Bill O'Keefe '80 Traces Path from Loyola Academy to Global Humanitarianism
On Tuesday, October 1, the Women of Wisdom Society (WOW) kicked off its 18th season of inspiring and thought-provoking lectures for members of the Loyola Academy community with a presentation by alumnus Bill O’Keefe ’80, who now serves as the executive vice president of mission, mobilization and advocacy for the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). O’Keefe is based at CRS headquarters in Baltimore, where he works to strengthen the agency's communion with the U.S. Catholic community and supportive entities; to lead strategic, issue-based campaigns; and to advocate for CRS strategic objectives.
Attendees enjoyed coffee and conversation in the Marillac Room before heading to the Loyola Theater for the presentation and subsequent Q&A session. O’Keefe inspired as he recounted his Rambler years, when he was first introduced to the Jesuit call to be a man for others. “Loyola was absolutely critical in my formation as a young man,” he said in his opening remarks.
The discussion continued and centered on the role of the Church and faith-based organizations in shaping foreign policy and international humanitarianism. “Our work is a deeper and deeper reflection on Catholic social teaching and social justice,” said O’Keefe. “You travel anywhere, and it’s amazing what the Church is doing. We assist people on the basis of need, not creed or nationality. And you really get a sense of what the global Catholic Church is doing.”
O’Keefe shared examples of initiatives currently being carried out by CRS to address urgent humanitarian issues around the world. He recounted harrowing stories from a 2016 trip to Athens, Greece, where CRS was providing relief to families fleeing the war in Syria. He highlighted the challenge he and others faced when competing with smugglers for the first access to vulnerable refugees and the reality that anyone can be displaced from their home—including a friend and former colleague of O’Keefe’s who, despite having a PhD and working as a senior agricultural officer in Afghanistan, was forced to flee the region and relocate in Sweden.
In 2017, O’Keefe was part of a peace building project in Bosnia that brought together Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic leaders for shared experiences like public speaking events and wreath-laying exercises. The goal was to consciously and gradually build a foundation for social cohesion between communities that continued to seethe with hate and anger even after the conclusion of the war in the 1990s.
Other stories told the success of CRS working with pepper farmers in Madagascar, advocating for the rights of sub-caste groups in India, organizing local schools to educate young girls in Afghanistan and welcoming refugees Macedonia.
When O’Keefe met with Loyola Academy students after lunch, his message was simple and clear: “Find your vocation, and let it be something you believe in.” It surely is one they will not soon forget.
Bill O'Keefe ’80 has served in various capacities for CRS since 1987 and has led CRS government-relations efforts since 2003. He received his BS from Yale and his MA in public policy international development from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
To learn more about the Women of Wisdom lecture series, including the 2019 lineup of speakers, click here.