In memory of Archbishop Dennis Hurley by Phyllis Naidoo, 16 September 2009, Durban

Archbishop Emeritus Denis Hurley, centre, at the freedom march in 1989 with other religious leaders.

On the morning of the 17 August 2009, my copy of The Witness and yours held the story of Paddy Kearney’s second book on Hurley. This was followed by Patrick Leeman’s article in The Mercury of the 20 August and The Sowetan’s picture of Paddy flanked by our Premier Mkhize and Judge President Shabalala on the 27 August. I remembered some other insights of Hurley that I would like to share with you.

You cannot expect these in order in which they happened. My near 82 years makes that impossible. I shall try:

Around 1938, we moved from Pentrich to Thomas Street, the bottom end of Church Street in Pietermaritzburg. We started attending St. Anthony’s Church at the corners of Loop and Retief Streets. Here Father Gabriel was priest in charge. You noticed immediately he had a wooden leg as it squeaked noisily and mercilessly. He managed the altar and his priestly duties in that area.

The body of the Church was flanked by two areas – on the left was the choir and right was an area for whites. Very few whites came to Mass. From time to time Hurley and his mother sat here as well. He was a handsome fellow and young lasses twittered their approval.

He and his mother received Communion first. The others mostly Indian received Communion after Hurley.

As you can see this was long before The Nationalist Party came into power in 1948!

I recall teasing Hurley about white seats at St Anthony’s and why he received Communion before us. Where was his humility? He acknowledged that it was a painful period.

In 1948, my 12 year old brother Buck died very suddenly. We sought the assistance of the Catholic Church he attended - Maris Stella in Mugrave Road. It was a white church but the priest heard our confessions before Communion and we attended Mass on Sundays. When Buck died we were told that we did not belong to that church, but St. Theresa’s, in Sydenham, as we lived in Overport.

When we saw the priest in charge at St Theresa’s, he shouted that we look for the church only when we had a dead body and refused to bury Buck. My father, Simon David, a Methodist said he would seek the help of his church to bury Buck.

My mother, Violet David got everyone screaming and crying and at the same time Sisters Regis and another walked into our home. Buck was in Standard 4 at St Anthony’s school in Centenary Road, Durban.

The phone had not become part of our home and I had to accompany the Sisters to the tearoom across the road for use of their telephone. She phoned the Cathedral where the priest on duty said he was agreeable to taking the funeral, if Buck’s body was at the Cathedral at midday and not a minute later. I am not sure what happened but he was buried in a grave close to the Cathedral.

That was the last day that I went to church. Buck’s death rattled my Dad who was an agnostic until then. Many friends visited my Dad including his best friend BD Lalla who offered advice to deal with his grief. It was soon after Buck died that family prayers in the evening found its place in the family home. Later he read with the children Alan Paton’s book “Cry The Beloved Country”.

I was living in Durban while the family home moved from Umzinto to Verulam. On one occasion I visited in the evening and found the family at prayers. I sat outside the home until they were finished. My Catholic mother went to her church with some of the children.

I am glad that I had both religious parents of differing faiths as it made my choice to atheism easier. My Mum was very worried by the lack of God in my life and feared I would be excommunicated. She arranged to see Bishop Hurley. I think this is how the interview went:

“I am worried about my daughter, who does not attend church nor has she been to confession and communion for years.”

 “Who is your daughter?”

“Phyllis Naidoo.”

“She is my best Catholic! Don’t worry about her!”

Why, I do not understand!

In 1974 there were several releases from prison. Finding jobs and clothing was an ongoing job. I wrote to Bishop Hurley asking if he knew of any help available for someone who wanted to work with leather. We needed R100. He replied soon saying he had asked The South African Council of Churches (SACC) and they had no funds. (Aside the SACC wrote to me asking me on whose authority I was assisting prisoners. It was signed by John Rees - who later suffered some problems that took him to prison).

 Bishop Hurley asked soon thereafter if Paddy Kearney could sit in my office in CNR House, to see how I handled ex-Robben Islanders. I remember discussions with Paddy. The work of Diakonia began and it was better funded than my office. They were doing great work. They had a library or was it a Reading room?

In 1976, Bishop Hurley’s home, which later became the Indian Ambassador’s home in the elite suburbs, was petrol-bombed. The nuns admitted me and I found others on ladders clearing the burnt curtains. I asked for the Bishop and the nuns said he was waiting for me. I thought this was a joke and went into the garden.

He was sitting alone on a garden bench and I asked why he was alone. I will never forget what his reply was: “You don’t think I carry my church with me.”

There were many Catholics in the municipality and I expected there would be many people with the Bishop!

1977 found me in exile and after I found a job and could pay my daughter’s school fees, I sent Paddy a cheque for Diakonia in the sum of R100. I was receiving their publications and knew they were in need of funds.

When I returned from exile in 1990 I went to see Paddy after giving the library boxes of publication. Paddy, then, was best described as hostile. He mumbled that he was detained by the Special Branch for the cheque I had sent him.

At first I was confused. My son Sahdhan was assassinated in Lusaka and this had much publicity as my brother Paul had to seek permission to leave South Africa to attend the funeral. Paddy would have known, but he was very angry and went on about his detention. I eventually left.

 I visited Hurley as well and he was very happy that the Soviet Union was no more. It proved that the Catholic Church was correct about Communism. I teased that the Catholic Church would continue to be the largest land owner in the world, now that competition was no more!

When Hurley was pensioned and became a preacher at the Cathedral, I was living in a flat that belonged to a family known as Sissing, who had worked in the Coloured Affairs (an apartheid structure).

They were in a hurry to migrate to Australia and they refused to be civil to me and referred me to their attorney who was dealing with transfer of the Flat.

Even when they removed their property from the flat they refused to talk to me. Were they afraid of me or the new black government? There were two children who were not allowed to speak to me.

 Naturally I took over their Post Box and directed their letters to Australia. After sometime I opened my post and found one from the Cathedral asking for their tithes and it was signed by Bishop Hurley. I wrote to him apologising for opening the letter and told him that the Sissings had moved to Australia, and had forgotten their Catholic duties.

There was a further celebration for Hurley at the Cathedral – I am not sure why, but I attended the service which was packed. I sought him out and wished him well.

He was pleased at the crowds that attended the function and I reminded him about that lonely visit in 1976 and asked if the crowds today had not come for the biryani. “God knows, Phyllis!”

Hamba Kahle Bishop and thank you for your role in the struggle to establish democracy in our country!

Phyllis Naidoo

Durban , 16 September 2009.

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