Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Regional Report

the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)

Archdiocese of Portland

PORTLAND — Dennis Keenan (right), the head of Portland’s Catholic Charities, knows what it’s like to be poor. The son of a Portland shipyard worker who was laid off after World War II, he lived for a time in a converted chicken coop. When he was 13, his father died and he became the man of the house. Keenan will retire after leading the Archdiocese of Portland’s social service arm for 22 years and overseeing a major expansion of services.

“I learned to rely on God a lot and have empathy for people without a lot of money,” he says of his past.

Keenan, a 65-year-old member of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Portland, is retiring in October. He says his work at Catholic Charities has been a blessing.

“It gives me an opportunity to live my faith and my belief in the social mission of the church,” he explains.

In Keenan’s years as head of Catholic Charities, the annual operating budget surged from $100,000 to $10 million. In 2008, Keenan led the organization in its first capital campaign, which raised $12.5 million for the construction of the Clark Family Center, Catholic Charities’ new headquarters.

Keenan has not taken the Catholic identity of the organization lightly. He cites Scripture and church teaching when giving major talks. The new building has a statue of Christ and crucifixes. The mission statement, he knows in his bones, is based on the dignity and sanctity of human life and the social teaching of the church. In 1997, he withdrew Catholic Charities from United Way, which included Planned Parenthood.

While a student at the University of Portland, he volunteered with low-income kids in at a nearby housing project as a tutor and coach. He helped a group of single mothers organize themselves to assert their rights before the Housing Authority of Portland.

After a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University, in 1979 he became director of family life for the Archdiocese of Portland. He planned fairs, workshops, speakers, parent classes and marriage training. He formed an association for people who were widowed and divorced.

During the 1980s, Archbishop (now Cardinal) William Levada began to revise Catholic Charities, which then had only a handful of workers. The archbishop wanted a stronger presence of the church in social work and Keenan got the call.

Now, 200 workers help serve 39,000 people each year. A decade ago, Keenan listened to his case workers and brought Catholic Charities into affordable housing, with 600 units being tended.

Services, Keenan says, cannot simply fill in needs. They must advance human development by helping poor people further financial stability, strengthen marriages and other family relationships and form links to the community.

“Dennis is a true servant leader, who has the ability to inspire and who is passionate about the social mission of the church,” says Doug Alles, longtime social services director for Catholic Charities. “Dennis has made it possible for us to improve our care for the poor and has helped the staff of Catholic Charities grow as persons.”

Keenan and his wife, Diana, whom he lauds for her encouragement and support, have been married for 41 years. They have five children and six grandchildren. Keenan says he looks forward to spending time with them all.

SALEM – Some people classify athletes as animals.

So maybe it’s fitting that the new softball coach at Blanchet High School is Jerry Orlando, a retired veterinarian.

Besides his professional credentials, Orlando also has extensive background in athletics, including time as head coach and president of Oregon Panthers Softball. He has also served as a Little League baseball coach and Junior Olympics commissioner.

He has helped more than 95 former players earn scholarships to play collegiate softball and has been nominated for induction into the Oregon ASA Hall of Fame next year.

— Catholic Sentinel (Archdiocese of Portland)

Inland Register archives


© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved