Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Maryknoll Father Michael McKeirnan, former missionary to China, dies at 95
the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 1, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Father Michael McKeirnan MM (IR photo courtesy of Maryknoll)
Maryknoll Father Michael Joseph McKeirnan, originally from Pomeroy, Wash., died on Sept. 22 at St. Teresa’s Residence, Ossining, N.Y., where he had lived since 2005. He was 95, and a Maryknoll priest for 68 years.
Wake services were held Sept. 2 at St. Teresa Residence, and at Queen of Apostles Chapel, Maryknoll Mission Center, Ossining, N.Y. The funeral Mass was concelebrated at Queen of Apostles Chapel the next day.
A rosary will be prayed for him Friday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at Holy Rosary Parish, Pomeroy, and Mass celebrated Oct. 24 at 11 a.m., followed by burial in the family plot in Pomeroy.
Father McKeirnan, who retired in 2005 at age 91, most recently ministered to Philippine migrant workers, and taught catechism in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where he had served since 1956.
As Maryknoll’s regional vicar, he supervised the Society’s mission works in Hong Kong (1960-1966). He served as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kowloontsai (1966-68) and then as director of the Bishop Ford Center in Kowloon for more than two decades.
Ordained a priest on June 22, 1941, McKeirnan was immediately assigned to Maryknoll’s mission in Wuchow, South China. Traveling to his assignment, he was interned by occupying Japanese forces in Hong Kong and held for nine months. After his release, he worked in Wuchow until the Japanese army took the town. Forced to flee, he moved out with U.S. Air Force personnel and served as a temporary Air Force chaplain until the end of World War II. McKeirnan then returned to the Wuchow mission and remained there until 1949, when he was appointed pastor of St. Theresa Chinese Mission in Chicago (1949-1956).
“As a missioner, my greatest fulfillment has been to instruct a person who has never known God, and then in Baptism, see that person enjoy the infinite mercy and eternal love of God the Father,” said Father McKeirnan on the occasion of his 65th Jubilee.
Born in Pomeroy on Sept. 20, 1914, Father McKeirnan attended Holy Rosary School (1920-1928). He graduated from St. Joseph College in Mt. View, Calif., in 1934 and entered Maryknoll that same year.
Msgr. John Steiner, co-Vicar General of the Spokane Diocese, remembered Father McKeirnan as a man who “had the dirt of the Pomeroy wheat fields under his nails, but his heart was baptized Chinese by the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his priesthood.”
Father McKeirnan’s two sisters also joined Maryknoll, said Msgr. Steiner.
At the outbreak of World War II, Father McKeirnan was placed under house arrest by the invading Japanese forces. “The Carmelite Sisters down the street and the Maryknoll priests were put under arrest. Confusion reigned,” said Msgr. Steiner.
Father McKeirnan had told Msgr. Steiner stories of those war years.
“After some time the Japanese allowed Father Mike to go to the mainland and begin missionary work,” said Msgr. Steiner. “But the toll of the wartime was terrible and soon Mao and the Red army were the real source of suffering for the missionaries.” In time, Father McKeirnan arrived in Hong Kong, where he was involved in war relief. “He became known as ‘Father Noodle’ because he got control of American wheat – maybe some from Pomeroy – and set up a noodle making operation in Kowloon,” said the monsignor.
“Father Mike was a friend of the Spokane priests, from his contact with Father Brendan O’Connor in Pomeroy and Msgr Oakley O’Connor in Spokane,” Msgr. Steiner said. “Through Msgr. O’Connor I met Father Mike in Hong Kong in the mid-’90s. I got a quick cultural introduction Chinese New Year at the table with him and his two Maryknoll sisters. It was great. I visited him on the hill after his eye sight got bad, but after some surgery he was back at work. My last visit with him was in 2004. He was holding on to Hong Kong with all his might. Maryknoll finally got him to come back to New York.
“His body was there, but his heart was in Hong Kong.”
Father McKeirnan was concerned when Hong Kong was returned to the control of mainland China – “Mao’s Guys.” “He was concerned for the Church first, last, and always,” said Msgr. Steiner. “When the Hong Kong Cardinal began to celebrate Eucharist with some of the priests from the patriotic association, it was hard for Father Mike, but he was loyal to the Cardinal and to whatever was going on politically by the Holy See. Father Mike felt that the future of the Church in China was and still is great.
“They now have another intercessor in the kingdom for all things in China and the Church of China,” Msgr. Steiner said. “Father Mike, may you rest in peace.”
Father McKeirnan is survived by his brother, Joseph McKeirnan, of Pomeroy, Wash.; his sisters, Maryknoll Sisters Agnes McKeirnan of Ossining, N.Y., and Mary Moran, of Ketchikan, Ark.; and several nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations in Father McKeirnan’s name may be made to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545.