Father Keane remembered for many talents, work in social justice

| July 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

Mike Keane remembers his uncle, Father Robert Keane, as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – and something of a Renaissance man.

He produced art. He was well versed in philosophy, theology and literature. He recited poetry – Poe, Shelley and others. “He grew up in a generation that memorized poetry,” said Keane, an attorney in Manhattan.

Keane, who grew up at Incarnation in Minneapolis, said he and other nieces and nephews appreciated when their uncle helped them with their homework. “He could remember formulas for sine and cosine well into his 90s,” Keane said.

Father Keane died July 6 in his hometown, Minneapolis, at age 95.

Father Robert Keane

A wake will be held from 4-8 p.m. July 14 at Gill Brothers’ Minneapolis location, with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. July 15 at Annunciation in Minneapolis. The funeral will be livestreamed at facebook.com/annunciationmsp

A celebration of Father Keane’s life will be held at a later date. Burial will be at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Father Keane grew up at Holy Rosary in Minneapolis. He graduated from then-College of St. Thomas in St. Paul with a degree in physics and mathematics. He served in the South Pacific during World War II as a radio ensign aboard the USS Teton. He was ordained a priest in 1978 after an engineering career with Honeywell in Minneapolis, California and Connecticut.

“His calling was really to be a priest,” Keane said. “He was a good priest in that he always ministered to people. He was a priest long before he was ordained. He was a priest long after he retired.”

Keane said that while Father Keane’s memory faded in his later years, he never forgot that he was a priest.

“He was just a charismatic presence,” Keane said. “He brought joy everywhere he went. Everybody he visited was thrilled.” But he also was humble and modest, Keane said.

“He cared about people and he saw the value in every individual he encountered,” Keane said. As one example, Keane said, his uncle ministered to the homeless, going out of his way to make sure that when people who appeared to have no family died, they received a proper burial, no matter their circumstances.

After his ordination, Father Keane joined St. Stephen in Minneapolis as assistant priest and served there for three years. A former priest, Ed Flahavan, was pastor at the time. Flahavan said he and Keane had something in common from the start: Both were descended from Irish immigrants.

“It was a wonderful three years,” Flahavan said. “He had a good sense of humor, was mature and was steady.”

Determined to engage in parish ministry, Father Keane also brought a business sense that helped when the parish needed to make important decisions, Flahavan said.

Many people in the neighborhood lived in poverty, and the parish opened its rectory basement as a 12-hour emergency shelter, Flahavan said. The parish gave meal vouchers to a local restaurant for those in need, and later served hot meals in the school basement. With help from Father Keane in its early stages, that effort grew into what has become a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, Loaves and Fishes, which in 2018 alone served more than 1 million meals to the needy from sites around Minnesota.

Father Rodger Bauman, pastor at Guardian Angels in Oakdale, who was ordained in 1982, said he met Father Keane at his first assignment at St. Edward in Bloomington, where Father Keane was pastor. Father Keane was wonderful, personable, with a great sense of humor, Father Bauman said.

“He was very fiscally responsible,” Father Bauman said, and his heart was in the Church’s teachings on social justice. Probably stemming from his engineering background, Father Keane also wanted to fix things, such as “when something went haywire” at the rectory or elsewhere, Father Bauman said.

In addition to serving at St. Stephen and St. Edward, Father Keane served at St. Helena in Minneapolis, St. William in Fridley, St. Mark in St. Paul, and Holy Name and Annunciation, both in Minneapolis.

Even after his formal retirement in 1994, followed by service as parochial administrator to St. Richard parish in 1996 and St. Peter parish in 1997, both in Richfield, Father Keane continued priestly duties until 2011, said his niece, Peggy Keane of Minneapolis. He continued to celebrate Masses, she said, including at Nativity of Mary in Bloomington, Our Lady of Peace in Minneapolis and at the former Church of the Visitation in Minneapolis. He also officiated at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Editor’s note: A version of this story first moved July 9

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