Father Chris Keenan, O.F.M., Honored to Be a New York City
CINCINNATI—Following in the footsteps of Father Mychal
Judge, O.F.M., the New York City Fire Department chaplain who was tragically
killed while working at the World Trade Center on September 11, is not an
enviable task. Naturally, Father Chris Keenan, O.F.M., was uncertain about
taking over the job. But he has thrived in his ministry as an emotional and
spiritual caregiver to New York Engine 1/Ladder 24 Company on 31st Street. The
city has seven full-time chaplains for its 11,000 firefighters.
Father Chris’s story is
featured in an article in September’s St. Anthony Messenger, entitled
“Ministry at Ground Zero: Firefighter Chaplain Chris Keenan, O.F.M.” Author Jay
Copp examines the remarkable life and career of Father Chris. After August 26,
the story can be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.
The article is part of a special section with “ September 11 In Manhattan: Finding
My Son Alive” by Gerard Baumbach and “One Year After 9/11: Broken, But Strong,” an editorial
by Assistant Editor Susan Hines-Bigger.
As a young man, Father Chris worked as a truck loader and construction
worker. But after meeting Father Mychal Judge, his life changed drastically.
Through his association with the Franciscan friars, Father Chris found his
calling and became a friar at 22. He was ordained a priest seven years later in
Father Chris served in East
Rutherford (New Jersey), Buffalo, Boston and Washington, D.C. In the early
1980s, he established two hospices in Boston, which ministered to 200 people
afflicted with AIDS. But a greater challenge lay ahead.
Father Chris was initially
hesitant about becoming Father Mychal’s successor. But the firefighters of New
York were persistent. After much soul-searching, he agreed to take on the role.
“God was saying, ‘This is my will for you. I will give you the grace and
strength to do this.’ God’s will unfolds each day,” Father Chris says.
His post-September 11 work
keeps him busy. Father Chris spends a great deal of time returning phone calls,
counseling firefighters and their families and visiting Ground Zero two or
three nights a week. But Father Chris is grateful to have the job he came so
close to turning down completely. “Who could have it better than me? Being with
awesome people…is a gift.”
Bonnie Wells, a co-worker of
Father Chris’s at St. Francis of Assisi Church, calls him “a big teddy bear”
and praises him further by saying, “He’s so down to earth. He’s able to meet
people where they are.”
Permission is granted to reprint this release.