Remembering Doryne Kirby: ‘Could We Ask For Open Minds?’

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

The Lives Lived piece in the Tuesday, May 24 edition of The Globe and Mail cannot go without comment.

Doryne Therese Adele Kirby was a remarkable woman and the Lives Lived reflection about her life is appropriately amazing and rich in content. Thank you Karen Hunter, Doryne’s niece by marriage, for sharing. There is also the matter of a local connection: a Loretto sister, Doryne taught at St. John Bosco School in Port Colborne early in her career. A distinguished social justice activist (among many other causes and involvements), Doryne spoke in Welland, at St. Kevin parish, as its 2011 Distinguished Speaker.

The Distinguished Speaker appearance can be credited to a reflection on poverty she had penned for Persistent Poverty, published in 2010 by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition. Her piece appeared in a chapter titled Theological Reflections on Poverty, one of five such submissions from writers of various faith backgrounds. After reading it, I knew she had to be part of our Distinguished Speaker series.

As I recall, before the evening started, she entertained us with snippets of her past, including a stint with a well known dance group early in her life: the Radio City Rockettes! As Karen Hunter writes, “…her passion for working for social justice was, like dancing, in her genes.”

I’m sorry I missed the notice about her passing. As late as this is, a tribute to this distinguished woman, not just distinguished speaker, is still in order. Ignoring it without even this small recognition would be an injustice. So, I’ve provided the text of her piece as it appeared in Persistent Poverty, (when in Welland, she gave me permission for its use for social justice promotion).  You should also know that her subsequent address at the parish was an extension of sorts – Don’t Give Up, an exhortation to charity, social justice and community groups to continue on in their efforts against poverty. Don’t give up!

Seeking solutions to poverty: What is the Christian response?

By Doryne Kirby

The response is love – Christian or otherwise. And what, precisely, does that mean?


Doryne Kirby

If we look at the situation of persistent poverty in Ontario, what is it we see? What repels us? Mostly what we see is the heart of those caught in the midst of the mire that is poverty. We can describe the physical poverty – and this happens all the time. Hungry children, teenagers and adults, who are all without food or have so little food they think of little else. Or else they have their minds bent on activities, however violent, that seek outlets from gnawing stomachs. How can we expect young people to find satisfaction in school, when they mingle with those who do not suffer from hunger pangs? These students are impeded from growing into a sense of their own dignity and importance.

What is the home environment of these hungering human persons in persistent poverty? True, not all of those caught in the despair of poverty will live in circumstances of disarray, or disastrous overcrowding, with dismal or diminished home furnishings. Yet the home environment will leave much to be desired. Are the children penalized and caught in a cauldron of nothingness? Do the environmental situations destroy their ability to feel good about themselves and life in general?

Love leads the way in seeing what is happening to the “person” of those caught in persistent poverty, and it urges us to move towards an alleviation of these situations.

Seeing this picture – which is more than just viewing the broad picture – is haunting especially when we see and touch the very person affected by poverty. This is looking at reality! Yes, and it is difficult to reach out and embrace the effects of poverty that crush the minds and hearts of those caught in its all-empowering grip. It is difficult to see the ugliness of the violence that so often ensues.

All children and youth, especially those consumed in persistent poverty, crave role models. When people are disrespected, they find easy outlets in untoward behaviour. The hungry heart of a youthful braggart becomes resistant to kindly overtures and is hard to love.

Our middle-class contentment in the “status quo of plenty” can cause myopic vision. Even when we clearly see the physical effects of poverty, we can find it difficult to understand its painful damaging effects. We complain and cry out at a lack of vigilance in the behavior of those abandoned to persistent poverty and then remain lacklustre about the phenomenon, not seeing its origin or taking effective action to circumvent the harmful causes.

Love gives sight beyond ugly exteriors and hears – yes, love hears – the hungry cries of an abandoned heart yearning for acceptance.

It is impossible to fully understand the persistence of poverty in Ontario. How does it happen in Canada, in Ontario, that people like you and me are so resistant to taking the steps necessary to change attitudes and engage in appropriate action towards the elimination of persistent poverty? What steps are required?

Could we ask for open minds? Can we begin by suggesting that the persistent poor are not harbingers of their own misery or not just getting what they deserve for being lazy? How about looking into the personal investments that are often made to keep the poor in their place- in order to ensure me of my own personal prosperity?

Seeking solutions will involve making an honest assessment of situations. Good solutions will see the inner persons of the sisters and brothers in our world, all of them as loving creations of an all-embracing Creator God, desirous of a world in which justice and compassionate relationships can reign supreme.

Yes, solution seekers are honest enough to say –“persistent poverty is wrong, is evil and my personal integrity is on the line if I continue to contribute to its existence, its maintenance.”

For Christians, the following of Jesus is the ultimate awareness and model of response to knowing how our generous and giving God would have us care for the less fortunate, those unaware of their own integrity and wholeness.

Never give up! This is the key to seeking the elimination of the persistent poverty that nags at the essential goodness of the people of Ontario. We do not adequately help , not because we are inherently bad but just because we are inherently blind – for the most part. Selfishness and greed and the urge to power and domination jeopardize the ability to live in healthy relationships in society. Physically, psychologically, the poorest pay for our neglect. If we perpetuate poverty, we become spiritually and emotionally deprived.

So the journey continues for each of us – imbibing to the fullest the awareness of God’s continued Presence in our midst, especially among all the poor of this world, both materially and psychologically.

The response, Christian or otherwise, can be summed up in the words of Dom Helder Camera, who once said, “When one dreams alone, it is only a dream. When we dream together, it is the beginning of reality.”

See! Judge! Act! Peer into the world and be aware of Gods’ Presence throughout the tiny aspect of Creation. This mystery of Presence in myself, in the other, prompts us towards those actions respectful of a loving God. And the inevitability of the living out of such a reality will surely have a positive influence in lessening the situation of persistent poverty in Ontario.

Note: If you would like to read the Lives Lived submission, follow the link provided:

Doryne Kirby died Feb. 19, 2016, aged 88, of cancer.

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