Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., GSAS ’80, a scholar in residence at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and member of Fordham’s Board of Trustees, has been appointed the first provincial of the newly created USA East Province of the Society of Jesus.
Father O’Keefe’s appointment, which was announced by Father General Arturo Sosa, S.J., on Oct. 24, came a week after the Father General issued an official decree that will unite the Society’s Maryland and Northeast Provinces into one province, which will become the largest in the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. In 2014, the Society of Jesus underwent a similar reorganization when the New England and New York Provinces unified to establish what is currently the USA Northeast Province.
Father O’Keefe’s appointment will be effective July 31, 2020, the feast day of the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius Loyola.
“The geographic reach and number of institutions within the new province will require superior leadership and organizational skills,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.
“Father O’Keefe’s wide experience and his deep Ignatian spirit uniquely qualify him to become the inaugural provincial superior of our new province.”
In his appointment announcement, the Father General wrote that that Father O’Keefe’s “noteworthy personal gifts equip him well to unite the members of the new province in a single apostolic body at the service of the universal mission of the Society of Jesus.”
Father O’Keefe entered the Society of Jesus in 1976, graduated from the College of the Holy Cross, and went on to receive advanced degrees from Fordham and the Weston School of Theology in Massachusetts. He was ordained a priest in 1986. After completing an Ed.D. in education from Harvard University, he joined the faculty at Boston College, where he also served as a dean. He subsequently joined the faculty at GSE.
At Fordham, in addition to his role at GSE, he currently serves as superior of the Ciszek Hall house of First Studies and the Spellman Hall Jesuit Community at Fordham. In 2016, he was a delegate to the Jesuits’ 36th General Congregation in Rome.
In an interview, Father O’Keefe said he was excited to take on responsibility for a province that will encompass 11 universities, 19 secondary schools, nine middle schools, 17 parishes, and seven retreat houses. More than ever, he said, the Society of Jesus is needed to help people find God in an increasingly secular society, walk with people on the margins, reach out to youth, and promote stewardship of the earth, priorities that the pope has highlighted.
“How do we bring the message of Pope Francis to the contemporary world? I think Jesuits are well-poised to do that, and the provincial is the person who creates the conditions where Jesuits can thrive,” he said.
At the same time, Father O’Keefe said he planned to use his experience working in academia to form deeper partnerships with lay people.
“We’ve discovered the wonderful gift that that lay people bring to our work,” he said. “It’s about brokering relationships, getting people to see the greater good, and seeing how we can work together.”
Although he won’t be able to stay on to fulfill his Fordham roles or his term on Fordham’s Board of Trustees, he noted that he might be available again in 2026, when his term as provincial ends.
“This is my second spin at Fordham, and I’m really sad in many ways that I won’t be able to stay at Fordham in the way I have. Maybe in six years, I’ll come back,” he said.