MONTREAL - Neil McKenty, a former Jesuit priest whose reputation for integrity and incisive commentary made him a popular radio talk-show host in Montreal in the 1970s, died Saturday morning at Montreal General Hospital after a short illness. He was 87.
Many Montrealers can recall McKenty’s distinctive voice as host of Exchange, the city’s top-rated English-language phone-in show on CJAD radio in the 1970s.
McKenty began his broadcasting career at the age of 47. Two years earlier, he had left the Jesuit order after 26 years, not because he had lost his faith, he recalled, but because of the conviction that he could make a contribution to society in some other way.
And so he moved to Montreal from Toronto with his wife, Catherine McKenty. They fit in quickly in their adopted city, taking up cross-country skiiing, while McKenty developed a passion for hockey during the glory years of the Canadiens.
McKenty worked for 14 years at CJAD, eight as host of Exchange.
In 1985, McKenty quit his job at CJAD, which came with a $90,000 salary, to complete In the Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main, a biography of the monk who founded Montreal’s Benedictine Priory.
Two years later, however, McKenty returned to broadcasting, this time as host of McKenty Live, a daily 30-minute television program combining interviews and phone-in segments.
McKenty went on to write other books, including the best-selling novel, The Other Key, Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge as well as his autobiography, The Inside Story: Journey of a Former Jesuit Priest and Talkshow Host Towards Self-Discovery.
The Gazette published a glowing review of his autobiography in 1997, describing it as wonderful book that raised “profoundly religious and spirtual themes.”
The Westmount resident was also a prolific letter writer to The Gazette, often writing with wit about religion and politics.
He continued to write in community newspapers, often discussing the Catholic Church or U.S. politics. He maintained a blog, Exchange with Neil McKenty, until early May when he posted that he was ill and “expected to be back with you soon.”
McKenty leaves his wife Catharine Fleming Turnbull.
Visitation will be held at the Côte des Neiges Funeral Home, 4525 Côte des Neiges Rd., on May 18, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. The service will be on May 19, at 3:30 p.m. with a reception following. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Desta, Benedict Labre House, or Nazareth House.