Father Eugene T. Keenan's years of service to military, devotion to parishioners saluted
By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Father Eugene T. Keenan's decades of devoted witness to thousands he served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy and Marines and parishioners with whom he shared his ministry throughout the Trenton Diocese were recalled during and after a funeral Mass celebrated for him Nov. 15 in the chapel of Morris Hall, Lawrence.
Father Keenan, 72, a retired priest of the Diocese, died Nov. 2 after years of declining health following his military service which included, among other assignments, two tours of duty on board submarines and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Strom in Saudia Arabia and Kuwait.
In a touching homily, Father Pablo Gadenz, who first encountered Father Keenan back in 1996 as a transitional deacon in St. Paul's Parish, Princeton, shared how the older priest, then celebrating the 25th anniversary of his own ordination, struck up a friendship that would "last all these years."
To those who were present for the Mass, including the Keenan family, retired Bishop John M. Smith and 20 fellow priests, Father Gadenz spoke warmly of how much Father Keenan loved his years of priesthood and how he requested that the homily be on the sacredness of being a priest.
Father Keenan, he said, epitomized what a "priest is called to do -- to lead people to believe" and who focused on, Father Gadenz said, "feeding the lambs and tending the sheep" that he was called to serve in Jesus' name.
He noted that Father Keenan -- who developed the conditions in the First Gulf War that would lead to his medical retirement, "risked his life" to reclaim lost sheep during that conflict.
When Father Keenan retired, Father Gadenz recalled that Father Keenan served in St. Dorothea Parish, Eatontown, which is Father Gadenz’s home parish. Father Gadenz said he was pleased that his parents got to know his priestly mentor and that he was able to stay in touch with him, especially on vacations home from his own studies in Rome."
"I was very honored to celebrate this Mass for the repose of his soul," said Father Gadenz, who is associate professor of Biblical Studies in Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange.
Born Feb. 28, 1942 in Darby, Pa., Father Keenan graduated from St.
Mary College, St. Mary, Ky. Before studying for the priesthood in St. Maur Seminary, Indianapolis, he taught in Brebeuf Preparatory School in Indianapolis and gave a series of morning and evening reflections on NBC-affiliate station WFBM-TV during his transitional diaconate.
Ordained in 1971 by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, he then served in St. Raphael Parish, Hamilton, until 1975. From 1972 until 1977, he was also associate director of the Diocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
Following assignments as associate pastor in Christ the King Parish, Manville and St. James Parish, Red Bank, Father Keenan accepted the call from Bishop Ahr to fill a much needed Catholic chaplaincy in the Navy.
After the Mass, his brother, Francis, spoke of how much the priesthood meant to him -- so much so, in fact, that in order to pay his way through the seminary, he worked his way through alternating years of study with years of serving in the Merchant Marines.
Francis Keenan said his brother felt blessed to be a chaplain, a role he filled for nearly 18 years and 13 tours of duty including four tours with the U.S. Marine Corps and nine with the U.S. navy. His duty included, among other assignments, the Seventh Fleet Staff, Yokosuka, Japan; the Sixth Fleet Staff, Gaoeta, Italy as well as the tours on submarines and in operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
His Marine Corps duty included two tours in Japan and on in Hawaii.
While serving on board the U.S.S. KISKA in 1982, he was part of a team that rescued 83 Vietnamese refugees who had been marooned in the South China Sea for seven days.
Of all his service, Francis Keenan said his brother was especially proud "to be the face of the Catholic Church" as the U.S. Navy Catholic priest representative to the Vatican from July 1998 to Dec., 1990.
Predeceased by his parents, John and Helen Keenan, and his brothers, John and Thomas, in addition to Francis, he is survived by his brothers, William, Joseph and Charles; his sisters, Helen Grosso and Kathleen McCusker and numerous nieces and nephews.
Internment was to have taken place Nov. 17 at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veteran's Memorial Cemetery, Wrightstown.