Requiescat in Pace, Fr. James Keenan, S.J.
We mourn the loss of Fr. Keenan, who made a profound impact as the 28th president of Canisius High School, serving our community from 1989 to 1995. Fr. Keenan was a tremendous force at Jesuit schools throughout the Northeast and will be remembered for his personal touch with so many who were under his care or with whom he connected.
Fr. Keenan died Sunday evening after suffering a heart attack on Saturday. He was 86. He had celebrated a baptism Saturday and was celebrating with the family that evening when he was struck by the heart attack.
A Jesuit for 67 years and a priest for 54 years, Fr. Keenan also served as president of McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J., and he was mostly closely associated with Xavier High School in New York City, where he began serving the Society of Jesus as a scholastic before going on to become headmaster and later president. "He was a blessing beyond measure," said Xavier High School President Jack Raslowsky. Fr. Keenan also served on numerous boards, including at Canisius University and Nardin Academy.
The Queens native's final mission was director of donor relations for the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, a post held for 15 years. All the while, Fr. Keenan continued to celebrate weddings and baptize newborns with the many families he had developed lifelong friendships with.
"Fr. Jim Keenan’s signature is on my Xavier High School diploma," said CHS President Fr. David Ciancimino. "He was the headmaster back then. For a high school kid, his deep voice was both commanding and inviting.
"In my first assignment as priest, I arrived in Buffalo with Frs. Keenan, Michael Corcoran ’76, John Costello and Michael Tunney ’76 – with Fr. Keenan serving as president. We became fast friends and he has been a mentor and dear friend ever since. His warmth and thoughtful care for me and our CHS community over the years never waned.
"He joined us this year for Alumni Weekend, where he caught up with former colleagues, friends and alumni. Simply put, he was a great man and model Jesuit who was a formative presence in my life and the lives of so many over many years."
In a 1993 story in The Buffalo News about the announcement that Keenan would be leaving Canisius for St. Peter's, Keenan's leadership was credited with CHS being able to pay off its mortgage and become free of debt two years ahead of schedule along with, according to then-Board President Michael J. Ryan '60, a growth in enrollment and the strengthening of educational programs and physical plant.
The article also quoted then-past chairman of the trustees Carl Montante '60: "He brought an immediate sense of calm and confidence to the board and to the school, and has always been an excellent manager and inspiring motivator."
At our 1994 Commencement Exercises, Fr. Keenan was presented the St. Peter Canisius Award, the highest honor CHS bestows.
Additional CHS remembrances of Fr. Keenan:
• "A great guy, wonderful friend, transformative CHS president and exemplary Jesuit." – Mike Madden ’67
• "Known affectionately to most of us as 'Darth Vader' because of his booming baritone voice and imposing presence, Fr. Keenan played an extremely important role at Canisius in the late '80s and early '90s. He led our school out of a difficult position and into a boom period with his strong leadership and fundraising skills. As important as his leadership was to the school, he was also incredibly pastoral. Over the years, he married several friends of mine and countless other young men from that period at Canisius. And I know there are similar stories about him from his other stops along the way. He was loved by so many and will be missed." – Vice President for Institutional Advancement Andy Deyell '91.
• "Father Keenan was the best. Every time I interacted with him he made me feel like I was the reason he came to the event." – Board of Trustees Chair Bob Reger ’66
• "When I heard the news, tears immediately welled in my eyes. This man may have reshaped the trajectory of my life. Years later he married my wife and me. The impact he had on me and the father I wanted to be to my children were key ingredients in helping me along life’s journey. I wish I could have told him that, but through my actions he knew he had a special place in my heart. That will live on forever." – Joe Ingrando ’90
A wake service will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday in Keenan Commons, Fernandez-Duminuco Hall, Xavier High School, 33 West 15th Street, New York City. A prayer service with reflections will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Church of St. Francis Xavier, 55 West 16th Street. The church will open at 6:30 p.m. and remain open until 9 p.m. after the conclusion of the prayer service. The prayer service will be livestreamed at www.xavierhs.org/livestream.
The Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday Aug. 18 at the Church of St. Francis Xavier. The Very Rev. Joseph O’Keefe, S.J. will be the principal concelebrant. The Mass will be livestreamed at www.xavierhs.org/livestream. After the Mass, all are welcome at a luncheon reception in the Xavier High School gymnasium, 30 West 16th Street.
Burial will be at a later date in the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville, New York.
A memorial Mass will be announced and held at Canisius High School at a later date.