Fr Owen McKenna died peacefully in the Bon Secours Hospital on Monday, 2 May 2022. He was an SMA missionary for over 60 years, having celebrated his Diamond Jubilee of Priestly Ordination last December.
Fr Owen was born in Capwell Road, Cork City in 1935. After primary and secondary schooling he began his formation with the ‘AFS’ – as they were commonly known in Cork – by going to the SMA Novitiate at Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway, becoming a member of the Society in 1955. He was influenced in joining the SMA by another SMA seminarian, now Fr Bill Ghent. After completing his theology studies in the African Missions, Dromantine, Newry, Co Down, Fr Owen was ordained a priest on 10 December 1961.
Along with many of his classmates, Fr Owen was appointed to the Irish Province’s mission in Nigeria. After some months learning about the local culture and customs of the Yoruba people, Fr Owen was appointed to the teaching staff of Stella Maris College, Okitipupa, Ondo State. Owen spent 12 years in the teaching ministry in Ondo diocese, under the leadership of Bishop William Field SMA (from Schull, Co Cork) and later Bishop Francis Folorunsho Alonge. In 1972, Ondo was divided with the creation of Ekiti diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Michael Olatunji Fagun. In Ekiti, Fr Owen taught in Annunciation College, Ikere-Ekiti. His final years in Nigeria were spent as Administrator of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ado-Ekiti. When Ekiti diocese was created the Catholic population was less than 5%, in an area of 2,269 sq miles (about the size of County Mayo). The latest Vatican statistics put it at 14%, more than 420,000. From 6 Nigerian priests in 1980, Ekiti today has more than 90. The Lord has certainly blessed the work of Bishop Fagun and his successor, Bishop Felix Femi Ajakaye (appointed 2010), the catechists, laity, religious and priests of the diocese. All glory and honour to God!
Fr Owen left Nigeria in 1985 and, for three years, he served in St Joseph’s SMA Parish in Wilton, Cork. In 1988, he transferred across the city to the second SMA parish in Cork, to Blackrock Road where he served for 14 years, many of them as a greatly-loved Parish Priest.
After a well-deserved Sabbatical break in 2002, Owen was appointed the Bursar of the SMA House in Ranelagh, Dublin, where he spent 12 years before retiring in 2015. For most of those years he was also the Vice Superior of the community. Owen continued his ‘priestly’ work, and for many years he celebrated Mass every week in the Oratory in Cornelscourt Shopping Centre, Cabinteely, as well as Sunday Mass in the Dominican Convent, Donnybrook and in local parishes when requested. After retiring, he remained in Ranelagh until December 2021 when he came to St Theresa’s Nursing Unit, SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork to recover from an injury to a foot.
For some years, Fr Owen struggled with health issues. He was hospitalised last week and, with his niece Miriam, nephews Owen and Joe, and Fr Aidan McCrystal SMA with him he returned home to God last Monday afternoon.
Owen was predeceased by his parents John B and Winifred E McKenna, his brother John and his sisters Mary (Shinkwin) and Jacqueline (Sheehy), his sister-in-law Marie McKenna and brother-in-law Pat Sheehy.
He is sadly mourned by his brother-in-law Joseph Shinkwin, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, other relatives, friends, the people of the Dioceses of Ondo and Ekiti, Nigeria, the parishioners of the SMA Wilton and Blackrock Road parishes, Cork, and the worshippers in the Oratory of the Cornelscourt Shopping Centre, Cabinteely, Dublin as well as his confreres in the Society of African Missions.
Fr Owen’s Funeral will take place in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork, on Thursday, 5 May, followed by burial in the adjoining SMA community cemetery.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.