Dennis Keenan '69 | University of Portland

Dennis Keenan '69

For more than twenty years Dennis Keenan has served as executive ­director of Catholic Charities, one of the largest private human service organizations in Oregon — a superb example of active prayer, and an entity that now serves more than 100,000 Oregonians annually — ­millions since its establishment in 1933. During Keenan’s tenure as director, Catholic Charities grew from four employees with a $100,000 budget to 145 staffers with $9,000,000 to spend on ameliorating pain, hunger, and despair in Oregon. Under Keenan’s leadership, Catholic Charities also established a Ministry to the Elderly, started Project Rachel to provide emotional and spiritual healing for people involved in abortions, opened its Immigration Legal Services program (with a branch ­office in Medford), and now offers nearly 300 units of affordable housing through its Caritas program.

A lifelong Oregonian, Keenan graduated from Holy Family grade school and Central Catholic High before earning his degree in philosophy on The Bluff in 1969 (and serving as valedictorian); during his
undergraduate years he also minored in theology and political science, and was the student coordinator for the University’s community action program at the Columbia Villa Housing Project — an early marker for his later dedication to safe, healthy, and affordable shelter for all. He then earned a master’s degree in social work at Portland State University , before starting his career as a planner and contract officer for Cascade Health Care; in 1976 he was named that organization’s executive director, a position he held until he was named family life director for the Arch­diocese of Portland in 1979. Ten years later (and after a year teaching social science and running practica at the University of Portland) he was asked to direct Catholic Charities, which he has done with refreshing humility, dry humor, endless ­patience, and admirable creative energy. To be able to say that the organization you lead has had a ­direct, positive, enduring effect bettering the lives of a million of your neighbors — far too many of them children — is a remarkable statement, but it can be said of Dennis Keenan, of whom the Uni­versity is most proud.

Keenan also serves on a dizzying array of boards, committees, and ­associations, has also ­assisted Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Multnomah County
Hospital Facilities Authority, La Salle Prep, Saint Mary’s Home for Boys, Our Lady of Sorrows and Saint Ignatius Parishes, and Portland State Uni­versity, among many other entities.

“I have never seen anyone better at being a true servant-leader than Dennis,” says University regent Mark Ganz, who worked with Keenan as Catholic Charities’ board chairman. “He inspires by his character, he encourages by his dedication, he leads by being a genuine, direct, and substantive soul. He’s a remarkable example of a man who leads by being the most assiduous and selfless servant.”

Much of Keenan’s effect and impact, the quietly superb way in which he has served his state and faith, is reflected in his remarks to The Portland Business Journal in 2009. “Treat everyone with respect. Do all things with love and compassion. We succeed when our clients no longer need us. Don’t mistake being uninformative for being humble; if you are doing remarkable work, with remarkable people, tell the world. The work we do makes a difference. Be direct. Be hopeful. Remember what Jesus said: What­ever you do for the least of mine, you do for me.” Today the University, celebrating an alumnus who took those words to heart every day of his life, honors Dennis Keenan with a doctorate of public service.