Patrick Keely

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St. Mary's Church Complex (Newport, Rhode Island) (1848), the oldest Catholic Church building in Rhode Island

Patrick Charles Keely (August 9, 1816 — August 11, 1896) was an Irish-American architect based in Brooklyn, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island. He was a prolific designer of nearly 600 churches and hundreds of other institutional buildings for the Roman Catholic Church or Roman Catholic patrons in the eastern United States and Canada, particularly in New York City, Boston and Chicago in the later half of the 19th century. He designed every 19th-century Catholic cathedral in New England.[1] Several other church and institutional architects began their careers in his firm.

Early life in Ireland[edit]

Keely was born in Thurles, County Tipperary, then a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (alternatively another source states it was County Kilkenny),[1] on August 9, 1816, to a family in comfortable circumstances. His draftsman and builder father introduced him to architecture and training in construction, his father worked on the building of St. Patrick's College, Thurles and Patrick was educated there,[2] though nothing is recorded of his architectural design education.

Early life in Brooklyn, New York[edit]

Keely emigrated to the United States, landing at Castle Garden in Manhattan in 1842, and settling in Brooklyn. He arrived at a time when Catholicism in the United States was expanding from its initial footholds in Baltimore, New York City and Boston. Initially, he worked as a carpenter and builder since there were few trained architects practicing and most structures were erected with the design assistance of the client and builder alone. Common practice held that the builder, whether trained as mason or carpenter, crafted his own plans, and details were often executed without even the aid of drawings. For a number of years Keely worked at his trade without attracting attention. During this time, he met the Rev. Sylvester Malone, a Roman Catholic priest his own age.

In 1846 Malone was sent to form a parish near the Brooklyn waterfront in the Williamsburg neighborhood. Together with Keely, he worked out a plan for a Gothic church possessing pointed arches, pinnacles, and a few buttresses. Working as a carpenter, Keely produced designs from which was built the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in 1847.

Architectural career[edit]

St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church (1848), Lower East Side, New York City

The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul was considered an epoch in Catholic building in America. The much-praised work (demolished in 1957)[3] established him as a competent architect and builder at a time when a number of new Roman Catholic churches were being planned "but a relative scarcity of competent architects of the Roman Catholic faith, and Keely's reputation for honesty and integrity quickly made him a popular choice among the hierarchy and clergy throughout the eastern United States."[1]

Thereafter, Keely effectively became the in-house architect for the Roman Catholic archdioceses and was approached from all sides with requests for designs of churches and other necessary structures for an expanding religious life. In Brooklyn alone there was a great wave of Catholic settlers for whom churches were urgently needed and Keely was the only one thought of to do the work. He continued as a carpenter / craftsman in conjunction with his designing duties, handcrafting such ecclesiastical features of the reredos of the nearly demolished Saint Brigid's Church (1848) in the East Village of Manhattan.

Keely later partnered with his wife's brother-in-law, James Murphy in Brooklyn, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island, under the name Keely & Murphy from the 1860s to 1867, until Murphy opened his own practice in Providence.[1] Keely worked throughout the eastern United States and Canada, primarily in the industrial mill towns and cities of the state of New York and New England, principally a designer of Roman Catholic churches or institutional buildings. Among his work were several cathedrals in the Northeast and "many of the more substantial parish churches" later "elevated to cathedral status during the twentieth century." He designed a few churches for Protestant congregations…."[1]

Several later noteworthy architects began their careers with Keely's firm, including Elliott Lynch, James Farmer (his wife's brother), James Murphy (his wife's brother-in-law), his sons, Charles Keely (died 1889, Hartford, Connecticut), John J. Keely (died 1879, Brooklyn), and son-in-law, Thomas F. Houghton.[1]

Keely died in 1896 after a long illness, while still directing the completion of several churches with his son-in-law, Thomas Houghton. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, under an inauspicious polished granite block embossed "KEELY."[4]


District of Columbia
  • St. Joseph Church, New Orleans (1869-1875)
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, Indiana

(initial plans, the present edifice was built following other plans)

North and west facades of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston
Hammerbeam ceiling, carved by Keely himself, at St. Mary Church, Charlestown, MA (1887-1893, 1895)
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
St. Boniface Church, Brooklyn
St Anthony of Padua, Brooklyn

Saint John the Baptist, Philadelphia, PA

Rhode Island
South Carolina
St. Mary's Basilica, Halifax, Nova Scotia
West Virginia


  1. ^ a b c d e f Decker, Kevin F. " Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896)" Archived 2009-10-27 at the Wayback Machine, University of Plattsburgh, New York (2000)
  2. ^ Patrick Charles Keely Dictionary of Irish Architects.
  3. ^ Keely Society
  4. ^ [1] Find a Grave
  5. ^ Susan and Michael Southworth, AIA Guide to Boston, Third Edition, (Guildford, Connecticut: GPP, 2008), p.146.
  6. ^ Susan and Michael Southworth, AIA Guide to Boston, Third Edition, (Guildford, Connecticut: GPP, 2008), p.155.
  7. ^ Susan and Michael Southworth, AIA Guide to Boston, Third Edition, (Guildford, Connecticut: GPP, 2008), p.241.
  8. ^ a b Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins, and David Fishman. New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age. (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1999), p.875
  9. ^ Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes: West 16th Street; A Side-Street Surprise: A Monumental Church" New York Times (March 27, 2005)
  10. ^ White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000), AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.), New York: Three Rivers Press, ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5, p.192
  11. ^ St. Francis Xavier Church at
  12. ^ Saint Francis Xavier: Restoration history
  13. ^ Alejandro Bahamón and Àgata Losantos, New York: A Historical Atlas of Architecture (New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2007), p.99.
  14. ^ David W. Dunlap, From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan's Houses of Worship. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.) p. 204.
  15. ^;jsessionid=x1txbt36q0v8?title=Historic+Philadelphia+church+to+be+torn+down&page=
  16. ^ "The New St. Patrick's". Charleston News & Courier. January 28, 1886. p. 8. Retrieved Nov 11, 2012.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2011-02-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) St. Bridget Church, West Rutland VT


  • Francis William Wynn Kervick. "Patrick Charles Keely, Architect: A Record of His Life and Work." South Bend, Indiana: S.V., 1953.