When people in Dublin talk about the Capuchin Day Centre, the name Br. Kevin Crowley immediately springs to mind.
For over 50 years, this Capuchin Friar has become synonymous with helping the poor and homeless of the city.
Br. Kevin’s story of tireless service began 1969, when he established a day centre in the heart of the city after seeing that a number of people were leaving a hostel near there in the morning and walking the streets with nowhere to go during the day.
The Capuchin Day Centre provides hundreds of meals each day and over 1,500 food parcels each Wednesday to the homeless and poor of Dublin.
It also offers a medical service, chiropody clinics, an optical service and advice and information clinics.
Br. Kevin has seen Ireland during the most difficult of times, including a recession in the 1980’s, the financial crisis, the COVID pandemic, and now a cost of living crisis.
As the director prepares to retire at 87 after decades of tireless work, he laments that in 2022 many people are facing serious economic difficulties.
He also reiterates that not enough is being done to provide families in Dublin with affordable housing.
“The housing situation is cruel; people are finding it most difficult to be housed. And then as well as that, families are finding it almost impossible to make ends meet, and that’s a huge crisis.
What I’m witnessing most at the moment is the fear of the unknown at what is going to be the future, and will things get worse rather that better; and at the moment, the way I see it, especially for the poor people, and not just necessarily for homeless people, or people who are struggling in their jobs, and especially young people; it’s almost impossible for them to get a mortgage for a house,” he says.
He points out that until more affordable homes are built, there is going to be a crisis, not just for the homeless but for young couples who want to get a foot on the housing ladder.
He also highlights that the cost of renting at the moment is “absolutely frightening for people.”
Cost of living
The Capuchin Friar expresses his sadness that in 2022 “we have people queuing up here every day for food and especially on a Wednesday morning we have over a thousand families coming for food parcels, and then on a Monday morning we have around two to three hundred mothers and babies queuing up.”
“That should not be the case in 2022,” he says.
Br. Kevin points out that the Centre has seen an increase in the amount of people coming for food. The biggest crisis, he says, is not being able to afford rent and household bills which have gone up considerably in the last few months due to the ongoing cost of living crisis which has hit many parts of Europe.
When the director started the Capuchin Day Centre in 1969, he notes that there was the “problem of drink”. Now, he says, the problem is drugs, adding that “it’s frightening to see the number of kids out selling drugs.”
A Papal visit
Nearly four years ago on 25th August 2018, Pope Francis made his way down Dublin’s inner city streets amid bunting and Papal flags to the Centre to greet Br Kevin, his team and the poor and needy.
During the private visit, the Pope said that the Capuchin Fathers have “a special understanding of the people of God and especially with the poor.”
“The highlight of my life in the Day Centre was to see the Holy Father coming up Bow Street in the Pope mobile,” says Br Kevin. He adds that the visit was all about the homeless people with no dignitaries present. He also remembers vividly the Pope’s words that day, especially the phrase “dignity and respect for every human being,” which he says, “is exactly what we have certainly emphasized during all my years in the Centre.”
The people who come to the Capuchin Day Centre have their own stories to tell about what brought them there to seek help. Br Kevin stresses that they don’t ask any questions because “we feel that it is difficult for people to come into a place like ours without putting all sorts of questions to them.”
He recalls one occasion some years ago when a woman drove up in a car asking for help. “I happened to say to her if you can afford a car, is there a need for you to be coming here. She brought me to her car and she said, ‘this is my home; this is where I’m living.’ She showed me her hands and feet where she was being beaten and battered by her husband. So, to this day I would never ask anybody why they come here.”
The Capuchin Friar has many memories of the Centre that has been his life for more than fifty years. When asked what he’ll miss the most about his work, he says it “will be the people coming in every morning and every afternoon.”
“I make sure I go to meet those and have a little talk with them. They’ll always say it’s nice for somebody to recognise us and make sure we’re ok.”
Although Br. Kevin hails from Cork in the south of Ireland, he leaves an indelible mark on the people of Dublin for his tireless work and humble service.
“As long as the Capuchins will be in Ireland or in Dublin, the Day Centre will still be there, and I hope and pray that we continue in a far better way than I was doing it, and I’m sure it will.”
As Br. Kevin bids farewell to the Centre and returns to his native Cork, he says he will be leaving behind great friends.
“I love each and every one of them, and especially I love the homeless people.”
Photo: WMOF2018/Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference