Ask Father Doug McKay to explain what's at the heart of his ministry in Grays Ferry, and he may tell you a story about two brothers.

It's an afternoon 10 years ago, and he's sitting on the porch of his ministry house across from St. Gabe's Church.

These two brothers from the neighborhood come running down the street, one chasing the other with a butcher knife. When they pass St. Gabe's, the brother with the knife doesn't miss a beat: He switches the knife into his left hand, makes the sign of the cross with his right, and keeps on running after his brother.

"They had that faith - that mustard seed of faith," Father Doug said with a wry smile the other afternoon. "I'm here to water that faith."

It's a story that could no doubt get a few laughs at Dean's Bar or the Krunch Inn on Tuesday, when so many who have left Grays Ferry come back for St. Paddy's Day.

But Father Doug's work is deadly serious, and that's not lost on anyone who comes from the once largely Irish working-class neighborhood.

And especially to those he helps through his recovery-based effort, Our House Ministries.

Just listen to Michael as he grabs a smoke before the afternoon AA meeting. He is 51 and says he has been sober for 110 days.

Of Father Doug, he says, simply, "There is nothing that man won't do for us."

There have been so many Michaels over the years.

That's why Father Doug, 63, will receive the St. Rita's Peace Award, given each year at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia.

The award, which will be delivered at a banquet in May, goes to someone who fosters peace. In Father Doug's case, for battling the violence of addiction - the ravages it exacts on body and spirit.

"He offers the possibility of redemption," said Father Joseph Genito, who oversees the award.

Father Doug has never really left Grays Ferry.

He grew up on Oakford Street and fought and drank - and, eventually, found his priestly calling - in the neighborhood bars.

As a young priest stationed outside the neighborhood, he returned to those saloons, ministering to drowning men and abandoned wives.

Later, when drugs sowed so much suffering and shame, he would bless the bodies of overdosed teenagers in crack houses and minister to the families of suicide victims.

In those enslaved by addiction, he saw Jesus suffering.

In their isolation, he saw the neediest of the needy, the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick.

"I feel holiest right here on this corner with you," he would tell them.

For years, he kept a presence in Grays Ferry - to water those seeds.

Neighborhood friends helped him clean the rowhouse across from the church. Then the one next door, and the one next door to that, and the one next door to that.

He offered Masses in a living-room chapel. It soon got too crowded.

When it was clear he was needed most in the neighborhood, he came home for good.

Last year, Bill Shea decided to retire and close his funeral home. The neighborhood helped Father Doug turn the viewing room into a prayer space and the upstairs into a living area for men in recovery.

"Lord, Bill buried the dead here for so many years, now you can help us raise the dead," Father Doug said when he blessed the place.

He says Mass there every Thursday. The chairs were filled the other night. Father preached the possibility of grace.

Afterward, he talked with a woman whose son he recently persuaded to enter recovery, and then with a man named Billy, 54, who has lost it all - twice - to drugs, and now works through it in the daily Masses and meetings and conversations with Father.

"That man is a living saint," Billy said.

The bars will be full Tuesday. Raise a glass if you like. But better yet, say a prayer for Father Doug, for the work he does, and the men and women he helps.

215-854-2759 @MikeNewall