When history looks back at poverty and homelessness in Dublin in our times and at the attempts which were made to tackle them, three names, in particular, will be to the fore: Brother Kevin Crowley OFM, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy RSC and Father Peter McVerry SJ. Recently the first of these, at the age of 87 retired from his leading position in the Capuchin Day Care Centre, located in Smithfield, Dublin.
Here, for more than half a century he has presided over the provision of meals and food parcels to tens of thousands of people since the project was first brought into being in 1961. Back then the location was 2 small rooms at the rear of the Friary which provided 50 meals a day to homeless men. Brother Kevin decided something must be done when he saw men searching for food in the city’s bins. He asked himself; ‘What would St Francis think of us, [ Capuchin Franciscans] not doing something for them?” That was where it all began. When they started, drinking was the issue, but drugs have taken over. In the beginning Brother Kevin could never have foreseen how greatly it would expand.
Expansion and Need
The current Centre in Bow Street opened in 1992. Its doors are open 6 days a week from 7 am and it offers not only quality cooked meals but also warm showers and fresh clothes.
A doctor and nurse are present some days and services provided include counselling, chiropody and eye testing. More than 900 meals are provided every day and 1,500 food parcels are handed out to people in need every Wednesday.
There is a designated family area where parents and their children can enjoy nutritious meals in safety and comfort and link to other medical services provided by the Centre. It is the cause of huge sadness to its founder to see how the number of children in need has increased in recent years.
On his trip to Dublin in 2018, Pope Francis visited the Centre and paid tribute to Brother Kevin for his charitable work saying: “The Church has real need of this witness…” He complimented him on the fact that the Centre helped people without taking away their dignity.
The popular friar received the Freedom of the City of Dublin and has been described as a modern-day saint. He is on record as responding to the honour, by observing that whoever said that should come and live with him in order to really know what he is like!
On 7 December 2018, he was awarded the Fourth Oireachtas Human Dignity Award from the Ceann Comhairle for ‘50 years of heroism’. The Human Life, Human Rights and Human Dignity Award is presented annually by the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group to a person or group whose commitment to the promotion of human dignity has been exemplary.
Acknowledging the award, Brother Kevin said the Capuchins were dedicated to meeting the needs of their “homeless and needy friends” for as long as is necessary. “But it is our hope and prayer that one day there will be no need for our service because everyone will have the social and financial resources to live life to the full as God intended.”
Challenging the Leaders
The Capuchin friar has not held back on holding the Irish government to account over the course of his ministry and has repeatedly called on politicians to intervene to address Ireland’s ongoing homelessness crisis. He commended President Michael D Higgins for publicly denouncing the housing crisis recently as, “Ireland’s great, great failure.” Brother Kevin commented, “I was delighted to hear him say that, even though he was criticised for it. I stand by it, I think he was courageous.”
At the end of last year, the Minister for Housing wrote to Archbishop Eamon Martin asking that the Church identify vacant land and buildings that could be used to build housing. Brother Kevin wondered if the Government was looking for the Church to run the country for them. He was only one of those questioning why the State won’t build on existing land. While primarily addressing hunger, the Capuchins also donate to the housing charity the Peter McVerry trust.
Brother Kevin maintains that lack of housing is at the root of why people are still going hungry in 2022.
Looking back on his life’s work he says that he is sorry to leave the people who come to the centre because they were really his family. He has returned to his native Enniskeane in Cork.
The Centre’s wonderful Brothers, staff and volunteers will continue with their good work, but the man who was always the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night will be greatly missed.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan