Keane, Father Philip Sullivan, S.S.
2012, December 28
Date of Birth: 1941, March
When we think back on the life and character of Fr. Philip Sullivan Keane, S.S, and his way of being of service through our ministry, the figure of Solomon quickly sits up in our mind. Solomon was wise. When he asked God, not for a long life or riches, but for a discerning heart, his prayer was heard and his people were served, wisely. A listening heart able to distinguish what helps or hinders, what is right or wrong, was God’s blessing to Fr. Keane and it has been Fr. Keane’s gift to us and to so many others through his friendship, teaching, writing, lecturing and consulting.
Philip Sullivan Keane was born in Syracuse, NY on March 22, 1941 to Gerard F. and Harriet (nee Sullivan) Keane. He is survived by his brother Richard W. (Dick), Cuttingsville, VT and sister Dorothy Keane White, Raleigh, NC, six nieces and numerous cousins.
Fr. Keane was raised and educated in upstate New York, an area that he loved for its people and its natural beauty. He returned there frequently to enjoy the outdoors and to remain connected to his home diocese by serving in his home parish of St. James of Cazenovia, NY. Fr. Keane earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, N.Y. (1963) and then moved on for theological studies to Theological College of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He was granted an S.T.L. (1967) and S.T.D. (1971) from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
After ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Syracuse on May 20, 1967, Fr. Keane was assigned as a Sulpician candidate to St. Stephen’s Seminary in Hawaii. He served there for two years before completing his solitude year and being admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice in 1970. He then ministered for two years at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, where he was also Vice Rector. He returned to Baltimore for three years at St. Mary’s Seminary & University (1973 – 1976). Trusting in Fr. Keane’s discerning heart, the Province asked him to go to St. Thomas Seminary, Kenmore, WA, in 1976 to assist that seminary find its way through a time of great transition before it finally closed in 1977.
Fr. Keane returned to St. Mary’s Seminary & University where he remained until his retirement from teaching in 2007. As a seminary professor and theologian, Fr. Keane is well remembered for his encyclopedic mind. He would deliver complex lectures without notes and could cite from memory not only passages from scholarly sources, but footnotes and bibliography as well. He could pick up on a new class by recalling the exact ending of his last class, even if it was a week or more earlier. During those years, Fr. Keane also held administrative positions as Vice Rector (1978 – 1980; 1984-1990), Executive Vice President (1994-1995) and Academic Dean (1986 – 1996). Fr. Keane was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1976 until his death. Since 2007 Fr. Keane was a member of the Archives Oversight Committee.
Fr. Keane’s brother, Dick, recalled how Fr. Keane displayed such a prodigious intelligence and memory at an early age. On one occasion, the family was about to take a road trip to visit their father. Mrs. Keane did not know how to get to where they needed to be. Mr. Keane called home with the instructions, “Harriet, if you would simply go to the store and get a map, Philip will get you here.” She did; he did. At the age of five, young Philip sat in the back seat of the car plotting the route and calling out the directions. With an eye for detail and a mind honed by technical competence, Fr. Keane continued throughout his life to help students plot their course through life. Fr. Keane loved his students and is remembered for his commitment to them and for his dedication to every aspect of his Sulpician ministry.
The world of the seminary was not the only environment in which Fr. Keane had a formative influence. He also touched the lives of many in the wider Church through his writing and teaching in workshops, conferences, and graduate programs. For many years he was much loved by the students at St. Michael’s College, VT, and at the former Marymount College, Los Angeles. In both places he made life-long friends among the faculty and students.
Fr. Keane also had a great impact on the ongoing education of the clergy through his lectures in the sabbatical program for priests at the Vatican II Institute in Menlo Park, CA. Through his lectures on the academic formation of seminarians at the Institute for the Preparation of Seminary Formation Staff and Advisors, he aided in the preparation of future clergy formators.
In all of these arenas, students of all stripes were able to experience his Solomonic gift of a discerning heart and they prized the precision of his thinking and the crisp clarity of his teaching. It was no secret that Fr. Keane had a great love for God, for moral theology, for the Sulpician community and its ministry, and for the Church.
Beyond the classroom, Fr. Keane also made a great contribution to the life of the Church through his participation in the theological academy. He was an active member of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America where he delivered papers and participated in seminars. In the discipline of moral theology his writing marked him as one of the pioneers of the theological renewal that took place after the Second Vatican Council. As is the case with pioneers, their road is not always smooth. Fr. Keane faced the road bumps of resistance and criticism with integrity and courage. Setbacks didn’t stop him. He knew how to get up, shake off the dust, catch his breath and move on. Such was the manner of this man, a man in motion who kept moving forward. He never threw in the towel. He continued to think, to write, to teach. With his discerning mind and heart, he knew the futility of certain battles and could move on with grace. In this way, he became a model of humility and loyalty for all who contributed to the aggiornamento in the Church.
Over his years of service, the Province, too, knew Fr. Keane to be a wise and generous priest of St. Sulpice. Provincials and Provincial Assemblies turned to him for his wisdom. Fr. Keane was elected to the Provincial Council for two terms (1997 – 2009). After retiring from teaching at St. Mary’s, he served as Provincial Secretary and later as Special Assistant to the Provincial where he took on diverse responsibilities such as recording council minutes, coordinating Provincial communications where he edited Update, and serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Charlestown Retirement Community in Baltimore. In these capacities, Fr. Keane was our institutional memory. He would recall, often years later, personalities, events, and details that kept our tradition alive and gave us a sense of continuity with the past as we carved out our future.
Fr. Keane’s gift of a discerning heart was also sought after by many in the world of Catholic healthcare. Since 1978, he was consulted regularly by bishops and Catholic healthcare systems throughout the United States. In this role, Fr. Keane worked behind the scenes of clinical practice and institutional boardrooms to provide wise counsel on delicate clinical decisions and knotty problems of administering Catholic healthcare in a pluralistic society. One of the executives of a Catholic healthcare system summarized Fr. Keane’s contribution well by saying that Fr. Keane was for them a wise counselor, a leader in social justice within the healthcare world, and a humane and spirit-filled person who would walk the halls of the hospital with clinicians to combine his crisp ethical sense with a pastoral sensitivity in caring for patients.
Fr. Keane was more than a classroom teacher, consultant and scholar. He lived beyond his mind. He had hobbies, loved all sports, and was an avid outdoorsman. He is remembered fondly for the way he would, with childlike enthusiasm, don his conductor’s hat, give the “toot, toot, toot” of the engine, and run his world class model train set through miniature villages and mountain valleys that spanned two rooms on the fifth floor of St. Mary’s.
During baseball season, Fr. Keane loved to go to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles play. Throughout the year, he would return to upstate New York to ski, downhill and cross-country, bike, sail his boat, hike and climb the forty-six peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, not once but three times, an accomplishment that earned him the recognition of being a 46R.
In the last weeks of his life, a steady stream of visitors flowed through his hospital room refreshing his spirit by their shared memories, good humor, prayers of blessing, sage advice and final instructions. This network of diverse personal, professional, and social relationships that Fr. Keane wove together throughout his life refused to unravel for him while he lay dying. Fr. Keane lived out his Solomonic character as friend, priest, teacher, and advisor to the very end. He died at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, MD on December 28, 2012 after a struggle with metastatic melanoma.
One of Fr. Keane’s firmest final requests was that he be buried from St. Mary’s Seminary surrounded by the community that he loved and served for nearly forty years. His funeral Mass, which he planned in great detail, was celebrated there on January 16, 2013. Archbishop William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, was the principle celebrant and Fr. Thomas R. Hurst, Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary, gave the homily. Interment was in the Sulpician Cemetery, Catonsville, MD.
His dying message to his family and friends was, “You will be in my prayers for all eternity. Love, Phil.”
Richard M. Gula, S.S.
Director of Personnel