Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 15, 2008
Social activist returns to archdiocesan fold
Passionate advocate for society's disadvantaged, Bob McKeon will rekindle Church justice ministry
BY RAMON GONZALEZ
'One priority is the whole area of formation rooted in Catholic social teaching.'
McKeon brings a wealth of practical experience to his new position. He helped establish the Edmonton Inner City Housing Society, was instrumental in envisioning and planning for the construction of the Boyle-McCauley Health Centre and was a member of the original committee that established the Edmonton Food Bank.
He has also served on the board of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry for a number of years.
Born in New York City in 1947, McKeon began his community involvement in 1973 as a lay volunteer with the Jesuits volunteer corps in Montana.
In mid-1974 he moved to Edmonton to study for the priesthood but left the seminary after three years.
From there he moved to the inner city to live in community with a group of lay people and a Scarboro Missions priest. There he met and married his wife Mary Amerongen, a Catholic social activist. Together their raised their twin daughters, Sara and Margaret.
In the inner city McKeon helped establish the Innroads Housing Cooperative, which has provided affordable housing to numerous families and individuals over the years.
He and his family have lived in one of the co-op houses for about 30 years.
In the early 1980s, shocked by the increasing lack of proper housing, he organized the community and started the Inner City Housing Society.
Today the non-profit society houses more than 200 people in several projects. McKeon was also one of the “brains” behind the Edmonton Community Land Trust, another cooperative effort to provide affordable housing.
In the early 1990s, he led the community into organizing the Edmonton Community Loan Fund, an organization that raises funds and make them available to needy individuals and groups to start up small businesses.
In 1977 McKeon joined Father Duncan MacDonnell and other Catholics in setting up the archdiocesan social justice commission. He became the commission’s first staffperson, serving in that position for 12 years.
Under his leadership, the commission became a powerful advocate for labour rights, native rights, medicare, the poor and the unemployed. It was through the commission that McKeon helped start the Edmonton Food Bank, the first food bank in Canada.
Over the past few years, the office of pastoral services has been coordinating social justice issues and activities in the archdiocese.
“There has been social justice work in the diocese in the past several years, even though there hasn’t been a staffperson there,” said McKeon.
He illustrated this by mentioning the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the archdiocese’s involvement in the Greater Edmonton Alliance in the areas of affordable housing and homelessness.
“There is a lot happening,” he said. “There are lots of Catholic groups doing social justice work.”
One of McKeon’s goals is to support the work currently under way as well as the people doing the work.
“The job description I have been given is very broad, which I find helpful. I think one priority is the whole area of formation rooted in Catholic social teaching,” he said.
“We have people doing things and we can get more people doing more things, but (the idea is) to help people reflect in light of their faith and the whole tradition of Catholic social teaching — to have that reflection happen around the activity that’s happening already.”
McKeon said he plans to spend the first couple of months talking to people around the archdiocese and then he will put together a plan based on those conversations. An advisory committee will be put together in the future to support his work.
“My hope is that our social justice commitment becomes an integral part of our faith in every area,” he said. Social justic work “is not something a small group of people do, but something that’s shared throughout the Church and through the Christian community.”
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