Hundreds Pay Respects to Memory of McKeon

By Ernesto Portillo
San Diego Union-Tribune
March 5, 1986

OCEANSIDE — The Rev. Martin J. McKeon, the Franciscan pastor at Mission San Luis Rey for the past 17 years, was eulogized yesterday for his generosity and tireless work in the community. "He was a friend to everybody," said the Rev. Louis Vitale in the eulogy. "He was good companionship.

He was great fun." Vitale, the head of the Franciscan order for the Western states, joined Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego, 100 priests and friars, and more than 900 friends and family in paying their respects to McKeon, who died last Wednesday at the age of 60. "It seemed like a bolt out of the blue that this vital force was stopped in motion," Vitale said. Under an overcast sky, the funeral Mass was said on a grassy plain at the mission to accommodate the mourners.

As the crowd grew before the services, the light-blue-robed parish choir sang several hymns, including "Ave Maria," "Let There Be Peace on Earth," and "Prayer of St. Francis." A Knights of Columbus honor guard preceded the clergy and the casket from the mission to an altar, set under a large shade tree.

Only the sounds of chirping birds and whizzing cars on Mission Avenue pierced the silence. Known to many as "Father Marty," McKeon was instrumental in transforming the former San Luis Rey Academy, an all-girls school, into a center for religious and social service organizations in the late 1970s. The parish center now helps battered women, abused children, senior citizens, migrant farm workers and the Spanish-speaking. "He anticipated demands, he created demands," Vitale said. McKeon's efforts, however, were not met with total enthusiasm in the parish.

Vitale said there were some who wanted McKeon to build a new and larger church. "But Father Marty saw a need for human services," Vitale said. McKeon, a native of Los Angeles, entered the Franciscans in 1945. This year would have been his 40th as a Franciscan and 34th as a priest. Shortly before his death, he was scheduled to take a sabbatical to direct a retreat center in Malibu. He first taught in a Franciscan seminary and later became the order's first full-time vocations director.

Many joined the order because of McKeon's encouragement, Vitale said. In 1969, McKeon became pastor of a then-small parish at the historic mission here.

Under his guidance and leadership the parish grew from 500 families to 1,500 families, Vitale said. Joseph McKnight, director of religious education at the mission, said McKeon "did a lot of things (for his parish) that people will never know about." Remains were interred in the Friars Crypt at the mission cemetery.


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