The Capuchin Day Centre expects 3,000 people for Christmas week and is set for a busy year

The Capuchin Day Centre, under Br Kevin’s watch, expects its busiest year yet, writes Joyce Fegan
The Capuchin Day Centre expects 3,000 people for Christmas week and is set for a busy year

Br Kevin Crowley is the Corkman who has fed homeless Dubliners for decades and this Christmas, despite the upturn in the economy, he’s busier than ever.

Every day, except for Sundays, he feeds hundreds of people breakfast and dinner in the Capuchin Day Centre on Dublin’s Church St. On Wednesdays the centre gives out food parcels.

“It’s mad crazy at the moment — the number of people calling looking for stuff; last week for instance we gave out tickets and food parcels. The tickets are for food parcels for Christmas week, and, last Wednesday, believe it or not, we had 2,800 for food parcels.

“That’s huge. I reckon we’ll have about 3,000 for Christmas week. That’ll be the most ever,” explains Br Kevin, who at 80 years of age was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin earlier this year.

Last year, the day centre gave out 2,000 food parcels at Christmas.

Originally from Enniskeane in West Cork and christened William, Br Kevin came from a big family and one thing he sees most today is children being brought in to the day centre.

“Our main concern is the number of families coming in, the numbers of families coming in is huge. We still have a number of families who are going to hotels in the evening time — that is one of my main concerns,” he says.

“It’s not right in this day and age that we should have children going into hotels. How can they celebrate Christmas in a hotel room?

Volunteers prepare some of the hundreds of food parcels that are distributed daily.
Volunteers prepare some of the hundreds of food parcels that are distributed daily.

“We see people with small babies coming in. What we have at the moment is a huge demand for nappies and baby food. We don’t want to see any children going hungry.!

The centre opens its doors every morning at 7am for breakfast, feeding on average of about 260 people. For dinner, it serves about 560 daily.

“It’s amazing though, there seems to be no let-up at all,” he says.

The centre began in 1969, with Br Kevin’s arrival in Dublin from Fermoy.

Despite the increase in demand and the centre’s annual running costs of €3m, he has never worried about running short on money or food.

“The people are fantastic in donating food stuffs and donating nappies. It’s a great help to us. Without the generosity of the people we would not survive,” he says.

“St Francis never forgets us. We did not expect to have that number of people for food parcels last week and without any great preparation nobody went without a parcel.

“I never worry at all, at any time. We’ve never run short of food and we’ve never run short of money.”

It’s ever since a prayer, or perhaps an ultimatum, that Br Kevin made in 1969 that he has never run short.

“I remember, one day in 1969, I was short £1,000 for a builder who had done something for us and I owed him the money. I kept saying, ‘Where is this going to come from?’

“I remember going down to the oratory and kneeling in front of the blessed sacrament and saying, ‘Look Lord these are your people, you better get me the money’.

“So I never looked back and since then we’ve never gone short, of food or money, and that’s due to the generosity of the benefactors and all the people,” he says.

How did the builder get paid in the end? Tim Pat Coogan was the editor of the Irish Press at the time and he caught wind of the shortfall, and an article was printed about the predicament with the builder.

Christmas for Br Kevin will not be spent at home in Cork, however, and for him the season has nothing to do with money.

“Christmas Day for me, naturally enough we’ve Mass, midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and we invite those who attend to come in for a cup of tea in the friary hall and then on Christmas Day, I enjoy Christmas Day with the community. I enjoy the spirit of Christmas,” he says.

What he doesn’t enjoy is the mania of consumerism he witnesses in Dublin City during the run-up to the big day.

“It saddens me though to think so much money can be spent ridiculously and when you see the crowds in town shopping, you’d think there was going to be a famine with the excitement of the shops and it’s just one day. We always just spend Christmas in the friary,” he says.

Life wasn’t always going to be like this for him though, as, up until his late 20s, he had been just like those busy shoppers.

“I felt the calling to give my life to God. Even though I loved my job (with the CIE) and I loved my friends, I wasn’t really happy because I had this calling and I felt I wasn’t answering it,” Br Kevin explains.

Eventually, he answered it and joined the Capuchin order. “I’ve no regrets whatsoever, none, the happiest days of my life,” he declares.

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