Bishop Myles McKeon: Last surviving Irish bishop to attend Vatican II

Obituary: From Drummin in Co Mayo, he made his mark as bishop in Western Australia

Bishop Myles McKeon:   April 3rd, 1919- May 2nd,  2016

Bishop Myles McKeon: April 3rd, 1919- May 2nd, 2016


Bishop Myles McKeon, who has died in Western Australia, was a native of Drummin, Co Mayo, was the was the last surviving Irishman to have attended Vatican Council II.

From 1962 to 1965 more than 700 members of the global hierarchy participated in Vatican Council II which was by far the most important event for Catholics in the 20th century. Held in Rome, its aim was to “update” the church and help it connect to the modern world, with many of the resulting decisions still part of Catholic Catechism and church canon law.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican II, 2012 was designated ‘The Year of Faith’ and as part of the celebrations a Mass was held in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome to which the 79 surviving Vatican II participants were invited. Of those in attendance only one was Irish: Bishop Myles McKeon, Bishop Emeritus of Bunbury, Western Australia.

Bishop Myles as he was known to his family, friends and colleagues, was born in the small town of Drummin near Westport in Co Mayo. His mother Bridget Toole was a local woman who when suddenly widowed returned to Drummin with her three young children to help run the family public house. There she met and married retired RIC Sgt John McKeon from Leitrim and they went on to have four sons and two daughters, including Bishop Myles who was born in 1919.

Bishop Myles completed his secondary education in St Jarleth’s College in Tuam Co Galway followed by studies in UCD and All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, where in 1947 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Perth in Western Australia. What followed was an arduous journey by sea to post-war Australia and to an initial period of homesickness and loneliness often experienced by young clergy abroad.

A popular priest, Fr McKeon soon adapted to this alien environment on the other side of the world and in May 1962 a few weeks after his 43rd birthday he was appointed the youngest Auxiliary Bishop of Perth, Western Australia and Titular Bishop of Antipygros.

His appointment was just in time for Vatican II and he attended three of the four sessions as a Council Father. As a young man he fully embraced the concept of Vatican II and he is reported as having said that “the place went wild with approval” when Pope John XXIII vetoed the conservative majority vote on certain issues.

In 1969 Bishop Myles was appointed Bishop of Bunbury, Western Australia – a diocese south of Perth, and a position that he held until 1982 when he retired at 62 due to ill health.

During this time he was regarded as a great organiser who changed the face of the south-west diocese. A warm and gracious man, Bishop Myles was very popular with both the clergy and parishioners. Although a man with a good sense of humour whose anthem on request was Sippin’ Soda; he did not suffer fools gladly and priests who had worked with him would tell you that he was someone in front of which you did not crack Irish jokes.

His early retirement allowed him the opportunity to travel and reconnect with his extended family. In September 2012, after 65 years a priest, Bishop Myles celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination as a bishop. The occasion was marked by an event in his honour hosted by his successor Bishop Gerard Holohan and attended by more than 30 priests of the Bunbury diocese.

Bishop Myles saw out his retirement in Subiaco, Western Australia and while he had not visited Ireland since 1995, he kept in regular contact with his friends and family. Though most of 97 years were spent on the other side of the world, he was to the last a proud Mayo man at heart.

His only surviving sibling Mrs Sheila Conway and her family still live in Westport but his nieces and nephews – the McKeons, Sheerins, Reidys and Tallons can be found throughout the world.