Hoehm Town Happenings: Recalling A Wonderful Friend and Outstanding Priest: Fr. Mike Keane (By Supervisor George Hoehmann)

Easter is a time of joy and renewal. In the Christian tradition, Easter is the day of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is a time for believers, the moment when Jesus the Christ has the ultimate victory over death. I was in the full joyous spirit of the season when I was incredibly saddened to hear the news that my friend, Reverend Michael Keane, Pastor of St. Anastasia’s in Harriman had passed away.

Father Mike Keane and I first met in the late summer of 1988 and we quickly became good friends. Mike was from North Rockland and was two years ahead of me in the St. Joseph’s Seminary. While we were both from Rockland County, we did not know each other prior to the seminary. At first, we connected over sports. Mike was a fan of North Rockland football; and as a graduate of Clarkstown South, I was not. Once we were able to put that aside, we found we shared an admiration for boxing and professional football.

The forming of our friendship in the late 1980s coincided with the start of the Mike Tyson era in boxing, while the NY Giants were on their way to win the 1987 Super Bowl. Mike and I would often make plans to watch Tyson and Evander Holyfield in their respective fights, and we soon found ourselves spending a lot of time together. Whether it was going to my brother’s home in Valley Cottage with our friends from the seminary for dinner or going to Mike’s friend Joe’s house in Garnerville, our friends and families enjoyed spending time together. There may have even been a time or two when we returned to the seminary beyond our evening curfew after watching these boxing matches.

Our love of boxing at the time was such that I can recall visiting Mike when he was assigned to Regina Coeli in Hyde Park and going to a live boxing match. We went to watch Tracy Harris Patterson’s professional boxing debut at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center, which was also being broadcast on the USA Network. It was not much of a fight as Patterson, the adopted son of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, knocked his opponent out in the first round. I remember remaining in the arena after the television cameras turned off. The promoters put two actual amateurs in the ring to box just as the the fans who had barely settled into their seats for the main fight had begun to leave. The amateur fight turned out to be far more memorable than the main attraction. One of the contestants actually knocked himself out, tripping over his own feet while throwing a punch! Mike and I would often joke about it years later.

Mike had known he wanted to be a priest since high school, but initially struggled to ascertain how to go about it. A few years ago, former North Rockland football coach Joe Casserella told me the story of how Mike had approached him in high school and said he had a calling to the priesthood. Mike initially started with the Franciscans, but eventually left and ended up in St. Joseph’s Seminary. However, the Franciscan spirit of humility and charity never left Mike. He was humble, down to earth, and approachable to all. In fact, these traits were the hallmarks of Mike’s personality and indeed his priesthood. He was a contradiction in some ways, as he was stocky, athletic, and a fierce workout warrior who was also the gentlest of people. Mike was a workout phenom, who lost a good deal of weight by lifting weights and never stopped this training. I can recall his workouts as being the most intense I had ever seen, always pushing himself to the limit. It was not uncommon to see Mike running up the stairs at St. Joseph’s, drenched in sweat, a few minutes before evening prayers to hurriedly get ready after having worked out for hours in the gym and weight room. Years later I joined him for a workout session at a gym in Fishkill and was shocked at how hard he still pushed himself.

In the seminary Mike was near the top of his class, but you would never know it as he did not brag about his exceptional grades. Had he so desired, I am certain he could have pursued further studies and been assigned to the seminary or a university as a professor. He was that smart. However, that was not what Mike wanted. He believed his calling was to be a simple and humble parish priest, a servant of the servants of God.

Over the years, especially in the seminary and shortly afterwards, Mike and I enjoyed a few trips together. He visited a group of us at the Jersey shore one summer. I joined him and his dear friend and classmate, the late Fr. John O’Brien, for a week in Bermuda covering the Parish of St. George. It was one of the most enjoyable trips, filled with good natured humor, sightseeing and relaxation. We enjoyed time in Rome together, as well.

Friendships often change along with life’s circumstances, and ours eventually drifted a bit.

Thankfully, Father Mike and I reconnected about twelve years ago over lunch in Harriman. We stayed in touch and whenever we would speak, it was as if no time had passed. We would talk about mutual friends, family, faith, and sports. In recent years he had some health issues, but his sudden death during a surgery on Easter Sunday was a shock. Mike had posted a notice on social media to his parish family offering on Good Friday that he needed emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage and could not be with them for Easter but was praying for them and would post an update afterwards. Unfortunately, the Lord had other plans and Mike was called home to him on the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. Our sadness is overshadowed by the fact that he died on Easter and in faith we believe he now shares in Christ’s resurrection. Father

Mike Keane was perhaps one of the most genuine and unique people I have ever known. A brilliant homilist, a dedicated servant of the people, and a wonderful friend to me and too many. He was an inspiring priest and an even better person who will be deeply missed. It was a blessing to have known him and call him my friend.

Rest in Peace Mike, may your good deeds go with you into eternity.

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