Regis presented the Honorable John F. Keenan ’47 with the 2023 Deo et Patriae Award during a reception at the New York Athletic Club on Thursday night. Keenan was celebrated for his devotion to public service, most notably in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and later as a district judge for the Southern District for New York.
“God blessed me with a good and interesting series of jobs before I got the best job in the world, which is being a federal judge,” said Keenan, adding that “one of the highlights of my very fortunate life was my career, and the other was my four years at Regis High School.”
Throughout the evening, Keenan was praised for his legal skills and intelligence, which have been paired with unquestioned integrity and sound judgement. While presenting Keenan with the award, Regis President Rev. Christopher Devron, SJ, also called special attention to all those Keenan has mentored over the years.
"They're here to honor you, as we are," said Devron.
Keenan was introduced by William E. Craco '82, one of his former clerks.
“Through his remarkable career of service, John Keenan has been the living embodiment of the values that Regis seeks to instill into its graduates,” said Craco.
After graduating from Regis in 1947 and Manhattan College in 1951, Keenan earned a law degree from Fordham University in 1954. While receiving the Dean’s Medal of Recognition at Fordham Law School in 2019, he told guests that upon his graduation, he received a $100 check for exemplary performance in moot court competitions, explaining to those gathered that he used the money to take (and pass) the bar exam and to take his now-wife, Diane, on a date to propose.
His law career was put on hold when he joined the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to the Army Security Agency and stationed in Tokyo from 1954 to 1956 during the Korean War.
Soon after completing his service and after a four-month stint at a law firm — the only time he spent in private practice — Keenan found his way to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, where he worked as assistant district attorney from 1956 to 1976, including a stint leading the homicide bureau from 1970 to 1973. Keenan would go on to serve as the chief assistant to three district attorneys in Queens and Manhattan.
In 1976, Governor Hugh Carey and New York Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz appointed Keenan deputy attorney general and special prosecutor for corruption. Three years later, Mayor Ed Koch appointed him to be chairman of New York City’s Off-Track Betting Corporation, and in 1982, Koch appointed him to be the city’s coordinator of criminal justice.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Keenan as a United States district judge for the Southern District of New York in 1983, beginning his decades-long tenure on the federal bench. In 2016, a courtroom was named in Keenan’s honor at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse on Pearl Street.
In 2019, Regis held the first event in the Hon. John F. Keenan ’47 Lecture Series. The inaugural event featured a discussion with Keenan himself and drew roughly 100 alumni and friends.