Farewell to activist Paddy Kearney

Kearney opposed apartheid, and was a lifelong activist in support of impoverished and marginalised people.

Paddy Kearney, the biographer of Archbishop Denis Hurley, founder of  the Denis Hurley Centre, and former director of the Diakonia Council of Churches, died suddenly of heart attack in the afternoon of 23 November. He was 76.

Kearney had just returned from Johannesburg for the launch there on 21 November of a book of Archbishop Hurley’s letters, which he co-edited. He got back to Durban, and, thinking he might have pneumonia, was taken to hospital by his brother Brian. In the late afternoon he suffered a heart attack and died.

Kearney was born on 28 August 1942. He went to St Charles Marist College in Pietermaritzburg and for 12 years was a brother in the Marist order.

He worked closely alongside Archbishop Hurley. Among several books he wrote or edited on the late archbishop was his magisterial biography, Guardian of the Light.

He was the founder and chair of the Denis Hurley Centre, founding director of Diakonia Council of Churches (which he headed for 30 years), chair of the Gandhi Development Trust, and advisor to KZN Christian Council, among many other important positions.

Lifelong activist

In his 76 years he was a tireless activist for the poor, the marginalised, for inter-faith partnership, social cohesion and peace.

A justice and peace activist, in 1985 Mr Kearney was detained by the security police under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. His release was secured by the legal intervention prompted by Advocate (now Judge) Chris Nicholson, then director of the Legal Resources Centre, when Archbishop Hurley, in the case Minister of Law and Order and Others v Hurley and Another, challenged the legality of Section 29.

“I knew nothing until I was released after 17 days,” Kearney later recalled of what he said was a scary experience involving daily interrogation. When he came out of CR Swart station (now Durban Central), Archbishop Hurley and Diakonia staff were waiting for him.

In August this year he was awarded the papal Bene Merenti medal during Mass in Durban’s Emmanuel cathedral.

In 2014, Kearney was awarded the eThekwini Living Legend award, and an honorary doctorate by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“The Johannesburg launch on Wednesday evening had been a wonderfully successful, happy and celebratory occasion—very well attended, and the book stock was sold out and we had to take extra orders—and Paddy had been delighted by it all,” said Douglas Irvine of We Are All Church SA.

“Paddy leaves behind a huge family in the organisations that he founded and inspired,” said Denis Hurley Centre director Raymond Perrier.

“The Diakonia Centre and the Denis Hurley Centre, which he helped create, are united in mourning with Christians and people of all faiths, across Durban and across the country. For me, he was more than a boss, he was a daily inspiration and a daily reminder that whatever we do for the poor, we should do more.”

Paddy was one of those rare people who got things done, quietly and decisively. Often he used his substantial powers of persuasion. It was difficult to say ‘no’ to Paddy because you knew that what he asked you to do always was for an intrinsic good.

He was a gentle and generous man who sought to follow the Christ of the Gospel. He will be missed by very many people. It is a mark of Mr Kearney’s good relations with different faiths that the evening he died prayers were said for him in a synagogue, a mosque and by a group of Christians of different denominations at Diakonia.

His funeral will take place on Saturday 1 December at Emmanuel Cathedral at 2pm. All are welcome. A civic event was planned for Thursday at City Hall.

For information contact news@denishurleycentre.org

This is lightly edited version of an article first published by The Southern Cross

Simmermacher is editor of the Southern Cross, the national Catholic newspaper.

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