Sister Elizabeth McKeown

SISTER Elizabeth McKeown of the Convent of Mercy, Downpatrick, and Beechmount, Belfast, died on August 13, 2018. 

Sister Elizabeth was born in 1928 in Clontigora, South Armagh. Her parents were Philip and Anne McKeown and she was one of a family of twelve — six brothers and six sisters. She was educated at Killeen Primary School and Our Lady’s Grammar School, Newry.

On August 28, 1945, at the age of 17 she entered the Convent of Mercy, Downpatrick. She was given the religious name of Sister Mary Augustine and made Final Profession of Vows on March 3, 1951. Following her profession, she obtained a BA degree at University College, Dublin, and did her teacher training at Craiglockhart College, Edinburgh. 

Sr Elizabeth’s teaching career began in 1955 when she taught for one year in the Convent of Mercy Primary School, Downpatrick, followed by a year in St Anne’s Primary School, Donaghadee. When St Mary’s High School opened in 1957, Sr Elizabeth was one of the original staff, which included Mother Aloysius and Sisters Teresa, Mercy, Margaret, Baptist and Joseph. She remained there until her retirement in 1988. 

During that time she taught Religious Studies, French and Mathematics. Her past pupils remember her as a strict but very fair teacher who expected and obtained very high standards both in behaviour and academic achievement.

Discipline was always tempered by humour and compassion, especially towards those who were struggling. She inspired her pupils with a love of French language and culture, not only in Room 10 with beautiful posters of French scenes, but also on several school trips to Paris and to Lourdes, about which past pupils have many a tale to tell.

While she was still teaching, Sister Elizabeth served two terms as leader of her religious community in Downpatrick, from 1973 to 1979 and from 1987 to 1993. In that capacity she was responsible for the building of the Convent of Mercy Nursery School and for renovations and extensions to the Convent. 

Ever after her retirement, her interested in education continued as chaplain to St Mary’s High School from 1988 until 1993. In collaboration with Fr Gerry McCloskey she provided annual retreats for all the pupils at the convent premises.

She was also active in parish ministry as Eucharistic Minister, in SPRED, Bereavement Ministry, Baptism Programme and visitation of the sick and housebound. She continued these ministries in St Oliver Plunkett Parish, Belfast, after she moved there, from 1993 until 2006.

In 2006 she retired from active ministry and returned to the Convent of Mercy, Downpatrick, where she remained until it closed in 2011, when she, together with Sr Margaret, moved to the Convent of Mercy, Beechmount.

Her Requiem Mass was celebrated in St John’s Church, Falls Road, Belfast on August 16. The concelebrants were the parish priest, Fr Martin Magill, and Fr Aidán McCrystal SMA. Bishop Anthony Farquhar was present. Music for the Mass was provided by Sr Veronica O’Brien and her choir. 

Sr Elizabeth’s remains were then brought to her home parish of St Michael’s, Killeen, and she was interred beside her sister, Sr M Mercy, who died in 2004. 

Sr Elizabeth will be lovingly remembered by her sisters, Loretto and Bronagh, her brother Anthony, her sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews, her sisters in the Mercy Congregation, her friends, former colleagues and past pupils.

Sr Elizabeth’s Month’s Mind will be incorporated in St Mary’s High School Mercy Day Mass tomorrow (Thursday) at 11am in St Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick. All past colleagues, pupils and parishioners are welcome to attend.