Our Stories

The Urban Angel’s urban angels

Toronto, November 18, 2013

By Leslie Shepherd

Pat and Barbara Keenan
Pat and Barbara Keenan

St. Michael’s Hospital was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph to care for the sick and poor of Toronto’s inner city.

But from time to time, the hospital itself has needed some TLC—and financial help—and Pat and Barbara Keenan have always been there to help.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Pat and Barbara Keenan are the Urban Angel’s urban angels,” said Dr. Bob Howard, president and CEO of the hospital.

The Keenans have donated $30 million to St. Michael’s over three decades, making them the largest donors in the hospital’s history. A new gift this fall allowed the hospital to create a chair in critical care and recruit Dr. Laurent Brochard, one of the world’s leading experts in mechanical ventilation, from Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland. His arrival confirms the hospital’s respiratory diseases, lung injury and mechanical ventilation group as one of the best in the world.

Pat Keenan joined the hospital’s Board of Directors in 1985, as St. Michael’s, then still run by the sisters, was having trouble fundraising. A few years later, he took over as chair of the Board when the hospital reported a $64 million deficit. Keenan, a chartered accountant and longtime mining executive, was part of the team that brought in new management and fixed what he calls the hospital’s “near-death experience.”

But for the Keenans, that wasn’t enough. They had a vision of building a world-class health care provider and research institution – while at the same time continuing to care for the city’s most vulnerable populations.

In 1992, with the hospital barely on its financial feet, the Keenans funded the hospital’s first chair, in medicine, which is currently held by Dr. Philip Marsden. It was one of the first chairs in Toronto. Later there would also be a chair in surgery, enabling the hospital to recruit from Chicago Dr. Loch Macdonald, a neurosurgeon who is the world’s leading researcher a kind of stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

The Keenans with Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter (centre)
The Keenans with Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter (centre)

In 2000 the Keenans, long-time advocates for the less fortunate, provided a further endowment for research that has helped support researchers in inner city health and critical care. Instead of personal recognition for this donation, they chose to pay tribute to Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter. The cardinal’s father and Pat Keenan’s father were both printers and union leaders in Montreal and the two families lived within a few blocks of each other. In 2002 the hospital’s Victoria wing was renamed the Cardinal Carter wing.

The Keenans long shared a dream with St. Michael’s to build an innovative centre dedicated to research. In 2005, their major financial pledge led to the opening of the Keenan Research Centre – the one building that does bear their name.

In addition to the Keenan Research Centre, Pat and Barbara say one of the things that has given them the most satisfaction has been introducing their friends to St. Michael’s and seeing them become supporters and donors.

“We did them a favour,” Pat Keenan said of their friends. “They have had the opportunity to see what a difference their support and donations have made, and the pleasure you get back from giving.”

The Keenans are also passing the tradition of philanthropy down to their four children and to their grandchildren, two of whom have volunteered in the hospital gift shop.

“The Keenans are people who have made a difference to the city of Toronto,” said Alayne Metrick, president of the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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