Kathy Piper (3/4/1937 to 26/2/2013)
Former chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission and Central America desk officer at Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR) Kathy Piper has died at the age of 75.
Kathy was a fighter all of her life. She finally succumbed to cancer after a long battle. At first the disease was defeated and went into remission for some years. Then 18 months ago it came back. Kathy was always upbeat about the disease, determined to carry on but it finally overcame her.
Kathy’s had physical battles for much of her life suffering with bad arthritis and osteoporosis. Yet despite these physical afflictions she continued to work constantly for social justice.
Kathy was born into a traditional Irish family in 1930s Dagenham, Essex. She gave up the maiden name, Murphy, when marrying her soul mate Chris Piper. The couple had three children John, Clare and Lucy. The family grew up for many years in Chadwell Heath before moving to Wanstead in the early 1980s.
It was whilst trying to make some sense of Catholicism that Kathy came to dwell more and more on the social teachings. Latin American teachers like Dom Helda Camra, Jon Sobrino and Gustavo Gutierrez made a big impact. Though looking back, she always credited her former teacher Sister Elizabeth Rendall (died 2011), with sowing the seeds of justice in her days as a young Ursuline student.
The social teachings brought the faith to life for Kathy in a way that she had never known before. She took a degree en route to getting her big break, joining CIIR. Reluctant at first to cut familial ties and take on the new challenge, she was encouraged by Chris to make the leap.
At CIIR she blossomed, working under the tutelage of then general secretary Mildred Neville and Julian Filochowski. She was sent on an intensive Spanish course, an essential skill to have when working on Central America.
Over a number of years during the 1970s and 80s Kathy worked tirelessly going to and from the war torn region. She was often a fixer behind the scenes, bringing people together and often not getting all the credit she deserved. In the early 1990s, she played a key role in bringing Professor Noam Chomsky over to lecture for CIIR.
A lifelong socialist, the liberation theologians of Latin America brought her faith to life. Over the years, a series of Latin American visitors stayed at the house in Wanstead, bringing liberation theology right into the heart of east London.
Kathy had been involved in the 1970s and 80s with the creation of the national J&P network that eventually metamorphosed into NJPN.
So when Kathy left CIIR in the 1990s, it seemed a logical step to renew her work with the network. She became chair of the Brentwood Justice and Peace Commission. The Commission thrived under Kathy’s guiding hand, setting up working groups and holding study days on not always popular subjects like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There was also groundbreaking work with refugees.
Kathy was always a great believer in the need for formation in the faith. I first came to know her when we set up a group in Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Wanstead called the Association for Relief in Crisis Areas (ARICA).
The aim of the group was to raise awareness and funds relating to poverty in the south. ARICA supported projects in Peru, India, Colombia and Kenya. Kathy joined the group contributing through her vast knowledge but it was the regular chats with her and Chris - usually over a glass of wine- that excited those of us in the group to want to do more. Kathy played a huge part in my own journey from banking to social justice journalism. She saw the need for formation in the faith and helped so many people down the years on their different paths.
As recently as two years ago, Kathy joined a group organised to develop a formation in social justice in the Church. The group foundered but her commitment to build Church was ever present.
Kathy loved the Church. She was part of the generation really excited by Vatican II. The opportunities it opened up, the challenges to be Church in the world. It inspired Kathy as it did so many others of that time to want to work for social justice as Church.
She was though saddened by recent developments, the closing in of the Church on itself. The shutting down of those inspiring voices from Latin America and elsewhere who professed liberation theology. She was particularly upset at the child abuse scandals, hurt that she felt the hierarchy never really apologised to the people for the damage done in their name. She felt betrayed.
Kathy will be sadly missed. She was a quiet inspiration to so many people. Her lifelong bravery when faced with physical challenges and determination to make a better life for the mass of people who inhabit this planet. She was also a proud mother and grandmother to John, Clare, Lucy and Ella, Kitty, Billy and Jack. She will though now go to be reunited with her beloved Chris.
* Funeral is 11.30 on Wednesday 6th March at Our Lady of Lourdes, Wanstead, London. E11