Com­mu­nity serv­ing hu­man­ity

Paddy Kear­ney, who died on Fri­day, was a vi­sion­ary so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist, re­li­gious leader and au­thor


PADDY Kear­ney – a so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist, re­li­gious leader and au­thor – died in Dur­ban on Fri­day.

Born in Au­gust 1942 in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, Ger­ald Pa­trick Kear­ney, known al­ways as “Paddy”, epit­o­mised grace, in­tegrity, hu­mil­ity and com­pas­sion.

He was an as­tute and vi­sion­ary cam­paigner, work­ing for peace and jus­tice across five decades.

Just like his late men­tor, Arch­bishop De­nis Hur­ley, Paddy was ed­u­cated at St Charles Col­lege in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, at the time a Marist school.

He ini­tially pur­sued a re­li­gious vo­ca­tion with the Marists and, although he left the or­der after 12 years, spent the rest of his life in the ser­vice of the church.

In 1971 Paddy was em­ployed at Inanda Sem­i­nary, an all-girls school for black stu­dents, where he was ex­posed to the in­jus­tices of apartheid in per­sonal de­tail, and where he be­came an ac­tivist for jus­tice.

After com­plet­ing his arts de­gree and ed­u­ca­tion diploma at the Univer­sity of Na­tal in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, he un­der­took post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in the US and Mex­ico.

For al­most 30 years Paddy headed the work of Di­ako­nia, an or­gan­i­sa­tion founded by Hur­ley in 1976. Un­usu­ally for that time, this or­gan­i­sa­tion brought to­gether Chris­tians of dif­fer­ent denominati­ons to work in part­ner­ship.

They trained peo­ple to set up and run so­cial ac­tion groups in the Strug­gle against apartheid in the 1980s. This at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the se­cu­rity forces: Di­ako­nia’s of­fices were raided and staff were ha­rassed.

In 1985 Paddy was de­tained with­out charge by the se­cu­rity po­lice. This led to a his­toric court case in which Hur­ley suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the no­to­ri­ous Sec­tion 29. This not only meant that Paddy was freed (after 17 days), but also set a le­gal prece­dent that helped later de­tainees.

At an age when most other men re­tire, Paddy ini­ti­ated the last great project of his life – the cre­ation of the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre.

This stands as a liv­ing legacy to his hero by bring­ing to­gether peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths to pro­vide care, ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity to the poor­est and most marginalis­ed in cen­tral Dur­ban.

Paddy over­saw the build­ing of the R32 mil­lion struc­ture and chaired the trustees through the cen­tre’s first four years of op­er­a­tion.

In ad­di­tion to his work at the helm of Di­ako­nia and the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre, Paddy served on myr­iad NGOs, boards, or­gan­i­sa­tions and civil so­ci­ety bod­ies.

Most re­cently, he was the chair­per­son of the Gandhi De­vel­op­ment Trust, an ad­viser to the KZN Chris­tian Coun­cil, a mem­ber of the Prov­ince Com­mis­sion on So­cial Co­he­sion and Xeno­pho­bia, and a found­ing force of the Ac­tive Cit­i­zens Move­ment.

A col­lec­tion of Paddy’s own writ­ings has been pub­lished, and he has also writ­ten three in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed books on Hur­ley, the last of which (an edited col­lec­tion of let­ters) was launched in re­cent weeks.

He was awarded hon­orary doc­tor­ates by the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal and St Au­gus­tine’s Col­lege, and a pa­pal medal, Bene Mer­enti, by Pope Fran­cis.

In 2014, eThek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity hon­oured him with the ti­tle Liv­ing Le­gend.

Although not an or­dained min­is­ter, Paddy was one of the most in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious lead­ers in South Africa in the se­cond half of the 20th cen­tury. He played a sig­nif­i­cant role in op­pos­ing apartheid and con­tin­ued to pro­mote the vi­sion of a just so­ci­ety and the need to work ac­tively to serve our poor­est cit­i­zens.

He is mourned by his broth­ers Brian and Jack and their fam­i­lies, and by the many peo­ple who he in­spired.

Paddy Kear­ney’s com­mit­ment to the poor­est in Dur­ban con­tin­ued through­out his life. Here he is with Car­di­nal Wil­frid Napier OFM, the Arch­bishop of Dur­ban, at the bless­ing of the De­nis Hur­ley Cen­tre’s satel­lite clinic amid the grime and ne­glect of the old Dal­ton Beer Hall.

RIGHT: A key pro­moter of good re­la­tions among faiths… Kear­ney at the open­ing of the Gandhi Me­mo­rial at War­wick Junc­tion with Ru­bin Philip, Emer­i­tus Angli­can Bishop of Na­tal; Ela Gandhi; and AV Ma­homed, chief trustee of the Jumma Musjid.

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Kear­ney with Arch­bishop De­nis Hur­ley, hav­ing been re­leased after en­dur­ing 17 days of de­ten­tion with­out charge. The ‘Hur­ley’ case es­tab­lished an im­por­tant le­gal prece­dent that helped Paddy and other de­tainees.

Kear­ney with his ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy of De­nis Hur­ley.

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