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Pelican : June 2010
St Edmund’s College Canberra 110 Canberra Ave Griffth ACT 2603 Ph: 02 6295 3598 Fax: 02 6295 1356 Web: www.stedmunds.act.edu.au Br Matt McKeon A long and winding road leads to rewards for all A Catholic School in the Edmund Rice Tradition St Edmund’s College is committed to the continuous improvement of Pelican magazine and therefore we welcome your feedback or suggestions. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org Where do you think the road would take you if you started in Toowoomba in 1925, studied in Strathfeld, taught at Gosford, helped run a strike in Goulburn, went to a Beatifcation in Rome, and helped students fnd God in the nation’s capital? In this case, all roads lead to St Edmund’s College, Canberra, and Brother Matt McKeon. It was a bumpy road to start with, as Brother Matt was born so prematurely in Toowoomba in 1925 that doctors suggested his mother should baptise him immediately. However, Patrick Baines McKeon (later Brother Matt) was here to stay – and to make a difference. However, in the early days, he was far from a model student, and despite coming from a strong Catholic family, he showed little interest in Catechism teachings. Once his Station Master father was transferred to Bundaberg, it wasn’t only school Brother Matt had to survive. These were the war years, and Brother Matt remembers racing to the school trenches when an air raid siren went off in the middle of a maths exam. Ducking enemy aircraft, making Molotoff Cocktails – to throw against tanks if the Japanese invaded – and being a military messenger boy were all much more glamorous pursuits than algebra and Religious Education! He actually found his calling at school, though, when he read in a Church pamphlet that, ‘people will never know Christ unless someone volunteers to teach them’. Once he’d graduated from the Christian Brothers Training College in Strathfeld, Sydney, in 1946, he found he loved teaching, and even took on extracurricular activities like coaching swimming, rugby and cricket. In 1953 he was sent to open the new St Edward’s College, Gosford, where he enjoyed fve years as Deputy Principal, Bursar and Sports Master. He was then Principal for a total of 21 years in Christian Brothers Colleges in Goulburn, Young, Wagga and Gosford. Brother Matt’s posting to Goulburn proved to be a seminal moment, because it was while he was Principal at St Patrick’s there that the ‘Goulburn School Strike’ took place. This was a very important time in the history of Catholic education in Australia. The strike was triggered when the Goulburn Council threatened to close down a local Convent primary school because there weren’t enough toilets for the increased number of students. The school didn’t have the necessary funds, and there was no government funding for Catholic schools then, even though parents of Catholic school students paid the same taxes as anyone else. In an unprecedented move, Brother Matt, Bishop Cullinane (Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese), Archbishop O’Brien of Canberra, and the majority of parents decided to take a stand, and the Goulburn School Strike was born. All Catholic schools in the area were closed for the rest of the term and thousands of pupils turned up to enrol at local public schools. In one school, 1,000 students were handed a numbered ticket as they fled into the hall. The Principal announced that he could only fnd an extra 28 places for students across the school and there would have to be a ballot. You could have heard a pin drop before that fnal 28th place was called out, and then a huge cheer went up from the remaining students, who thought they’d have six weeks off school. As it turned out, the strike was called off after only a week, because the politicians had got the point and the Menzies Government fnally agreed to provide some funding. Brother Matt continued to teach science, maths, English, geography and religion in several different schools, but he was also taking a real interest in spiritual leadership. A six-month International Tertianship in Rome in 1976 proved inspiring, as did his second trip to Rome 20 years later, for the Beatifcation of Blessed Edmund Rice. He discovered a new love for study, gaining not only a Distinction in School Management and a Bachelor of Arts in Education but also a Masters in Religious Studies, a Masters in Theology, and a Certifcate of Spiritual Direction. He was also awarded the Cadet Forces Medal for 11 years’ service as the Commanding Offcer of Cadet Units. As the Community Leader at St Edmund’s College Canberra since 1996, Brother Matt enjoys being a spiritual companion to clergy, parents and students alike. Despite a major heart attack and surgery in 2008, he still loves going on retreat with the Year 11 and 12 boys. They probably don’t even realise what a treasure they have in Brother Matt – and how the road he has travelled has benefted generations of Catholic school students. Jeneen McLeod