Paddy Kearney

Born in 1942 in Pietermaritzburg, Gerald Patrick Kearney, known fondly as Paddy, epitomised grace, integrity, humility and compassion; an astute and visionary campaigner working for peace and justice. In 1971, Paddy was employed at Inanda Seminary, an all-girls school for black students, where he was exposed to the injustices of apartheid in personal and intimate detail, and where he became an activist for justice.


For almost 20 years Paddy headed the work of Diakonia, an organisation founded by Archbishop Denis Hurley in 1976. In the 1980s the organisation trained people to set up and effectively run social action groups in the struggle against apartheid. This attracted the attention of the security forces and Diakonia offices were raided several times. Kearney was amongst the most significant Catholic leaders in South Africa in the second half of the twentieth century and played a significant role in opposing apartheid. He promoted the vision of a just society, serving the poorest and most marginalised citizens of Durban.

In addition to his work at the helm of Diakonia, as well as serving on a myriad of NGOs, boards, organisations and civil society bodies, Kearney has also written two internationally-acclaimed books on Denis Hurley and lives by Hurley’s motto: “Community serving humanity”.

Recognition and Legacy

In 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Paddy Kearney now has the distinction of being an integral part of a second significant organisation in this sector. Having tirelessly campaigned for funds, the Denis Hurley Centre will be one of Paddy’s most ambitious and far-reaching legacies. The new building next to Emmanuel Cathedral will provide an enabling environment for care, education and community for the poorest of the poor in one of the most diverse and challenging neighbourhoods of down-town inner-city Durban.

Paddy Kearney was Chair and Founder of the Denis Hurley Centre, Founding Director of Diakonia Council of Churches, Chair of the Gandhi Development Trust, advisor to KZN Christian Council and the Province Commission on Social Cohesion, amongst many other important positions. He died suddenly on the afternoon of Friday  23 November 2018 of a heart attack.