Fr McVerry grew up in Newry, Co. Down and was educated at the Abbey Christian Brothers’ Grammar School in Newry and at the Jesuit school at Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare.
In 1962, he entered the Jesuit Order and was ordained in 1975. From 1974 to 1980, Peter worked in the Inner City in Dublin and there he came into contact with young people who were sleeping on the streets because of their home situation. He opened a hostel for homeless boys, aged 12-16, in 1979 and this subsequently became his life-time work. He saw through the work of this hostel that when the boys reached 16 and needed to leave, they had few options open to them and most ended up back living on the streets. This realisation led him to set about providing services and accommodation for these older youths.
In 1980 Peter moved to Ballymun and by the end of 1983 he had founded the Arrupe Society, a charity to tackle homelessness. This charity, subsequently renamed as the Peter McVerry Trust, has progressed from a three bedroom flat in Ballymun to eleven homeless hostels, over 100 apartments, a residential drug detox centre and two drug stabilisation services. His vision for the charity is to support all those living on the margins and to uphold their rights to full inclusion in society. In 2016 the charity worked with over 4,500 vulnerable youths.
As a social activist Peter is a strong advocate for those who have no voice in society. He has written widely on issues relating to young homeless people such as accommodation, drugs, juvenile justice, the Gardaí, prisons and education. He has a regular article in the monthly Redemptorist magazine, Reality, and speaks on issues of homelessness, justice and faith to groups around the country. He is a critic of government policy on issues such as homelessness, drugs and criminal justice.
Now based at Peter McVerry Trust’s Open Access Centre in Upper Sherrard Street, Peter’s ongoing work with and campaigning on behalf of troubled young people has made him one of the most prophetic voices in Ireland today.
Speaking at the 50th Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in June 2013 he said: “In a community that loves one another, there should be no-one poor, (unless all are poor); there should be no-one homeless, no-one lonely, no-one sick or alone without visitors, no-one in prison who has been abandoned and written off, there should be no-one rejected or marginalized.”
The Meaning is in the Shadows is a collection of writings by Fr McVerry, which reflect on his experiences working in Dublin’s inner city. He questions the structures that affect the lives of those on the margins and makes radical suggestions for change.
Jesus:Social Revolutionary? is the new book written by Fr McVerry, challenging Christian churches to re-examine their priorities, saying that social justice should be at the heart of all that the Christian churches preach and do.
The God of Mercy, The God of Gospels (April 2016)
All books are published by Veritas, and can be ordered online here.
In March 2014 Fr Peter McVerry became 77th person to receive the Freedom of the City of Dublin. In June 2014 he was awarded the Lifetime achievement award at the Pride of Ireland awards and in June 2015 he was awarded the Human Rights Prize by the French Ambassador to Ireland Jean-Pierre Thebault.
Fr Peter McVerry has also been awarded a number of other high profile awards in recognition of his work with vulnerable young people. A list of recent awards is available here.