The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Priest a founding member of African ministry

During his 50 years as a Benedictine of Subiaco Abbey, Father Camillus Cooney has taught, pastored, planned and directed a performing arts facility -- and moved 7,000 miles to help found the missionary St. Mukasa Monastery in what was then eastern Nigeria.

Published: September 9, 2006   
Father Camillus Cooney, OSB, became the second member of his family to enter the priesthood 50 years ago.

SUBIACO -- Born June 10, 1931, in Tyler, Texas, Raymond Cooney was educated in his hometown from grades one through his freshman year of college.

As a youngster, he became acquainted with the Arkansas Benedictine monks when he attended Camp Subiaco, an annual summer camp for boys held at the abbey.

In 1949, he enrolled in Subiaco Academy for prerequisite classes before his entry into the monastery where he professed his vows as a monk on Sept. 14, 1952, receiving the name Camillus. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Albert L. Fletcher at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on May 26, 1956.

Father Cooney is the second member of the Cooney family to enter the priesthood. An older brother, Gerald, is a retired diocesan priest in Texas.

After ordination, Father Cooney was on the faculty and administration of Subiaco Academy. From 1960 to 1963, he was on the faculty of Laneri High School in Fort Worth, Texas, and during the latter year, assisted with classes at Our Lady of Victory Academy in the same city.

A third-world ecumenical apostolate awaited Father Cooney during the summer of 1963, when he was selected by Abbot Michael Lensing as one of the six monk-missioners to be assigned 7,000 miles from Subiaco on the continent of Africa.

Under primitive conditions, this small band of pioneer Benedictines began the building of Subiaco Abbey's first daughter-house to be known as Saint Mukasa Monastery, located near the mouth of the Niger River in Eleme, Nigeria.

As part of their apostolate, the founding monks accepted responsibility for Ascension High School, where Father Cooney served as principal and faculty member.

Unfortunately, in 1967, Eastern Nigeria declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra. With this secession from the union, a full-fledged civil war ensued. Because of the Biafran-Nigerian Civil War, Subiaco Abbey was forced to terminate its African apostolate.

Following his missionary years, Father Cooney devoted the next two decades to the field of education at Subiaco Academy. He chaired the English department for several years along with being faculty sponsor of the academy yearbook, Pax.

Father Cooney was one of the principle guiding forces in the planning and construction of the Performing Arts Center in Centenary Hall, and for the first two years of its operation, he was director of the facility and its programs.

In the late 1990s, he served as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Muenster, Texas, and presently he travels from the abbey for short parish assignments, especially on weekends. He offers a helping hand to practically every department in the abbey complex.

Father Cooney enjoys spending time in a little hermitage east of the monastery where he can relax in the peace and quiet of the countryside, communing with the natural beauty of God's creation. He has just returned from Ireland where he chose to visit during this year of his Golden Jubilee.

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