The last time we had gone for a long walk together, a decade earlier, I was covering the conflict in Northern Ireland for the Globe, and he was a married man six years removed from prison. Before his arrest, he’d become the most wanted man in Britain, a hero for the Irish Republican Army whose letter-bomb campaign had maimed a dozen people and terrorized all of London. We had walked the streets of Derry, his hometown. At that time, we paused at the rooming house for British soldiers where he had planted his first bomb in 1970, when he was 15. We passed the spot in the Bogside where Barney McGuigan’s brains spilled out onto the pavement on Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British paratroopers shot and killed 14 civil rights demonstrators. We walked by the apartment in Crawford Square that O’Doherty used as a bomb factory, the one that blew up, killing Ethel Lynch, his 22-year-old assistant.
He was given his middle name because he was born on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, who was a zealous killer of Christians before his own conversion on the road to Damascus. But O’Doherty’s story is not about a miraculous religious conversion as much as a gradual spiritual evolution. He had a tug of war with God, and God won. His odyssey, from teenage revolutionary to middle-age seminarian, is a story of redemption.
"Hell," he says, shrugging. "If I can be saved, anyone can."