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8/3/2011 3:41:00 PM
Life experience gave him compassion
Dennis Keenan
Dennis Keenan
Pietro Ferrari
Pietro Ferrari
New director named for Catholic Charities
The new chief of Catholic Charities of Oregon has led a Portland-based non-profit that develops affordable housing and promotes economic advancement for people who are poor.

Pietro Ferrari, who directs Hacienda Community Development Corporation, will take the Catholic Charities post in October, replacing longtime executive director Dennis Keenan, who is retiring.

Keenan, Catholic Charities head since 1989, oversaw a major expansion of services. Ferrari takes over an organization with a $10 million annual operating budget and more than 200 staff members. Catholic Charities carries on 25 social service programs and runs nearly 600 units of affordable housing.

The Catholic Charities board chose Ferrari after a national search.  

“Catholic Charities is very blessed to have as its new leader a person of Pietro’s vision, proven leadership and dedication to serving the poor and vulnerable members of our community,” said Keenan.

At Hacienda, Ferrari directed a $60 million investment portfolio and programs in housing, health promotion, education, social enterprise development, workplace skill building and civic engagement. Prior to his seven years with Hacienda, he held leadership positions in Oregon not-for-profit housing development and financing organizations and in business and community development work in his native Bolivia.

Ferrari says he takes the job with "humility and enthusiasm," and calls Catholic Charities "one of Oregon’s most prestigious and respected organizations in service to the poor." He cites "the sound and timeless principles and values of Catholic social teaching" as his inspiration.

Calling himself a lifelong student, Ferrari recently participated in an 18-month fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, along with 49 other leaders from across the United States.

He earned a bachelor's degree in international affairs from Lewis and Clark College in 1987 and in 1991 completed master's degrees in management from Marylhurst University and urban and regional planning from the University of Oregon.

Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Dennis Keenan knows what it's like to be poor.

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, 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.  

He attended Central Catholic High School and the University of Portland, working summers to pay off  tuition. Keenan was a philosophy and theology undergraduate at UP who was impressed with the social mission of the church as voiced in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

"I felt we all had a role in the life of the church and a duty to create a more just society," he says.

While a student at UP, 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.  

He then earned a master's in social work from Portland State University, serving for part of that time with a human rights commission in Portland.  

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 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.

He hopes Catholic Charities will continue to grow in ways that respond to the changing needs of people who are poor. Now, for example, Catholic Charities serves the newest immigrants to America — Latinos, Africans and others. Recently, Catholic Charities has earned a national reputation for work with victims of human trafficking.

"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 has a high reputation even outside Catholic circles.

"I've learned a lot watching how Dennis has helped lead and guide Catholic Charities through a lot of changes," says David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon for 14 years. "Programs don't grow out of bottom lines, they grow out of need, vision and compassion."

Keenan and 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.  

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