Two Irishmen receive the Catholic Church’s highest honor for their services to music

Pope Francis has awarded the honor of Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great to two Irishmen with long experience in church music.

Dr John O’Keeffe is Director of Sacred Music at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Ronan McDonagh is Choir Director at Clarendon Street Church, Dublin and founder of the Fuaimlaoi Choral Group.

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great was created in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI and is the highest honor bestowed by a pope, usually in recognition of service or support to the church. Until 1994, only men received the award.

Previous Irish recipients include John Hume, tenors John McCormack and Frank Patterson, UCC academic Alfred O’Rahilly and former Central Bank Governor Maurice Moynihan.

In 2010, Dr Margaret Downes, the first female director of Bank of Ireland, received the female equivalent award of Dame Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great for her services to St Mary’s Parish on Haddington Road in Dublin.


The awarding of KSG knighthoods to Dr O’Keeffe and Mr McDonagh marked the 50th anniversary of the Schola Cantorum, an initiative of the Catholic Bishops set up to train church musicians and attached to St Finian’s College of Mullingar. Both men are among the most distinguished lay alumni of the Schola Cantorum.

Dr O’Keeffe conducted the music at the 2018 Papal Mass at Dublin’s Phoenix Park while Mr McDonagh is one of Ireland’s leading organists and performed for many years at the Church of Clarendon Street where he has been Music Director since 1990. It was there that he founded Fuaimlaoi in 2006 “to promote and develop liturgical music from our indigenous tradition”.

They were invested with knighthood at Christ the King Cathedral in Mullingar by the Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan.

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