Posted: 27th March 2014

Last Saturday in Dublin’s Mansion House, when Peter McVerry SJ (OC’62) was given the freedom of the city, he saved the ceremony from becoming too solemn for himself and fellow-freeman Brian O’Driscoll. As The Irish Times reported:

Accepting the award to a standing ovation, he reassured the audience that he would be ‘available at any time to defend the city of Dublin with my bow and arrow should the Russians roll their tanks in.’” (One ancient duty of Dublin’s freemen is to protect the city from attack, arming themselves for the task with a sword, and a longbow made of yew.)

Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn said: ‘It is a great honour to be able to propose two of Dublin’s most inspirational citizens, Brian O’Driscoll and Fr Peter McVerry, for our highest award, the Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin. Brian and Fr. Peter are from different generations but they have much in common. They are both inspirational leaders. They set a remarkable example to us all by the way they apply themselves to their challenges. They are people who lead by the example they set. In their own way and in their own fields, they are both individuals who walk the walk.”

In 1979 Peter opened his first hostel for homeless boys. Since then he has built a network of eleven hostels, more than 100 apartments, and a detox centre, with 3,000 benefiting from his services last year. And yet, by his own account, he remains a failure. ‘When I started off there were 1,000 homeless people. Now it is 5,000. Brian has achieved everything in rugby. What have I achieved?’

Peter’s newly granted privileges are unlikely to affect his style of life. He is now entitled to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs dues; to pasture sheep on common ground within the city’s boundaries (this includes College Green and St Stephens Green); and to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections. While the city’s gesture may well lift his spirits, he may, one suspects, hanker gently for the beatitude promised by Jesus to those who are persecuted for the sake of justice. (Photographs by Graham Seely)

Courtesy of Irish Jesuit News

 

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