Born in 1942 in Pietermaritzburg, Gerald Patrick Kearney, known fondly as Paddy, epitomises grace, integrity, humility and compassion. With a life dedicated to social justice and helping the poor, he was rewarded with one of the highest honours in the Catholic Church with the Bene Merenti Medal.

The medal was given to him by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the Archbishop of Durban and eThekwini Living Legend of 2010.

The medal, which was awarded to him by Pope Francis, was first awarded by Pope Pius VI in 1775 to recognise military achievements by people who fought in the papal army. However, in the past 100 years, it has been given to lay people and clergy who have made extraordinary contributions to the church.

Kearney, 75, who has been working for the church for more than 40 years, said the award came as a surprise to him.

“It seemed to be given to very holy people, and I don’t regard myself as being very holy. It was a pleasant surprise to be honoured by Pope Francis, who is a great guy,” he said.

This was not the end of the road for this eThekwini Living Legend, though. He still works with the KZN Christian Council and helps them with fundraising efforts and good governance.