The requiem mass held at the Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban for Paddy Kearney was a mixture of Catholic pomp and ceremony and the simple touch.
A moving tribute penned by a homeless person was read, in line with of Kearney’s approach of giving a voice to the voiceless.
As the ceremony began, and the coffin - a simple one, strewn with rose petals - was wheeled in, the cathedral became suffused with light. Eskom had been load shedding but, almost uncannily, power was restored at that moment. It seemed to shine a light on the man’s own powerful life.
Government officials, both provincial and national, Durban councillors, representatives of different Christian churches, academics and publishers were present. But so were refugees and the homeless. As Father Stephen Tully, who conducted proceedings, said: “Nobody is out of place here.”
Raymond Perrier, director of the Denis Hurley Centre, pointed out that the doors and windows in Paddy’s house had always stood open, reflecting “a glimmer of God’s love”.
“He was a small, quiet man but was held up as a giant by many,” he said.
The homeless person wrote: “Earth has lost one human soul and heaven won an angel.”
The homily was given by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier.
Retired Anglican Bishop Michael Nuttall said some members of the press had referred to Kearney as “Father”. Nuttall said he saw nothing wrong with this - they had possibly viewed him with such esteem, in their eyes he had to be a priest.
“Paddy showed us not only bishops and priests can lead,” said Nuttall.
Kearney chose the hymns he would like at his funeral; the text of five had been written by his mentor, Archbishop Hurley. His favourite Biblical readings formed part of the service.
Professors Jack and Brian Kearney gave insight into the youthful Kearney, with Brian reading out comments on behalf of them both.
Telling how his brother, Gerald Patrick, became known as Paddy, Brian said: “A German U-boat had sunk HMS Ark Royal the previous year. Our mother didn’t approve of a nickname ‘Gerry’ (with German connotations) so he became ‘Paddy’ (his Irish roots).”
At age 9, Paddy listened eagerly to readings from books, especially Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
As an adolescent he would disappear for long chats with a close friend, showing “his availability for close participation with others,” said Brian.
“We three brothers used to build huts in the bush below our garden. Maybe this was where Paddy formed his feeling for the destitute.”
A weeping Elizabeth Mkame, 81, shared with the Tribune: “I worked with Paddy at Diakonia between 1976-99. He was generous with his knowledge, helping people to develop themselves, while developing others.
“He started a sabbatical programme for Diakonia staff. Through this I got to visit Holland, the US and Kenya. And he never forgot a birthday. I got a phone call every year,” she said.