From a long and storied ecumenical mission to working to solve hunger issues, Father John Keane, SA, brought the message of at-one-ment from East to West throughout his life.

Father John entered into Eternal Life on Wednesday, June 29, within one day of the passing of his beloved brother, Thomas. He was 87 years old.

Born in 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Father John was ordained on June 7, 1962, after completing his studies at St. Pius X Seminary and St. John’s Atonement Seminary. Not long after his ordination, Father John sojourned to the Far East, serving in parishes across Japan for 18 years. He was Pastor at parishes in Kawasaki, Yokohama and Tajimi, working as Regional Superior in his community.

His first encounter with the Society of the Atonement came through his next door neighbors, who introduced him to a Friar of the Atonement, Father Regis Barber, SA. 

“This word atonement has become very good theologically. It means reconciliation, but it means a lot more,” Father John once said. “This word, if you parse it, means at-one-ment. It means not only to make one, but also to atone. Through the charism of atonement and at-one-ment, we atone for the sins of the world … and try to make the world one.”

Father John received his master’s degree in Theology in 1974 from the University of Ottawa in Canada, where he penned his thesis titled, “The Kami (Divinity) Concept: A Basis for Understanding and Dialogue.” His thesis was published in 1980 in five parts in The Japan Missionary Bulletin, and reprinted later that year by the Oriens Institute for Religious Research in Tokyo.

Upon returning to the United States in 1980, Father Keane became chaplain at the Newman Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Three years later, he ventured to the West Coast, as he was called to serve as Ecumenical and Interreligious Director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, California. There, in 1989, the Jewish Community honored him with its Freedom Award.

He filled in temporarily in 1992 as Newman Center chaplain at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and as the Stockton diocese’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Director. A year later, Father John became Pastor at St. Francis Xavier Church in Seaside, California – a multicultural parish with a large Hispanic population. During that time, he also worked as Ecumenical and Interreligious Director for the diocese of Monterey Bay. He served in that same position in the diocese of Sacramento, California from 1998 to 2002.

From 1999 to 2009, Father John served on the Friars’ General Council, while simultaneously working in the Friars’ formation ministry as director of a postulant program for North American candidates in Washington, D.C. What’s more, he directed the Paul Wattson Lecture and Seminar Series at the University of San Francisco, a title he held for 30 years.

Sharing religious and cultural ideas through published writing was an integral part of Father John’s life.

Along with the publication of his thesis, Father John participated in preparation of the second revised edition of the Handbook for Interreligious Dialogue, contributing an article centered around Japanese traditions. In 2005, his article “Religious Influences in the Japanese Tea Ceremony” appeared in the winter issue of The Japanese Mission Journal. He wrote another article that appeared in the April, 2006 issue of One Christ, concerning the Second Vatican Council Decree on Religious Freedom and its impact upon ecumenical and interreligious work in the Roman Catholic Church. His first book, titled The Japanese Quest for Divinity, was published in 2016. 

In May of 2006, the Executive Board of the National Association for Diocesan Ecumenical Officers gave Father John the annual James Fitzgerald Award for Ecumenism during its annual meeting in San Jose, California, in honor of his outstanding contributions to Christian unity.

In 2014, he helped co-found the Garden of Hope in Westchester County, which addresses hunger issues in the community. Father John worked as Hunger Chairperson for the Peekskill Area Pastors Association. The organization bestowed upon him the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for his work in 2016.

At 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 12, there will be visiting hours at St. Anthony Chapel at St. Paul Friary at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y. A wake service will follow at 7 p.m.

A Mass of Christian burial will take place at 10 a.m., Wednesday, July 13 at St. Anthony Chapel at St. Paul Friary, with interment to follow in the Friars’ cemetery.

Father John was predeceased by his parents, his brother Thomas and his brother Martin. He is survived by his sister-in-law Irene; his nieces, Barbara, Maureen and Mary; and several great nieces and nephews.

3 thoughts on “Father John Keane, SA, Fulfilled At-One-Ment Mission Across the World

  1. Father Keane was such a wonderful man. He was ordained the same day as our uncle, Father Malcolm Martin, who was also a member of the Friars of the Atonement community. After Father Mac died in December 2014, we told Father Keane that we were adopting him. We kept in touch through these years and also were blessed to have him give us a copy of his book about his research into Japanese divinity and “kami”. He was a very thoughtful, caring and deeply religious soul. He will be missed.

  2. Fr. John, how wonderful you are, now and forever I will carry you with me, special friend. I will miss you and your integrity and faithful heart of a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement.

  3. I am so sad to hear of Fr John Keane’s passing. He was a very kind man and I was pleased to have worked with him at Graymoor when he published his book in 2016 and when he started the interfaith garden and to help with his projects.

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