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For years now, Hungry for Music’s annual Holiday Feast benefit CDs have raised money for the D.C.-based foundation, which distributes instruments and otherwise supports musical education for disadvantaged children. On the latest compilation, blues singer Cathy Ponton King does double humanitarian duty, memorializing the life and work of a local friend of the homeless.
King got to know Michael Kirwan through his siblings, who attended St. Anthony’s High School with her in the ’70s. By the time he died of cancer in 1999, she’d seen enough to be “humbled [to know] someone of such giving.”
As a George Washington University grad student in 1978, Kirwan became interested in the heating-grate-dwellers near the State Department. At first, he merely brought them soup; soon, though, he was housing them in his dorm room. Eventually, he gave over his own house—bought with donations—to feeding and lodging the homeless.
From 1986 onward, Kirwan lived in a monastically spare room in what became the Llewellyn Scott Catholic Worker House of Hospitality at 1305 T St. NW, where he hosted informal seminars about voluntary poverty. He also founded the Mary Harris Catholic Worker House of Hospitality at 939 T St. NW, along with a farm in West Virginia where the poor could find respite from their city lives. (All three facilities still operate today.)
In keeping with the philosophies of the Catholic Worker movement, Kirwan put every bit of his resourcefulness into helping the disadvantaged. “He’d go around to four-star restaurants at 5 in the morning,” King recounts. “He’d get all this food, perfectly untouched, that people hadn’t eaten the night before…and bring it back to his house.”
On A Holiday Feast: Vol. VII—which also features tracks donated by such local artists as harmony group Reverb, roots-rockers Mark Mansfield & the Redeemers, and folksinger Mary Sue Twohy—King celebrates Kirwan’s life and work with a song titled, appropriately enough, “Christmas Everyday.” She and
his family hope it’ll help keep his legacy alive: “As rich as some
people are,” says Kirwan’s brother-in-law Robert Wardwell, “there’s still a need in this city.” —Pamela Murray Winters