Fr. Christopher Keenan Marks 50 Years as Friar

HNP Communications News Releases

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Jocelyn Thomas, director of communications

BRONX, N.Y. — June 23, 2015 — Fr. Christopher Keenan, OFM, a member of Holy Name Province, the largest community of Franciscan friars in the United States, will celebrate 50 years as a friar this month.

Fr. Keenan is widely known as a chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, a role he accepted after his friend Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, perished at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. This high-profile assignment is only one of Fr. Keenan’s many ministries. He has spent the majority of his life partnering with others, especially the homeless, the unemployed and those struggling with addictions and other problems.

“I have been blessed to be a friar presence in Gospel fraternities with those most in need. Ministry is not to people, but with people,” said Fr. Keenan.

The son of Irish immigrants who met and married in New York City, Fr. Keenan grew up in Wood-Ridge, N.J., where his family belonged to the province’s Assumption Parish. He entered the Order of Friars Minor in 1964 and professed first vows one year later. After studying philosophy and theology, he made his final vows in 1969 and was ordained a priest in 1971.

Fr. Keenan’s first assignment was to St. Joseph Church in East Rutherford, N.J., where he helped establish the Marriage Encounter Movement. In 1973, he went to New York City, where he served as the province’s assistant director of ministries.

After three years as co-director of the province’s formation program in Buffalo, N.Y., Fr. Keenan moved to St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, in 1979. He served in various roles, including as a founding member of Boston’s AIDS Action Committee, journeying with more than 200 persons with AIDS from diagnosis to death. Fr. Keenan also worked as director of pastoral and field education at both Weston Jesuit School of Theology at Cambridge, Mass., and Boston College.

In 1989, Fr. Keenan was appointed co-director of continuing education and sabbaticals at Washington Theological Union. After taking a sabbatical himself, he returned to New York City one year later to found and direct the St. Francis Cares partner-in-ministry program. He also worked with the friars on poverty programs at Harlem’s All Saints Church and CREATE, Inc.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Fr. Keenan was chosen to serve as a chaplain for the FDNY. He recalled, “When I was commissioned in the fire department after 9/11, the firefighters met with me in the firehouse and told me, ‘We know that you have offered your life for us as our chaplain. What you need to know is that all 11,000 of us firefighters are yours. Whatever you need, just say it, and it will be done. We know you’re ours. Don’t you ever forget that all 11,000 of us are yours.’”

For the past four years, Fr. Keenan has lived with three Sisters of Charity in a dormitory of the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx. There, he is the chaplain on the campus ministry team with two laypersons, and has encouraged more than 1,000 Mount Saint Vincent students to volunteer more than 4,000 hours of service work at 200 locations.

Fr. Keenan also works with the following organizations:

  • The Create Young Adult Center, the only New York City shelter for homeless 18- to 25-year-old men.
  • A Harlem food pantry that serves more than 1,200 families
  • New York City’s St. Francis Breadline and Franciscans Deliver, food programs established by the province in response to the Great Depression and hunger in the local community
  • The Life Experience Faith Sharing Associates, which holds monthly Leadership Study Days on West 31st Street for 150 homeless persons

Fr. Keenan and other friars marking their golden and silver jubilees will be honored at a 5:30 p.m. Mass on June 24 at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York City. All are invited to attend.

About the Province

Holy Name Province is the largest of seven provinces in the United States that belong to the Order of Friars Minor. With ministries in 12 states along the East Coast, its more than 300 Catholic priests and brothers serve in colleges, parishes, urban ministry centers and a wide variety of social ministries, as well as in overseas missions.

The Order, founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi, commemorated its 800th anniversary in 2009. Today, St. Francis, whose feast day is Oct. 4, remains one of the most widely known saints, revered for his affection for nature and desire for respect of all people.

Information about Holy Name Province can be found on News about the friars and their ministries can be found on the Facebook page of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province.

Questions and photo requests should be directed to Jocelyn Thomas, HNP director of communications, at 646-473-0265 ext. 321 or