peace Walk in Northern Ireland and came back with something that he would implement in Syracuse. As he walked on a beautiful, sunny day, he saw a sign that read “Sanctuary: No Shooting.” He later discovered that there was a duck pond further up the path and that the sign was intended to protect the bird life. When he returned to Syracuse during a violent summer which was filled with numerous shootings, Dick said that he thought of that sign in Ireland.
His thoughts turned into action as he created many signs stating: “Sanctuary: No Shooting” and posted them throughout the city. He also met with the mayor, declaring Syracuse a “sanctuary city.” “Earth should be like heaven; there is no violence in heaven,” Dick said. “It should be easier here on earth to do good than bad.” With people like Dick and Mary Keough doing God’s will, heaven on earth doesn’t seem all that impossible.
The annual award dinner will be held on June 5 at 6 p.m. at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse. The dinner is the predominant fundraiser for Dorothy Day House in Syracuse. For tickets call (315) 476-9736.