Decades of work for justice earns McKeon CSS top award

Bob McKeon is this year's winner of the Monsignor William Irwin Award of Excellence.


Bob McKeon is this year's winner of the Monsignor William Irwin Award of Excellence.

June 17, 2013

Bob McKeon, the associate director of social justice for the Edmonton archdiocese, is this year's recipient of the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence.

Catholic Social Services presents the award annually to individuals or organizations that have lived up to the late Msgr. Irwin's ministry of meeting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.

McKeon, an anti-poverty activist, lecturer and college professor who has spent much of his life trying to put Catholic social teaching into action, is being recognized for his dedicated service and leadership to the poor and disadvantaged in Edmonton's inner city.

"We are honoured that Bob McKeon is this year's recipient of the prestigious Monsignor William Irwin Award of Excellence for his exceptional personal and community leadership in the area of social justice," said Marc Barylo, chief development and community relations officer with Catholic Social Services.

"Bob walks the talk," Barylo said in a June 6 email. "He is a man of impeccable integrity and remarkable faith, possessing a gentle and loving spirit, who tirelessly preaches the Gospel – both in words and action.

"It is with candor, courage and unquestionable conviction, that he passionately challenges the myriad of complex and controversial global issues which threaten the dignity and sanctity of human life."

Barylo described McKeon as "a prophetic and compassionate leader whose keen intellect, strong faith, integrity, and exceptional organizational skills have enabled him to attain success in all he has undertaken in the service of God, his Church, and his community."

McKeon, 66, said he felt humbled and honoured to have been chosen for the prestigious Msgr. Bill Irwin Award. "It's an incredible honour; look at the people who have received the award," he said June 6 in Red Deer, where he was attending the Truth and Reconciliation sessions.

"It's a special thing to be recognized by a Church body like Catholic Social Services."

Former recipients of the Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence include Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, Justice Allan Wachowich, former Alberta deputy attorney general Neil McCrank and the Archdiocesan Catholic Women's League.

McKeon will be presented with the award at the annual meeting of Catholic Social Services at the Hotel Macdonald June 20.

Archbishop Richard Smith commended McKeon on behalf of the staff of the Pastoral and Administration Offices.

"I congratulate Bob on this recognition and thank him for truly sharing in the mission of the Church to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world," the archbishop said in a June 4 memo. "This recognition is well deserved."

In addition to working in the office of social justice, McKeon teaches occasionally at Newman Theological College, is an instructor in the diaconate program and does a variety of workshops and talks.

He also chairs the board of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry, sits on a neighbourhood revitalization committee in the McCauley neighbourhood and works with many groups that are committed to the Church's teaching on justice.

Those groups include the Good Friday Way of the Cross and the Salvadoran community which annually celebrates the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

McKeon has worked diligently over the years to address the issues surrounding homelessness.

For more than 30 years he and his family have lived at Innroads Housing Coop, one of several affordable housing initiatives he helped launch over the years.

Born in New York City in 1947, McKeon began his community involvement in 1973 as a lay volunteer with the Jesuit volunteer corps in Montana.

After his time with the Jesuits, he volunteered two more years with the Frontier Apostolate in the Diocese of Prince George, B.C.


One day he chose to give his life to God and thought the best way to do that was to become a priest.

So he entered St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton as a seminarian for Prince George. As well, he prayed and reflected once a week with a community that the Scarboro Fathers were establishing in Edmonton's inner city.

After a year of discernment, McKeon left the seminary and joined the Scarboro community of men and women and married Mary Amerongen, who was part of the community and the provincial animator for Development and Peace. Together the couple raised their twin daughters, Sara and Margaret.

When Archbishop Joseph MacNeil set up the Social Justice Commission, at the urging of the late Father Duncan MacDonnell, McKeon was hired in 1977 as its first part-time director.

At that time, McKeon also became involved with the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, helped set up the Edmonton Food Bank and got involved with housing issues.

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 makes them available to needy individuals and groups to start up small businesses.

McKeon left his work with the archdiocese in 1989 to get his doctorate in theology and began teaching at Newman Theological College and St. Joseph's University College, lecturing in such areas of study as environmental theology, business ethics and Catholic social teaching.

At Newman he also served as vice-dean of theology and director of field education.

In late 2008, after a 20-year hiatus, McKeon rejoined the staff of the Edmonton Archdiocese as part-time associate director of social justice.