A legacy of love

Second Reading

A WELCOME FOR ALL Brother Kevin Crowley founded the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People in 1969.

Humanitarian Brother Kevin Crowley retires at 87

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

The American Jesuit priest and poet Daniel Berrigan wrote that “the tragic beauty of the face of Christ”, is to be seen in the poor, the abandoned old and immigrants.
It is a fundamental insight of christianity that faith in God need to be actualised in practical compassion for those who are marginalised, oppressed and rejected by society. Leo Tolstoy in his fine short story ‘Where love is, God is’, enfleshes this insight.
Martin Avdeith is a highly respected shoemaker in a Russian town. His personal life has been beset by tragedy.
His wife died young, leaving him to care for their three-year-old son. All their other children did not survive infancy. As a young adult, his son contracted a fever and died soon afterwards.
The accumulation of grief led Martin to abandon his Christian faith. God either did not exist or was a tyrant.
Many years later, he met a missionary who gently led him back to belief. He began to read the bible every evening after work. One evening he read the passage about a Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his home. Later in bed in his dreams he thought he heard the voice of God telling him that he would visit him the next day.
Throughout the day Martin wondered if the dream would come through. His first encounter was with a poor old man, Stepanych, who was sweeping snow in the streets. Martin invited him in for a hot drink and a chat. He told him the story about Jesus and the pharisee. Stepanych left revived in body and spirit.
His next encounter was with a young woman whose soldier husband was away at war. She had been evicted from her accommodation. She was carrying a little baby inadequately dressed for the freezing cold. He brought her into the warmth of his house, gave her money and wrapped the baby in an old jacket.
His last meeting was with a poor old woman who eked out a meagre livelihood by selling apples. She was angry with a young boy who stolen from her cart. Martin helped to bring reconciliation between them by showing compassion and understanding to both.
That night Martin went to bed wondering why God had not fulfilled his promise of a visit. In his dreams he heard three times, “Martin, Martin, don’t you know me?”, and out stepped Stepanych, the young woman and the boy. Overjoyed, Martin woke up and opened the Bible where he read: “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and  you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me in prison and you came to see me … In as much as you have done this for the least of my brethren you have done it to me!”
That gospel has shaped Brother Kevin Crowley’s life. For the past 53 years he has devoted his life to the care of people in need in Dublin. A native of Inniskeen in Cork, he first worked for CIE. An advertisement for recruits to the Capuchin order caught his eye and changed his life.
The order was founded in the 16th century inspired by St Francis of Assisi who had a special charism for those haunted by poverty. The saint’s vision attracted Kevin Crowley.
He established the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People in Dublin City centre in 1969. He had seen people looking in dustbins and taking food out of them.
In the beginning the centre fed 50 people a day. It now has 200 for breakfast and between 600 and 700 for lunch from Monday to Saturday. A thousand food parcels are distributed on Wednesdays. Baby requisites are provided on Mondays. Personal care, addiction help and counselling services are also available. People are welcomed without judgement on their lifestyles. The centre is funded mainly by private donations.
At the age of 87, Brother Kevin has just retired. He has ensured his ministry will continue. In the week that we remembered one native of West Cork, Michael Collins, who died in the service of his country, it is appropriate that we honour another West Corkonian who made life bearable for so many.