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August 15, 2002  445 Words

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: 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 1971.

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.”


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