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John Keane of St. Matthew Parish School retires after 45 years

School's first lay person leaves behind legacy

John Keane prepares to end his 45-year tenure at St. Matthew Parish School. Many of his former students have returned as teachers to St. Matthew’s.

John Keane prepares to end his 45-year tenure at St. Matthew Parish School. Many of his former students have returned as teachers to St. Matthew’s.

June 3, 2014

Oak Creek — After 45 years of teaching at St. Matthew Parish School, John Keane has announced his retirement.

The news is bittersweet, especially since Keane — pronounced "cane" — has taught many of the school's current teachers and the parents of students in his class.

He has also taught all of his children. Despite the rumors, he said jokingly, he has not taught any grandchildren of his former students.

"In fact, I'm probably telling them the same jokes that I told their parents," Keane said.

Keane, 68, joined St. Matthew's as the school's first male lay person.

"I was called 'sister' most of the year," joked Keane.

Keane calls himself a "true product of Catholic education." After being born in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised in Shorewood, Keane attended St. Robert Catholic grade school, Marquette University High School, the College (now University) of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and graduated from Marquette University.

Keane currently teaches eighth-grade religion; seventh- and eighth-grade literature; and sixth- through eighth-grade social studies.

"(Keane) has become ingrained in the fabric of what St. Matthew's is," said Principal Julianna Barber. "I don't know a St. Matthew's without John Keane here."

Keane started — and still oversees — the school's intramural sports program and is fondly recognized for teaching students "crab hockey," which is soccer played while walking like a crab. He also founded the Field Day competition, Mardi Gras festivities, the eighth-grade class trip to Washington, D.C. and class Jeopardy, among other things.

"He has started so many programs here; these are the things that kids remember 20 years later the most," said Sue Breen, a second-grade teacher who will assume Keane's eighth-grade class for 2014-15. Breen also used to be a student of Keane's fifth-grade class.

Keane has been twice honored by the Archdiocese as an outstanding educator and worked for the Oak Creek Recreation Department for 30 years. He retired from that position in 2012.

"He always went the extra mile and made learning fun," said Jessica Breen, a student teacher who was one of Keane's students from sixth through eighth grade.

In 1989, St. Matthew's went the extra mile for Keane. At that time, Keane's wife Carol Henderson, who he had met as a speech therapist at St. Matthew's, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in May of that year.

Keane remembers the entire community delivering his family meals and the "spirit of faith, prayer and support (leaving) an indelible mark on my family and me."

Keane said the outpour of support made his decision to retire that much more difficult. But he looks forward to the next chapter of life with his current wife, Joyce, to travel and visit out-of-state children and grandchildren.

In his retirement letter, Keane said the changes in his teaching career — especially related to technology — have been "enormous and challenging."

"But one thing has been constant: every morning I have looked forward to coming to St. Matthew School and interacting with the students. They have taught me just as much as I have taught them."

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