“We're called upon to share our essence in the world," says Rev. Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher, when explaining his motivation for supporting UB's James Joyce collection.
At 6 feet 1 inch, with his salt-and-pepper hair slicked back, the Rev. Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher could be an imposing figure, but his bright smile and inquisitive eyes temper his stature, making him easily approachable.
As director and campus minister for the University at Buffalo’s Newman Center for the past 31 years, Father Pat, as he is commonly known, is a familiar figure both on campus and throughout the Western New York community. He grew up in Lockport, a canal town about 30 miles northeast of Buffalo, where he attended grammar school at St. John’s and served as an altar boy. After St. John’s, rather than moving on to a traditional high school, he entered the seminary. “That’s not how they do it now,” he says, noting an atypically early path to the vocation.
When not conducting weddings (too numerous to count), preparing his homily (all are original), leading mass (multiple times a week) or performing other duties of his profession, in his spare time Father Pat pursues a number of interests, including literature, the arts, poetry, and travel. One most dear to his heart is the study of James Joyce. Widely regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century, Joyce’s seminal works include "Finnegans Wake" and "Ulysses," perhaps the single most important English-language novel of the past century.
“When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to read Joyce, and then later as an adult I joined a club—there are a lot of Joyce readers in Buffalo—where we would read and reread just a couple of pages and try to decipher the meaning.”
His pursuit of all-things Joyce continues to this day—right in the UB Libraries Poetry Collection. UB is home to the world’s largest, most comprehensive and most prestigious collection of materials by and related to James Joyce, and is an international destination for scholarly research and discovery. “It’s [the Joyce collection] world-famous, it’s unique, and you can’t find it anywhere except right here in Buffalo, at UB,” he said. “And yet, we don’t brag about it, we’re humble—the city of no illusions, right?”
Father Pat is helping to change that. He believes deeply in the Joyce collection and that its impact on the world should be preserved. “It’s part of the human intellectual heritage,” he says, “and I support it to help preserve it for future generations.” His $10,000 donation to the UB Libraries will help Joyce scholars and fans from around the world continue to have access to UB’s wealth of Joyce papers, manuscripts, photographs, personal artifacts and more—and one day, in a new location.
Here Comes Everybody (HCE), a reference from "Finnegans Wake," is how Father Pat describes his philosophy on giving. “We’re all in it together,” but, he says, there is always more to do to help others. “To me, HCE is the Kingdom of God. Here comes everybody. It’s a cosmic worldview that, even though it ["Finnegans Wake"] was written so long ago, still applies today.”
To secure the James Joyce Collection’s preservation and growth, while enabling the broader world to explore its contents, the UB Libraries is pursuing a dedicated Joyce museum, likely in Abbott Library on the South Campus. When complete, the museum will attract constituencies who may not otherwise come to UB, adding to the university’s reputation as a leading scholarly enterprise.
On a visit to the collection in July 2019, Daniel Mullhall, Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., said it was the culmination of a dream. “I saw things in there that I’ve never seen before anywhere, and I’ve seen a lot of Joyce material around the world over the years. A big part of the Irish story is told through our literature. I think it’s one of the greatest treasures of Ireland that we happen to have this extraordinary literary heritage. And I’m so delighted to see that heritage being treasured here in Buffalo.”
For Father Pat, who believes being “humbly generous” is “part of what we’re supposed to do,” supporting the Joyce collection and future museum are opportunities for everyone.