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Patrick and Barbara Keenan pointed to their own religious differences as an example of the need for better understanding.

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

The Donors: Barbara and Patrick Keenan

The Gift: $5-million

The Cause: McGill University, Montreal

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The Reason: To establish a chair in interfaith studies

About a year ago, Barbara and Patrick Keenan had decided to make a $5-million donation to McGill University but they weren't sure how the money should be spent. Then Ms. Keenan recalled an elective course she took during her second year at McGill.

"It was on comparative religion," Ms. Keenan, who graduated from McGill in 1954, recalled from the couple's home in Toronto. "It gave me such a broad base to really understand cultures in other parts of the world. And I don't think I thought much about its importance at that time as I did as the years went by."

The Keenans decided to earmark the gift for the creation of a chair in interfaith studies, the first of its kind in Canada. The donation will also fund fellowships in religious studies, an international symposium and the development of a new undergraduate course in comparative religions.

Mr. Keenan, a former mining executive, said that understanding different religions has become more important than ever in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and the recent bombing in Boston.

"I've seen so much of the world in mining and I really feel for the lack of cultural understanding of religion," said Mr. Keenan, who also graduated from McGill in 1954.

The couple pointed to their own religious differences as an example of the need for better understanding. Mr. Keenan is Roman Catholic, while Ms. Keenan belongs to the United Church of Canada.

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"It has been a wonderful religious experience that we've had," Mr. Keenan said.

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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