Beloved Basilian priest and mentor, the Rev. James Keon, CSB, a retired St. Thomas philosophy professor, passed away on the afternoon of Oct. 24 at Toronto Western Hospital in Ontario, Canada. He was 87 years old.
He was born on May 18, 1925 in Ontario, Canada. Father Keon was an airman in the Canadian air force in WWII, and an avid baseball player in the seminary. He was ordained on June 29, 1952 and was a priest for more than 60 years.
An icon at UST since 1965, he officially retired in 1997, but continued teaching philosophy part time at UST until 2002. He lived in the Basilian residence on campus and could often be caught doing his daily exercise routine, walking the stairs in the Academic Mall.
The Rev. Mike Buentello, CSB, campus chaplain and director of Campus Ministry remembers Father Keon fondly and his influence at UST.
“Father Keon lived and embodied the mission of UST through his life as a priest and professor,” Father Buentello said.
He inspired, motivated and lifted the hearts of students, faculty and staff at UST with his vibrant spirit, imaginative journeys and innate wisdom. He had a knack for relating to the young and old while giving them guidance and making them laugh. Father Keon weaved undeniable humor throughout his thoughtful homilies, which still ring true with students who continue to retell his stories.
Senior communication major James Ramos remembers Father Keon as a “legend.”
“Every day he would eat lunch with students in the cafeteria, trying to meet everyone,” Ramos said. “My memories of my frequent conversations with him over salad and pizza bring me so much joy. If he didn’t know your name, he’d give you a name and come up with the most wonderful, extravagant, outlandish stories about how you’ve met in the past. I met him while hot air ballooning across the States in a Great Balloon Race that I won.”
The priest’s dedication to spending time at lunch with students in Crooker Café was the catalyst for the University to create Father Keon Days in recent years. On the first Wednesday of every month, this time of fellowship promoted student and faculty/staff interaction while enjoying a meal together.
In 2010, a video
was created by Cimela Kidonakis '09 and Darnell Miller '10, a Master in Liberal Arts program student, to celebrate Father Keon’s birthday. In the video, St. Thomas students honored Father Keon as "the coolest priest ever," "a storyteller," "a bright spirit," and someone who took "a genuine interest in getting to know you." A shorter video tribute
was created for the Catholic Company’s Incredible Priests, Incredible Stories essay/video contest, in which he was a finalist
Students even created a Facebook
page dedicated to Father Keon.
Kidonakis was able to speak with Father Keon by phone last week and said he was still sharp as a tack.
“I read him get well messages from his Facebook page students had written,” Kidonakis said. “He was very touched, and he said ‘Tell them I love them all.’ It was beautiful and clear.”
Alumna Frances Escriva, BA '78, MBA '00 and Alumni of the Year Award winner for 2012, remembers Father Keon as always smiling and recognizing opportunities for joy in all things.
“Fr. Keon was not only a wonderful professor who inspired us to learn by making the classes fun and joyful, he was also kind and compassionate,” Escriva said. “I never saw him get angry or upset at any student. He always just gently encouraged us to do better. He touched so many lives, not just his students, but many other people as well.”
Escriva said his unusual sense of humor endeared him to countless others.
“He loved hanging out around the young people, and I think this kept him young at heart,” Esriva said. “This is a great loss for the University of St. Thomas and for humankind.”
Father Keon will be remembered at St. Thomas for funny anecdotes, interesting lectures and incredible story-telling. Funeral plans are forthcoming.