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Alphonsian Academy

Professor Martin McKeever, Redemptorist

I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 20.02.1958. The fourth of nine children, I learned early in life what it means to live with others in limited space! At that time political violence was rampant in Northern Ireland so that my childhood memories are marked with memories of fire, blood and fear.

By the grace of God, the warmth and security of family life compensated for this sad context and it was possible to have a reasonably normal childhood and youth.

My father worked as a scaffolder, often on church spires.

At that time children of 11 years had to take an exam which more or less determined their academic future. One happy memory I have is the day I went with some of my sisters to the Church spire where my father was working in order to wave up to him the letter announcing that I had (barely!) passed the exam. Not having had the opportunity to study themselves, my parents sacrificed themselves constantly so that all their children could continue their education to whatever level they chose. I have no doubt that their example is the source from which I draw the deep desire to help others in their academic growth.

At the age of 16 I had my first major contact with Redemptorists through the youth ministry at St. Clement’s Retreat House, Belfast. It was during this contact that I first felt the desire to be a Redemptorist in the sense of wanting to do what I saw Redemptorists doing in this ministry. At University College Galway I had the opportunity of studying Philosophy and Literature before going on to theology studies. I will always be grateful for this in that it allowed me to approach theology aware of a wider range of questions than I could otherwise have been. Another major phase in my life was a two-year placement in youth ministry in the Cologne Province of the Redemptorists in Germany.

Early Contact with the Alfonsian Academy
When I first came to Rome in 1985, as an undergraduate student, it was simply with a view to learning Italian. Thanks to the understanding and imagination of my superiors in Ireland, my requests to learn various Western European languages were always accepted and supported. Having acquired some competence in French and German, I was delighted to discover “la lingua più bella del mondo”! It was a case of love at first sight…more than twenty years have passed since that first visit and I can say that I have come to love Italy and the Italian language.

After ordination in 1987 I was appointed to youth work in Cork, Ireland. While enjoying this ministry, I was convinced from the beginning that my calling was to the accademic life. To this end, I came to Rome in 1989 to do the license in the Alphonsian Academy. In those days the physical conditions of the buildings and the resources of the library etc. were much more modest, but there was a sense of seriousness about study and thought which appealed to me. Thanks to the patience of Prof. Raponi and Prof. Cappelletto for the licentiate thesis, and then to Prof. Johnstone and Prof. Cipriani (from the Augustinianum) at doctoral level, I was later able to finish my doctoral thesis entitled “The Cardinal Desiderative Power of the Self-directing Subject: an ethical exegesis of voluntas in St. Augustine’s De libero arbitrio”. Having taught moral theology for some years in Ireland at the Kimmage Mission Institute and at the Pontifical University of Maynooth, I was eventually appointed to teach in Rome in 1997.

Life as a Professor at the Alphonsian Academy
When I got to the Academy I was shown a large, empty, dusty room and told that I should go about making it into a study and living space. Thanks to the generosity and encouragement of Profs. Hidber and Cannon, I was soon settled in and ready to begin my research and the preparation of courses. The area assigned to me was political thought within the ambit of social ethics. In the ten years in which I have been teaching and researching in this field I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal and I hope to communicate some of it to others. One of the most important aspects of life here for me has been a long process of experimentation with teaching method. Since my time as a student, I was convinced of the inadequacy of the “banking model” of education. I have found that students at this level are capable of directly confronting texts of great thinkers such as Augustine and Thomas, rather than simply hearing others talk about them. Among my happiest memories of life at the Academy is that of having to intevene in heated debates about justice and truth between empassioned students from all over the world.

From 2001-2007 I was editor of our academic journal Studia Moralia. This work has made me very conscious of the need for serious research in the field of moral theology. The only way to enhance the Academy’s profile on the global scene is through quality publications which are the fruit of research and international collaboration.

New Responsibilites
Last May I was appointed ‘Preside’ or President of the Academy. While remaining convinced that my primary vocation is to study, I am happy to attempt this administrative task. Confident of the support of the students, the administrative staff, the colleagues and the various authorities involved, I approach this role with hope and vigour. I hope to promote a spirit accademic seriousness in a humane and cordial social context. Allow me to conclude these reflections by thanking in anticipation all those who from within the Academy or from elsewhere will help in facing the serious challenges ahead.