Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

O KEEFFE Michael né le 15 décembre 1923 à Cork
dans le diocèse de Cork, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1944
prêtre le 13 juin 1948
décédé le 3 août 1989

1948-1952 Blackrock Road, Cork, études supérieures
1952-1958 missionnaire au Nigeria
diocèse de Bénin City
1958-1961 diocèse de Birmingham, Angleterre, paroisse
1961 passe au Distrit en formation d'Angleterre
1973-1979 Provincial en Angleterre
1979-1987 Angleterre, Justice et Paix
animation missionnaire
1987-1989 archidiocèse de Dublin, paroisse

décédé à Dublin, Irlande, le 3 août 1989,
à l'âge de 66 ans

Father Michael Maria O'KEEFFE (1923 - 1989)

Michael O'Keeffe was born at Victoria Cross, Cork (his family address was 149 Bandon Road), in the diocese of Cork, on 15 December 1923. He died, unexpectedly, in the presbytery of St. Lawrence’s parish, Kilmacud, Co Dublin, on 3 August 1989.

Michael (Mick) studied in Cork with the Christian Brothers at Sullivan's Quay and at the North Monastery (1937 1941). His vocation to the missionary priesthood had its roots in the 'Missionary Exhibition' held in the Cork City Hall in 1936. In 1941, at the age of seventeen, when making an application to become a brother in the Society, he explained that he still had the leaflet which he was given at the S.M.A. stall. In the event Michael decided to become a priest in the Society. He entered the novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, in the autumn of 1942. He studied theology in the major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down (1944 1948). Michael was received as a member of the Society on 2 July 1944, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O'Doherty of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 13 June 1948. He was one of a group of fourteen ordained on that day. Michael was an able student, having secured an honours leaving certificate and subsequently achieving good grades in the seminary.

Michael was ordained at a time when the education apostolate in the Province's West African missions was entering a new phase. Significant subsidies were now being made available by government for secondary education and there was a clamour among the people for good secondary schools. In the immediate post war years the Society's missionary bishops intensified their efforts to secure university graduates, recruiting laymen and women and urging Society authorities in Ireland to give university training to S.M.A. seminarians. Michael was one of those who, after ordination, was sent to U.C.C. to study science. During this period he lived in the Province's headquarters at Blackrock Road. In his first year examination he obtained honours and an exhibition. He graduated with a B.Sc. degree in chemistry and geography in 1951. Michael was then appointed to Benin City diocese, in mid western Nigeria, reaching his mission in January 1952. On his arrival, Patrick J. Kelly, bishop of the diocese, appointed Michael to the staff of St. Patrick's secondary school, Asaba. This was the first secondary school in the jurisdiction, founded in 1943. Anselm Ojefua, a Nigeria priest (Ishan), was principal, while other staff members included Harry Jones, Jim Flanagan and Tony McDonagh. There were 350 pupils in the school, most studying for the West African school certificate. Michael took charge of the science faculty.

Michael went to Ireland on his first home leave in November 1955. On his return to Nigeria in August 1956 he was appointed to Annunciation secondary college, Irrua, near Uromi, where he was principal. A year later he was transferred to St. Peter Claver's college, Aghalokpe. In April 1958 Michael returned to Ireland and went to the Cistercian monastery, at Mount Melleray, Co Waterford, for a period of recollection. Michael had always been interested in the monastic life and in January 1959 he requested permission from his superiors to join the Cistercians. He received the support of his superiors. Michael entered the Ciscertian novitiate at Mount Melleray, but after a short time he realised that his vocation lay in the active ministry and although he never regretted the experience, he withdrew. Then, with the consent of his S.M.A. superiors, he sought pastoral work in England. In July 1959 he was accepted by the diocese of Birmingham and took up a curacy in Old Fallings, Wolverhampton. Later he served in St. Mary's parish, Raglan Street, Coventry.

In 1964 Michael sought permission to join the British district of the Society which was then in the process of formation, under the leadership of Michael J. Walsh. Thus opened a new chapter in his life. When the district was raised to the status of a Province in 1968 Michael was appointed provincial councillor. He was to be elected Provincial at the first Assembly in 1973 and occupied that position until his resignation (for health reasons) in November 1979. From 1979 1987 Michael was in charge of the Justice and Peace desk of the British Province and also participated in the work of missionary animation. In 1987 he returned to Ireland and took up pastoral work in the archdiocese of Dublin. At the time of his death he was ministering in St. Lawrence's parish, Kilmacud, Co Dublin.

Dermot McCaul, who preached at a Requiem Mass for Michael in England recalled: 'On my recall from Africa in 1983 (Fr. McCaul became Provincial in that year), I depended greatly on Fr. Michael for so many things. His knowledge of the Church in England, Scotland and Wales, the Missionary Institute, and the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, was immense. He was generous with his time and insights. I relied so much on his in depth research and reflection on any topic given to him'. Michael was a man of exceptional intelligence and an inquiring mind. While in Benin City diocese he made a close study of traditional religion and wrote a number of articles on his discoveries which are preserved in the archives of the Irish Province at Blackrock Road. It was also Michael who pursued the trail of Sir James Marshall, Chief Justice of the Gold Coast (Ghana), and later agent of the Royal Niger Company. Marshall was a catholic deeply committed to the cause of West African missions and did much to advance the work of missions. Michael located his diaries and letters. Michael was also an acknowledged Irish scholar as well as a musician, specialising in Irish music.

Dermot McCaul summed up much about Michael when he said: 'I do not think that we can fully appreciate the life of Fr. Michael unless we acknowledge that behind that sharp, intelligent, well informed analytical mind of his lay a deeply sensitive, often hidden emotional self never fully expressed, forever fearful but so full of compassion, insight and a deep desire to love. That was an important side of his life that needed "listening to" to be understood. This does help us to understand the passion he brought to his great love of Irish history, culture and music. It helps us to understand the great desire he had in Benin to discover, protect and reflect on archives and documents that told the story of a mission and its people. It helps us to understand, too, his hunger to get to know as much as possible about the origins of the S.M.A.'

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.