A photo caption accompanying a Metro article yesterday misidentified a brother of Michael Kirwan, the homeless activist whose funeral was held Monday. The brother in the photo is Thomas Kirwan. (Published 11/17/99)
In death as in life, Michael Kirwan brought all walks of life together: the well-to-do and the poor, the pampered and the homeless, old lefties and unabashed capitalists, Christians and Muslims, too.
Yesterday, such disparate souls gathered to honor and bid farewell to Kirwan on his final visit to St. Stephen Martyr Church, the Foggy Bottom sanctuary where he attended 6:30 a.m. Mass almost daily for the last 25 years. Mass over, Kirwan would return to the T Street house in Northwest Washington that he shared with the homeless and begin dispensing homemade soup to whoever needed a cup of nourishment.
"In this world where wealth and affluence mean so much . . . he accepted people as who they are, whatever their problems," said Lisa Goode, a social worker with Capitol Hill Group Ministries and friend. "He understood that they were God's beloved children."
Kirwan, a member of Washington's Catholic Worker community who first took in the homeless in his dorm room as a graduate student at George Washington University, died Friday at age 54. Until a few weeks ago, his body gaunt and ravaged by cancer, Kirwan was still getting up at 4 a.m. to put on the soup pot.
"His love for everybody and how he could do that every single day" is what drew Tricia Auth, 16, a junior at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, to the funeral. "He was not self-centered. He was rare."
Kirwan's mother, Ruth, and his nine brothers and sisters, some of whom moved back to Washington as Kirwan's condition deteriorated, are determined to keep his work going. That includes two houses on T Street NW--the Mary Harris Catholic Worker House, which shelters five mentally ill elderly women and a caretaker, and the Llewellyn Scott House, where Kirwan lived. Three homeless men now live at the Scott House, but it has housed more than two dozen at a time, including a family of six who laid their heads down nightly under the dining room table.
There is a West Virginia farm as well, purchased by Kirwan in 1982 with donations to provide respite for Washington's homeless, addicted and unemployed.
"I would like to see the farm continue," said Paul Waters, who left the District streets 16 months ago to live on the 51-acre farm with its 18-bedroom house and animal barn. Waters, 57, was driven to Washington along with the farm's seven other residents to attend the funeral.
"I want to see his dream live on and on," he said.
As do his family, friends and benefactors, some of whom helped purchase the houses and farm outright. One brother, Lawrence, has agreed to live at and oversee the farm. But the funds to pay property taxes and certain operating costs and buy a tractor must be found. The women's house is likely to continue as is because it has a caretaker, said Kirwan's sister Regina Wardwell. The future of the men's house is unclear.
Kirwan never drew a salary. He lived and ran his homes solely on private donations, eschewing government, corporate and foundation funds.
"Should there be an individual with a lot of energy, like Michael, that's fine," said Wardwell, who lives in Mount Rainier. "If we can't find someone . . . maybe we can do it through an organization."
Three new blue wool blankets--the kind he distributed to the homeless during the winter--sat atop a table just within the altar area. The traditional gifts, carried up to the altar by two of Kirwan's brothers and several of the men who reside at the farm, included not only the bread and wine for the Eucharist, but also a small basket of canned and boxed food that can be used at one of the houses.
"These are things that Michael would have asked for," said Kirwan's sister Maria Owen, of Mount Rainier. "It's the kinds of things he would have wanted when he was working with his folks."
CAPTION: Nephew Michael Owen, left, brother Lawrence Kirwan and nephews Ben and Eric Wardwell embrace after the funeral service for Michael Kirwan.