The Dean of Belfast , the Very Rev Houston McKelvey, has been awarded an OBE for services to the community in the Queen’s New Year Honours list.
Dean McKelvey, 67, holds his Black Santa charity appeal outside Belfast's St Anne's Cathedral annually and over the years has raised literally millions for charities.
The Dean said his most vivid memory was seeing people lining the street in teeming rain to give money for the victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004. The appeal raised £1.6m in a few weeks. "I think it changed those of us who were involved in it because when you are the recipient of so much goodness and kindness it changes your belief… in humankind," he said.
"There is a lot more goodness than evil but inevitably it is evil that claims the headlines."
He has been dean at St Anne's since June 2001 and has since organised the Black Santa appeal every Christmas.
The Black Santa tradition was started by Dean Sammy Crooks in 1976. Concerned at the emphasis being placed on necessary and costly building programmes at the Cathedral, Dean Crooks decided to stand on Donegal Street in front of the Cathedral and beg for the poor and charitable causes.
With a small barrel in which donations could be placed, and dressed in the familiar black, Anglican clerical cloak, Dean Crooks ‘sat out’ each day of the week before Christmas. The local press described Dean Crooks as, Belfast's Black Santa, and the description struck a lasting chord with the public.
Now Dean McKelvey is assisted on his annual sit-out by clergy and Bishops.
The Dean said of the appeal: “"It is owned by the community, almost more so than the cathedral. We are simply the organisers, but it is a community response," he added.
"In the dark times in Northern Ireland when, because of the violence, Northern Ireland people were getting a bad press throughout the world, it allowed people to say 'we are not like that, we care for our neighbours'.
"It is fundamentally, deeply, deeply spiritual beyond the tenets of all world faiths. It is something I hope that is primeval in man, that there is someone who cares for their neighbour and it is tremendous to be exposed to it."