Paddy Kearney. Picture: eThekwini Living Legends

Durban - Religious and human rights leader Paddy Kearney has died, a member of the Denis Hurley Centre confirmed on Friday.

Kearney was one of Durban’s most well known religious and human rights leaders at the time of his death. He passed away on Friday afternoon in hospital, aged 76.

His passing was confirmed by Raymond Perrier, of the Denis Hurley Centre, who worked alongside Kearney.

The centre’s creation was spearheaded by Kearney, and built in the name of the late archbishop Denis Hurley.

Born in 1942 in Pietermaritzburg, Kearney dedicated his life to fighting injustices of apartheid, and a champion for the poor.

Kearney had reportedly not felt well earlier in the day on Friday, and upon being taken to Gateway Hospital, he passed away due to a heart attack in hospital.

A night vigil is expected to be held at the Denis Hurley Centre on Friday night to bid farewell to Kearney, who was described as a “most wonderful soul” by Previn Vedan on Facebook.

On Saturday, the 5.30pm Mass at the Emmanuel Cathedral will be dedicated to celebrating Kearney’s life.

Kearney was awarded a special medal by Pope Francis recognising his services to the Catholic church over several decades.

In 2014, Kearney was awarded an eThekwini Living Legend award, an honorary doctorate by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and was in the process of promoting his book based on Hurley’s letter. The book was launched in Durban last week.

Perrier said: “Paddy leaves behind a huge family in the organisations that he founded and inspired. 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 for the poor, we should do more.”

Illa Thompson, a publicist who worked closely with Kearney, said the interfaith community were in deep mourning.

The Denis Hurley Centre said on Friday night: "We were shocked to hear of the news of the sudden death of Paddy Kearney this afternoon of a heart attack. Paddy had been in Johannesburg for the launch of his book of Hurley's letters on Wednesday: a hugely succcessful event at which he was reunited with many old friends.  He returned to Durban, and, thinking he might have pneumonia, he was taken to hospital by his brother Brian this morning.  To our great shock, he suffered a heart attack and died.

" Paddy Kearney was born in 1942.  He went to St Charles Marist College PMB and for some years was a brother in the Marist order.  He worked closely alongside Archbishop Denis Hurley and in recent years has written biographies and edited Hurley's letters.  He was Chair and Founder of the Denis Hurley Centre, Founding Director of Diakonia Council of Churches, Chair of the Gandhi Development Trust and advisor to KZN Christian Council, among many other important positions.   In his 76 years he was a tireless activist for the poor, the marginalised , for inter-faith partnership, social cohesion and peace".

Funeral details are yet to be announced.

A book of condolences will be made available at the Denis Hurley Centre for messages from the public.

Independent On Saturday