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The Noble Worker – Father Michael O’Keeffe

In May 1959 a young man from Dromin Muldagin in Clare County Ireland who grew up on a farm dreamt of going into politics. On the 28th of that month everything changed.

More than half a century later Father Michael Josef O’Keeffe is still interested in politics, but his passion since that day was to help others and protect the dignity of man and woman.

On that day, he says, God called him and he decided to go into the seminary instead to become a priest.

Growing up as part of a large family of ten children in the years of the Second World War, he lived through ration books, the scarcity of food, and the scarcity of shoes.

“In Genesis 4 God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. That passage made me realize I have to be my brother’s keeper. We have to be concerned about our fellow man. Be concerned and interested. I pray for God’s direction with this every day,” he explains his compassion for people.

Father O’Keeffe has strong ties with Habitat for Humanity and has been donating to the Ethiopia country program since 2000. Every month he donates 80% of his income to the cause of alleviating poverty housing.

Since 2000 he has given more than $150 000 USD to Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia.

His middle name, Josef, reminds him of the nobility of work.

His own noble work and his donations to the country program has ensured that more than 100 families have received a decent home.

He calls Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, a saint.

“A saint in heaven. He listened to God. In spirit I was at that very first meeting way back when it began.”

Ethiopia is close to his heart as he has always wanted to help with issues around river blindness and leprosy.

Close to 40 percent of Ethiopia’s 77 million people live below the poverty line, and taking in an additional child is an expense few families can afford.

“Ethiopia is mentioned in the Bible and the millions of people living there are in urgent need of housing,” he says.

For Father O’Keeffe a home is central to a better future for a family. He believes one thing begets another. For a good education you must have a decent home, a place where you have privacy and can study.

A certain amount of space, light, a concrete floor… All things that are in keeping with human dignity.

“With the population of the earth rapidly growing, we might never reach the place where all people are housed with dignity, but this does not mean we should not strive toward it,” he says.

Currently Father O’Keeffe is an associate at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida.

He also has a passion for other cultures and sees that mirrored in Habitat for Humanity’s growth into an international organization that is involved across the continents in more than 80 countries.

“The whole human race came from a single pair,” he says of his belief to work among and with all people.

One of his greatest joys is that the Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia office sends him regular updates on the work they do in the country. His office is adorned with pictures of homeowners from Ethiopia and he often gets a phone call from the national director of Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia, Kebede Abebe.

“Kebede is a wonderful man; we often talk on the phone. I am just so glad that the money can do so much.”

Ordained as a priest on June 8th, 1968 he still hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the work he does. When he talks about youth getting involved, he grows animated.

“The youth should definitely become involved. Through God’s Grace, when we begin to work and help others, we begin to build community and grow in ourselves. There is no need to feel fatalism when we look at the world. There is no need to feel that we are deprived or have been abandoned. God loves us and he calls us.”