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Paddy Kearney — always for others more than for himself

Paddy Kearney’s funeral mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier at Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban on Saturday, 1 December 2018. Cathy Murugan, a Sister of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, who worked with Paddy at the Denis Hurley Centre offers a tribute to her colleague and friend, who was always for others more than for himself.

We seem to believe that some people will live forever. That’s at least what I had come to believe of Paddy. A week later, his death still shocks me. I thought that his commitment and drive to make a difference would keep him going forever.

It was not unusual to receive an email from Paddy at 4am — which was often when his working day would begin. He was passionate about creating a better society, particularly for the poor and marginalised. It was probably this zeal that led him to take on the project of establishing the Denis Hurley Centre (DHC), a non-profit organisation which would continue the work of his mentor Archbishop Denis Hurley.

Paddy holds up a framed photograph of his friend, the late Archbishop Hurley. // Cathy Murugan HFS
Paddy holds up a framed photograph of his friend, the late Archbishop Hurley. // Cathy Murugan HFS

When I reflect on Paddy’s life and what motivated him to act in favour of the poor, disenfranchised and discriminated, it is that he took seriously Christ’s teachings in the Gospels. These moulded and shaped his own way of being in the world.

Working particularly closely with him for the past two years, I saw that he was a simple and humble person who gave his life in service of others. He kept a simple lifestyle and shared his knowledge and vast experience freely.

Paddy with retired Judge Chris Nicholson. // Sr Cathy Murugan HFS
Paddy with retired Judge Chris Nicholson. // Cathy Murugan HFS

When I first started at the DHC I’d been living outside of South Africa for a few years. I had not lived in Durban for even longer than I’d been out of the country but Paddy would take me to meetings and introduce me to people that could help with my work at the DHC. It was Paddy who introduced me to Coral Vinsen. She, together with Victoria Brennan, both of them are authorities on indigenous plants, assisted me in setting up the Monsignor Paul Nadal Garden which was one of my first projects arriving at the centre.

Paddy’s name opened doors — and always for others more than they did for himself. His authority was in who he was, what he did for the poor and in being a safe refuge for many. His choices in life were about making life better for others so that they could live with dignity, the same dignity which he held of his own life. I remember driving with him to an event, in heavy rain. He felt deeply for the people he saw walking in the rain as we drove past them. He turned to me to say that had it not been for the colour of his skin, he too would in all likelihood have been walking in the rain, drenched to the skin.

Paddy at Kwa Thintwa School for the deaf started by Archbishop Hurley. // Cathy Murugan HFS
Paddy at Kwa Thintwa School for the deaf started by Archbishop Hurley. // Cathy Murugan HFS

As we shared stories of Paddy’s life one of my colleagues at the DHC, Jean Marie Ntamubano, who is also the Centre Manager gave me the following message. I think it’s fitting to include it here as a testament to the special place that Paddy held for those who worked with him.

I have known Paddy Kearney since 2007. He was my boss for 6 years in the old parish centre and the Surat Building. I used to call him ‘Sir’, but he always said please call me ‘Paddy’!

Friends and staff of the DHC agree that Paddy was a most humble, peaceful, compassionate, gentle, kind and merciful person. Those qualities came from Jesus himself. I felt comfortable, equal and had a very good relationship with him as a refugee from a war divided country, Burundi, and he had confidence in me when he gave me the job to manage the Hurley Centre.

I was always ready to go the extra mile when he called, especially in times of emergency in our workplace. He was a mobile person and loved to get things done, even if it took him beyond ordinary hours to do it. He knew that he could call on me at any time to address issues related to the Denis Hurley Centre.

Paddy would go the extra mile to assist anybody, whether financially, morally or just to call one of his many friends to ask for their help if he couldn’t, just to make sure that you are comfortable. We never heard him talk about his critics. He believed in fairness. When there was a conflict he had to deal with, he used to say: ‘throw water on that, man’, or ‘you all are big people, try and work it out’. Strife was not part of his life.

Gone before us — and too soon, Paddy, Boss, Friend, Daddy. Certainly, the precious memories of you will remain in our hearts. This is your time my mentor — and ours will surely come. In everything, we say, the Lord gives and takes, repose dans la paix du Christ mon ami, Paddy Kearney.

Your indomitable spirit, passion and commitment to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’ (Mahatma Ghandi) will forever live on and continue in all whose lives you influenced, Paddy.

Paddy in the library at St Joseph's, Cedara with Anglican bishop Michael Nutall and the college archivist. // Cathy Murugan HFS
Paddy in the library at St Joseph’s, Cedara with Anglican bishop Michael Nutall and the college archivist. // Cathy Murugan HFS

[quote author=” Daniel 12:3″ pull=”center”]Those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever[/quote]

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Cathy Murugan HFS
A Holy Family Sister presently working at the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban as a social worker and coordinating the Nkosinathi Project.

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