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Harvey Keller was 'always there' for St. Paul

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 1, 2018 at 12:00 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The is the first installment of a six-part series focusing on those who will be inducted into the St. Paul Hall of Fame on Saturday.

 

Harvey Keller was always there.

Even if it was behind the scenes, swearing others to secrecy.

The retired priest, who died at the age of 95 in May 2005, did more in retirement during his time at St. Paul Catholic Church than some may do in a lifetime.

The gymnasium inside the Convocation Center is named in his honor, and now, Keller will be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

Being inducted with Keller on Saturday will include Bill Bader Jr. (distinguished), the late Charles Roth (distinguished), Mike Mushett (distinguished), Jordan Centers-Mayer (athletic) and Mike Gfell (athletic).

Inductees will be honored prior to Friday’s St. Paul football home game vs. Mapleton, with the induction ceremony slated for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. inside the Social Hall.

Whether it was blessing football players or giving pep talks before games, on the sidelines or on the basketball court sitting with the team — Keller was everywhere. That included concelebrating masses at St. Paul well after he had suffered a stroke.

But one thing Keller wanted more than anything in his later years: To be involved anonymously with the construction of the Convocation Center, which opened midway through the 1994-95 school year.

Only years later did Denny Doughty, Norwalk Catholic Schools President — then the high school principal — reveal just how much of a role Keller played.

“He wanted to operate in secrecy (when it came to the Convocation Center)," Doughty said. "He wanted to be very generous, but he also didn’t want anyone to know. He sold his car and his boat, and everything went to the Convocation Center.

"Then he started doing his retirement, piece by piece," he added. "He would call me up and say, “Dennis, come over here and do not tell anyone.” And it would to give me a check for $30,000, or $40,000 ... he swore me to secrecy every single time. He insisted I wasn't to tell anyone."

All told, Keller donated well over $100,000 to the building of the project that included an on-campus gymnasium, locker rooms, wrestling room, music room and a performing arts center.

"When it came time to name the gym, I pushed really hard for Father Harvey Keller Gymnasium," Doughty said. "I think people suspected but didn’t know for sure. But it had to be named for him.

"At the time, he was the single, largest contributor to the whole thing," Doughty added. "But it showed his level of commitment to kids and how it would impact children."

Born on Feb. 25, 1910 in Sylvania near Toledo, Keller was ordained a priest at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo on Feb. 24, 1945 — one day before his 35th birthday.

He served as assistant pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Toledo from 1945-53, then held the same role at Little Flower Parish in Toledo from 1953-60. His first pastorate was at St. Stephens Church (Seneca County) and St. Aloysius Church in Republic from 1960-67.

Keller then arrived in the Huron County area when he became the pastor of St. Joseph in Monroeville — where he remained until his retirement from active ministry in 1980.

After retirement, he arrived and resided at the St. Paul Rectory in Norwalk until 2001, then moved to the Carriage House near Fisher-Titus Medical Center.

During his time at St. Paul, Keller endeared himself to parishioners young and old for his dedication to the school — notably the extra-curricular activities.

One has to look no further than Father Eric Schild, a priest at Cardinal Stritch in Oregon, for Keller’s impact. Schild attended St. Paul his entire life and was ordained a priest in 2007, two years after Keller passed away.

“Father Keller was and will always be a role model for me as a priest,” Schild said. “While in high school, I remember him being at everything — blessing us football players, giving pep talks before the game, on the sidelines, on the court, sitting with the team, and naturally his most comfortable and fitting location: the sanctuary as he concelebrated Mass.”

Schild said it always stood out to him that Keller still attended and participated in everything he possibly could — until he was physically unable — well into his 90’s.

“For a man of his age, who had suffered a stroke, he never gave up and always exuded such a joy as a priest,” Schild said. “He loved being a priest, and that will forever leave an impression on me. I consider him a saintly man who lived life the right way and encouraged those around him to do the same.”

“I will never forget praying the rosary next to his bed as he was nearing death and knowing that I was in the presence of a saintly priest,” he added.

To this day, Schild still tells Father Keller stories at Cardinal Stritch.

“This honor truly is fitting for a priest who loved St. Paul — and especially the students present in the school," he said. "Suffice it to say, he had a huge impact on my vocation as a priest. I will always be grateful that Father Keller chose to spend his retirement years with us at St. Paul."

Doughty still marvels at the number of relationships Keller built during his time at St. Paul.

"If anyone was a living saint, he was the guy," Doughty said. "There are just so many stories about him helping so many people over the years, from Monroeville or St. Paul, it didn’t matter to him. A genuine, giving person. It was all about kids though."

As for the commitment to the Convocation Center, Doughty believed Keller saw the chance to leave a lasting impact beyond his years.

"Father Keller thought athletic competition was one of the best things a kid could do," he said. "With that passion, when he saw that Convocation project start, he saw it as his legacy to continue — but in the name of all the children. He argued about the gym being named for him.”

"But Father and I both cried together that day it opened," Doughty added. "It was a very special time. Being priest and athletics, those were his passions. I think he impacted kids that way. He had a tremendous passion for what he did.”

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