Randalstown born cleric Donal McKeown has been named as the new Bishop of Derry.
The appointment was announced at a press conference held in St. Eugene’s Cathedral
Bishop Donal McKeown was previously the Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor.
Bishop McKeown said: “I believe that this is an exciting time to witness to, and speak the Gospel, into the Church and into civic life.
“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.
“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.
The Derry See has been vacant since Bishop Seamus Hegarty retired in 2011 due to ill-health. In the interim, a number of Diocesan Administrators - firstly, Monsignor Eamon Martin and, more recently, Very Rev. Francis Bradley - have been looking after the interests of the diocese.
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 Loughgiele 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.