Robert Keenan
Robert Keenan (Baltimore Sun)

Robert Gately Keenan Sr., a retired Baltimore County public schools agriculture teacher who was a Roman Catholic deacon, died of a brain tumor Tuesday at Stella Maris Hospice. The Parkville resident was 77.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Robert Keenan, an electrician, and Mary Catherine Gately, a homemaker. He grew up in Miami, where he attended schools. He earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture education at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1959. As a student taking senior-year education classes, he met his future wife, Olivia "Libbi" Lange.


Mr. Keenan initially taught in the Caroline County public schools system before moving to Cecil County, where he also taught. In 1961, he joined the Baltimore County public schools and taught agriculture at Hereford High School, Lansdowne High School and Hereford Middle School. He also taught agriculture and floriculture and flower design at what is now the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Family members said he started a children's farm for elementary students to see animals and foster an appreciation of agriculture.

Mr. Keenan belonged to the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation and was a co-founder of a summer program for teachers, Maryland's Ag in the Classroom program. He also helped outfit trailers to teach agricultural and aquatic studies.

He conducted Loyola University Maryland workshops for child care providers and Head Start program operators. He retired in 1996 and last taught at St. Jane Frances de Chantal School in Riviera Beach.

Mr. Keenan was ordained a Roman Catholic permanent deacon in 1972 by Bishop T. Austin Murphy. He served the parishes of St. Ursula, St. Dominic, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Claire and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Northeast Baltimore and eastern Baltimore County. He studied for the deaconate at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park and took courses held at area parishes.

He started a children's liturgy at St. Ursula's Church, officiated at marriages and performed baptisms. He also preached and assisted at funerals.

"I thought of Bob as an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary things," said Eugene Miller, a Parkville resident and fellow deacon. "He was unassuming and never looked for the spotlight. He felt he had never done enough, even when he had."

After retirement, Mr. Keenan worked at St. Ursula Parish in Parkville. Family members said he ran the baptism program for nearly four decades. He was also Christian Family Movement chaplain and taught with the religious instruction program. He began a monthly wedding anniversary celebration at his church.

"He had a dry Irish wit," said the Rev. Stephen E. Hook, pastor of St. Ursula. "He was a presence here, and he was not afraid to speak his mind. He was absolutely dedicated to the community and to working with our children. He was willing to help out anywhere and would be unassuming about it."

Family members said he also worked with couples in preparation for their marriages and with those preparing to receive the sacraments.

"Bob had a certain joy and enthusiasm about his work," said Msgr. A. Thomas Baumgartner, former pastor of St. Ursula. "He had a way of bringing couples back into the church without being oppressive."

Mr. Keenan worked with the bereaved, often through Evans Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services in Parkville.

"He always ended one of his services with the Irish Blessing," said Stacie Spahr, a funeral director. "At the graveside, he would often say, 'I don't know this person, but you among the mourners do. Can someone say a few words?' Bob was an inviting person. That was his nature. He also taught and assisted many young funeral directors. He had an impact throughout our community."

Mr. Keenan often went camping with his family and friends and taught his grandchildren to fish. He made two trips to Ireland and was the family photographer. He officiated at family weddings and baptisms.


A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church, 8801 Harford Road.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years; a son, Robert Gately Keenan Jr. of Perry Hall; four daughters, Catherine Keenan Cossaboon of Kingsville, Maureen Keenan of Parkville, Eileen Keenan Aubele of Perry Hall and Meghan Keenan Beam of Essex; three brothers, Allan Keenan of Elkmont, Ala., Patrick Keenan of Huntsville, Ala., and Thomas Keenan of Nashville, Tenn; a sister, Angela Liberto of Parkville; and 11 grandchildren.