Pope Francis appoints Bishop Donal McKeown as Bishop of Derry

25 Feb 2014

Pope Francis appoints Bishop Donal McKeown as Bishop of Derry

Today, His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, as Bishop of Derry.


Notes to Editors

• Father Francis Bradley has been Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Derry since 22 April 2013, having succeeded Monsignor Eamon Martin on his ordination as Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh. The See of Derry became vacant on 23 November 2011 with the retirement of Bishop Séamus Hegarty.

• Photographs of Bishop-elect of Derry Donal McKeown at his presentation today in Saint Eugene’s Cathedral will be available from photographer Stephen Latimer 0044 (0) 7725 992043, [email protected] and www.stephenlatimer.com

• Life and ministry of Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Derry

Donal McKeown was born on 12 April 1950 and brought up in Randalstown, Co Antrim, the first of four children of James McKeown (the local watchmaker) and Rose (neé McMeel), a primary school teacher. He has three siblings – James, Mary and Teresa – and five nephews and nieces. His father died in 1998 at the age of 83 and his mother died in 2008, aged 92.

Since James McKeown was one of thirteen children – only one of whom left the area – and his mother was the eldest of eight, Bishop McKeown grew up in a large extended family, where community and culture were intertwined. Both he and his father played Gaelic football and hurling with Creggan Kickhams GAA club, which recently won the All-Ireland Club Junior Hurling Final. Bishop McKeown’s nephews are on the Loughgiel Senior Hurling Panel.

After local primary education, he attended Saint Mac Nissi’s College, Garron Tower (1961-68). From 1968 to 1973, he studied at Queen’s University, Belfast, while staying in the diocesan seminary at Saint Malachy’s College. He graduated from QUB with an honours degree in German and Italian. He then undertook five years study of philosophy and theology in Rome at the Gregorian Pontifical University, being ordained a priest for the Diocese of Down and Connor by Bishop William Philbin in Randalstown on 3 July 1977.

His first appointment in Down and Connor, was to the teaching staff of Saint Patrick’s College in East Belfast, as well as assisting in the parish of Derriaghy. In 1983, he was transferred to the staff of Saint MacNissi’s College, his old alma mater, and in addition was given responsibility for organising the annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes.

In 1987, Bishop Cahal Daly, then Bishop of Down and Connor, moved him to Saint Malachy’s College, Belfast, where he taught and served as Dean of Saint Joseph’s Junior Seminary – traditionally known as ‘The Wing’. In 1994, Father McKeown was appointed President of Saint Malachy’s College and during his time there obtained his MBA in Educational Management from the University of Leicester. In 2001, Father McKeown was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Down and Connor.

Bishop McKeown’s responsibilities as a member of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference have included: the promotion of Catholic education, youth ministry, university chaplaincies and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. His interest includes the interface between faith and the empirical sciences and work with Catholic schools in Norway, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and Germany. He is fluent in Irish, Italian and German.

Bishop McKeown has always had a keen interest in promoting the good news of the gospel in the media. From 1971 – 1973, he was Belfast correspondent for the German Catholic news agency, KNA. While in Rome he did some media work with Vatican Radio and, as part of a team, developed reports in the Irish language for RTE’s An Saol Mór. Bishop McKeown is a regular contributor, both north and south, to radio and television as well as having opinion articles published in newspapers and periodicals.

A life-long sports enthusiast, Bishop McKeown has completed two Belfast marathons. He continues to take part in a relay team for the annual marathon in the city.

• Words of greeting to the faithful by Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Derry

Your Excellency Archbishop Charles Brown, people, priests and religious of the Diocese of Derry, agus a chairde go léir!

We all know that things in life can change very quickly. Man proposes but God disposes. It is only six days since my work in Belfast was interrupted by an invitation to go to Dublin to meet the Apostolic Nuncio that afternoon. Archbishop Brown’s words still ring in my ears – “the Holy Father has chosen you to be Bishop of Derry”. They sound so disarmingly simple!

However, as we prepared for this announcement this morning in the beautiful Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, I began to realise just what an enormous task is involved. Leadership is not easy – in Church, business, politics, sport or family. I grew up not far from the River Bann and have passed through this historic city many times – but much of the area covered by the diocese of Derry is new to me. All of my 37 years as a priest have been spent in Down and Connor – and almost all of that in Belfast. So moving to the banks of the Foyle means leaving behind streets and families where I have felt at home. It means moving aside from the network of relations and friendships that have been such an integral part of my being a priest. They have helped to keep my feet on the ground – and reminded me of the advice that one wise bishop gave me: “If the Holy Spirit has picked you for the person that you are, be sure that, when he comes back, he can still recognise you!”

But the Scriptures are clear that faith is never about moving forward with confidence in ourselves. Everyone – from Abraham and Moses through Saints Eugene and Columba to modern men and women of faith – knows that we are called to let God be God in our lives and to allow the Lord to lead. I have the words of Saint Paul in our second reading last Sunday ringing in my ears, “if anyone of you thinks of himself as wise, then he must learn to be a fool before he can be really wise” (1 Cor 3:18).

So, I may come here, wondering what I have to offer – but I come with the knowledge that many solid foundations have been laid in the Church of this diocese. Indeed this city has, for many decades, developed its own sense of independence and cultural pride, epitomised in the City of Culture celebrations last year. The local communities in Derry have found ways of cherishing diversity rather than fearing it. And local people of faith from across the Churches have played prominent roles in civic society. You have shown what it means to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

I know that many people across the diocese have suffered hard times. The Troubles scarred many lives and we know from the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse that many people have terrible memories of their upbringing. Dungiven, and its surroundings, have very recently suffered the loss of many jobs at KPL – just as this area no longer has its long tradition of shirt making.

But Pope Francis has given us all huge encouragement to be people of faith in the realities of our time and environment. There is no solid future that can be built on pride, revenge, greed or scorn for others who are weaker or different from ourselves. The Church is not just for ‘people like us’. Pope Francis wrote recently that all we do in Church has to be “channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (Evangelii Gaudium/The Joy of the Gospel 27).

So I arrive here with much enthusiasm – not based on my own experience – rather with trust in the goodness of so many people and with confidence in the foolishness of the Gospel that is wiser than human wisdom. If we place ourselves in the hands of the Lord, he will lead us as we try to follow Pope Francis’ call that each particular Church should “undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (EG 30). Renewal will take place, only if we go out of ourselves, not into ourselves.

When I googled the name Saint Eugene, I saw that his name in Irish was Eoghan. In Irish, my own surname is MacEoghain – and part of Tír Eoghain lies in this diocese, as well as Inis Eoghain. Ag tús ár dturas le chéile guímis trí idir-ghuí ár naomh áitiúla – Colm, fear na síochána agus Eoghan fear na bpaidreacha doimhne. And I pray that I may be able to become a MacEoghain, idir anam agus corp in the service of the people of God in this diocese.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.

• Words of greeting to media by Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Derry

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for coming here this morning. I know that you have many calls on your time. I thank you for the important role that you have played and continue to play in both Church and civic society. In communicating the news, and in helping to inform public opinion, you are a vital part of a healthy society, at local, national and international level.

Some 41 years ago, when I first went to Rome as a seminarian, my brothers and sisters gave me a poster. It consisted of a human figure – but only when you looked at it carefully, could you see that the figure was made up of a lot of people clinging onto one another. And the caption read: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” That is not just a piece of human wisdom but also a sound theological insight. We are all members of the Body of Christ, where all have an equal dignity.

Therefore, I stand here before you this morning as just one person – an individual with some experience and many frailties, but who is happy to become part of a team of the pilgrim people in the diocese of Derry. Leadership is important – but its only task is to ensure that people on the ground can be helped to blossom, develop and work together in the service of the common good. Leadership is a service, not an honour.

I believe that this is an exciting time to witness to, and speak the Gospel, into the Church and into civic life. As a society, we have to discern what sort of communities we want to build. We have wonderful new opportunities to travel, to learn and to exploit modern technology. But we all need to engage to seek agreement on what we consider true, or good or beautiful. If there are no shared values, no shared vision for what sort of future we want to build for our children, then it is difficult for a society to hold together and grow. As Viktor Frankl said, “we have to give people, not just the means by which to live but also a meaning for which to live.”

And that is where the role of the Church comes in. We do not seek to control or dominate public discourse. But, as in the case of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, we aim only to speak the language of healing where there has been hurt, to generate hope where the future seems bleak, to model solidarity where fragmentation threatens, to create beauty that can touch the soul. And the Churches, working together, can play an important service as critical friends of our political structures. Faith has a place in the public square and not just in the sacristy.

We see this in Pope Francis. The Holy Father has generated an enormous amount of goodwill and energy in the face of the challenges that we encounter. The Pope is modelling a new way of relating to people and of incarnating the values of the Gospel. Anyone whom he appoints to local diocesan leadership has to take on board that grace-filled way of being with people wherever they are on their journey in life. That is quite an undertaking!

The Church on this island is experiencing many difficulties. But the Scriptures are clear that a humbled contrite heart is much more open to God than a proud and powerful one. Pope Francis has been clear that the followers of Jesus have to be at the uncomfortable margins, outside our comfort zones rather than in the cosy centre. That is why our present situation is a time of grace rather than a reason for despair.

I look forward to working with people of faith and people of doubt within this wonderful and historic diocese, so that together we can generate hope for our young people. I feel energised by this challenge. I look forward to working with you as we remember the past and confidently face the future with Christ as our constant friend and guide.

• Diocese of Derry

The Diocese of Derry consists of most of County Derry, parts of Counties Donegal and Tyrone and a small part of County Antrim. Saint Eugene’s Cathedral is situated in Derry city; the Catholic population of the diocese is around 245,000; there are 51 parishes in the Diocese of Derry; 104 churches, and the patron saints are Saint Eugene (23 August) and Saint Columba (9 June).


For media contact: Father Michael Canny, Diocesan Media Liaison Spokesperson, Diocese of Derry or the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444