Ken O’Keefe: 20+ Years of Service with Marillac St. Vincent



Connecting Communities | October 2021

In honor of Ken O’Keefe’s recent award for Crain’s 2021 Notable Nonprofit Board Leaders, we sat down for a virtual Q&A session to learn more about his 20+ years with Marillac St. Vincent (MSV).

See the full article and award on Crain’s Chicago Business here. 



Thinking back to when you first got involved with Marillac St. Vincent, what attracted you the most about the organization and joining the board? 

I moved to Chicago after working on Wall Street and was looking for ways to get involved with the Lincoln Park community. I found Marillac’s St. Vincent DePaul center down the street and was excited about its work with the elderly community in the neighborhood. I started as a volunteer visiting seniors who were mostly home bound and needed help with simple daily activities like getting groceries and running errands. It not only gave me a chance to get to know them, I learned about the history of Lincoln Park from their eyes and began to see the greater impact of Marillac St. Vincent in the area. As I progressed with my career, I was fortunate enough to have the resources to devote to MSV and take on a leadership role. I joined the board and the finance committee; I am amazed that it has been over 20 years!

20 years is such a great accomplishment, over your tenure, what is one thing that you are most proud of? 

I remember one pivotal day, when I was sitting with Sister Katie and fellow board member Karen Kane talking about Marillac St. Vincent’s financial situation. Financial sustainability has and will always be a major topic and concern for non-profits like Marillac St. Vincent, including how to balance it along with our core mission. When we looked at the idea of possibly sacrificing our mission for financial benefit, I was reminded from Sister Katie the importance of one of our key pillars – “it is called social justice” she said to me with a smile. I have always been proud of the organization and leadership’s choice to prioritize mission over financial gain, I believe it has only increased Marillac St. Vincent’s overarching impact in the community. 

As you think about the future of the organization, where do you see the biggest opportunity to grow and further the mission?

I admire the discipline the organization has shown in its history to stay true to its mission and maintain core programs rather than trying to add services that overextend its reach. There is so much that can continue to be done to strengthen the current programs and centers for Marillac St. Vincent right here in Chicago.

If you could go to a potential donor (or volunteer) and give one reason why they should share their resources with MSV, what would it be?

Current research and data show that a focus on early childhood education and development can be a key solution to challenges we face in our country including crime, mental and physical well-being and job fulfillment. From a child’s birth to when they start high school is the key time for laying the foundation for a positive outcome for their future. At Marillac St. Vincent, this is one of our main offerings – we have infant rooms for kids roughly six weeks old to programs for toddlers, preschool and young school age children all the way to high school. The data is clear that the kids that come through Marillac St. Vincent have a have a lower chance of crime involvement along with a higher education opportunity than their counterparts who don’t come through MSV. So, if you have an interest in the future of Chicago, I encourage your generosity and involvement in Marillac St. Vincent with your time, money or energy. A little goes a long way. 

You were the award recipient of “Crain’s 2021 Notable Nonprofit Board Leaders”, compared to other Chicago area philanthropic organizations, what makes MSV stand out? 

Marillac St. Vincent treats everyone in the community - staff, leadership, and clients - as a part of one big family. It takes a holistic approach, valuing each individual as well as their families. This is embedded in the culture of the organization along with its focus on social justice. MSV believes that our society is only as strong as our weakest part and tries to raise everyone up with care especially those most in need.

Anything else that you’d like to add?

Thinking and talking about Marillac St. Vincent reminds me of my belief and faith in the organization. I am so proud to have been a part of it for 20 years and look forward to 20 more! 



Interested to get involved with Marillac St. Vincent this upcoming Holiday Season?
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    2859 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60612
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