He was ultimately an apostle of peace and justice, given to avoiding violence, and achieving his goals through community activism. He rejoiced in knowing that, despite everything, “How many goodly things are there here, How beauteous mankind is, O! Brave new world that has such people in it”.
He cultivated these people to his last breath. His demise creates a massive hole in the social and political fabric of this part of the world.
To those of us who knew him, he was and will always remain an outstanding example of a humanitarian, a true patriot of this country, of its people of all races, colours and beliefs, and an individual with unfailing integrity.
Kearney was a man without parallel.
And to us, the living, his friends and colleagues, who have to fight despair every minute of the day, every week and month, at the impact of the grovelling hordes of political and economic sycophants who crowd our social landscape, seeking personal benefits and individual wealth.
Kearney’s life’s work was rooted in a selfless and powerful religious belief, nurtured by his earliest encounters with learning at the St Charles College in Pietermaritzburg, and becoming a brethren in the Marist Order.
He was throughout a sincere and unflinching Christian. Kearney gave practical expression to his convictions by becoming immersed in the social and community programmes of that time, regardless of race, colour or creed.
He was a man of the poor and oppressed. We guess he believed in the South African equivalents of “sceptre and crown must tumble down, And be equal made, with the poor crooked scythe and spade” in his work towards the alleviation and reversal of the most flagrant and hateful laws and features of apartheid South Africa.
It was in this context that many of us at ACM were assisted by Kearney, the church and Diakonia.
It is impossible to distance him from Archbishop Denis Hurley, who was his mentor. He edited the magisterial biography of Archbishop Hurley’s life and their multiple contributions to the search for freedom and justice. For reasons unknown to us, the Norwegians omitted the archbishop (as they did Mahatma Gandhi) for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kearney was engaged in many organisations in KwaZulu-Natal, which were dedicated to similar ideals as his: the Diakonia Council of Churches was the principal institution through which he gave meaning to and pursued his commitments. He was the founder and chair of the Denis Hurley Centre.
He extended his expertise towards the Gandhi Development Trust and was an adviser to the KZN Christian Council, among others.
His activities and support for organisations seeking peace and justice placed him in the cruel eyes of the South African oppressive machinery and he was detained for being such a good man by the shadowy Nazis of that era, in 1985, the Security Branch.
It is impossible to convey in this brief obituary the depth and extent of Kearney’s engagement with us (the Natal Indian Congress, the United Democratic Front, the ANC and their various community offshoots).
Suffice to add he was a central figure in the community activities of these structures; he has received numerous awards (including papal recognition) for his sterling dedication to the cause of justice and peace in South Africa.
Kearney would recognise the immense burden we bear to liberate the country and free its people, despite the “woods being lovely dark and deep, but we have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep miles to go before we sleep”.