Off to the Missions
As a General Council of such far-spread communities we had taken time to study the directive left us by the General Chapter, to start a serious study of the problems left us by the Council, which would occupy our concern during our forthcoming mandate. We then divided the work into various committees in order to narrow down the work of each one of the eight Assistants General. There were projects suggested that would have to be studied and there were also specific needs of our fast-growing Marist missions. I was fortunate and most happy to be asked to be part of the Mission Commission, for my heart had been hungry for working on the missions. Those of us on this special commission spent several months on inspection trips and would return to France to be on deck for the several months of close work for the General Council.
We paired off in small groups for certain functions and also chose a confrere to look after our mail, to answer special requests on our behalf during our absence, and to check on our candidates at the Second Novitiate or other training centers. It was my good fortune to work closely with Bro. Hilary Mary (Conroy), the newly appointed Assistant General for Australia, New Zealand, and the various missions of the area. He took care of the visitors from my Provinces, and I then took care of his Marist religious and friends during his absence from Rome. That was the start of a very warm friendship that I would like to come back to later. We were to be real buddies.
We were now familiar with the standard procedures followed for the meetings, for the planning of the various trips, and for the reports to be presented to the General Council upon our return. We were left free to prepare our trips and to make sure that we visited each place and its Brothers at least twice in each three-year period, as our mandate was for a nine-year term. We received great help from the travel agencies and I can now say that the agency that we had in Rome was a tremendous help to all religious, succeeding in providing the best mode of travel for the lowest fares. The agency was a kind of subsidiary of the Jesuit Fathers, and close to the Vatican, called RAPTIM.
My first itinerary was set out to become familiar with areas that I knew little about. I was especially anxious to visit Sri Lanka, which was the mission of the Chinese Province, now settled mostly in Asia since China was closed to missionaries. The trip would take me from Paris to Lebanon, where I would make a short stop on business for our schools in that country. We had several schools and communities at the time whereas now we have only three main schools there.
It was to break the trip from Paris to Singapore that I made a stop to visit our Marists in the Middle East to see the schoolwork undertaken and get a bit of rest at the same time. I could handle the French and felt right at home with these Marists, who had very few visitors and were doing an exceptional job quite successfully with the Lebanese and French Marists working together. The Brothers were held in high respect and I admired their organization. I would have a favorable report for the Superiors at our General Council meetings upon return. I felt the warmth of the Brothers and their high expertise with the running of schools. After my few days there I continued on to a new territory that had been assigned to me and had become my own in many ways. This was the mission that I had inherited from the famous Bro. Jean Emile in charge of the China Province and its mission of Sri Lanka. At that time I knew very little about Sri Lanka, but it was destined to become my very favorite mission.
After eighteen years in charge of the missions in this island country, I felt very close to the Brothers, especially to the mission aspect where Buddhists and Christians lived together so well with only occasional difficulties with the Tamils, who had left South India and tried to occupy the northern end of Sri Lanka. At this point I could search in the World Almanac and furnish statistics for each new country I will speak about, but that is not the purpose of these reports.
It is well-known that the missionaries came long ago to visit this beautiful country and mix with the other faiths and live together in peace. Sri Lanka has always been a great place to come for vacations and for rest from worries. It has had its own internal and foreign problems, but it has also been the envy of many tourists for the quiet and beauty that it has to offer. The local people have their own version of what one should think of this little island country. Their version is that the Lord was really displeased with Adam and Eve when He found out that they had disobeyed Him and had eaten of the forbidden fruit. He had to punish them, of course, but being the kind father that he was, He placed them in Sri Lanka instead of the Garden of Eden because it was the next best place after Heaven. Like any other country, Sri Lanka has had its ups and downs and especially so with the neighboring country of India whose Tamils came into the country and wanted part of it for themselves. The problem continues to this day.
Some of our French Brothers had come to start our work in Sri Lanka and our Brothers got along very well with the Buddhists who also ran schools. When they came to our schools for studies or to visit, they were well-received by our Brothers, and so it was with our Brothers who attended some of the Buddhist colleges. We were invited to eat with them as they respected our religious life and especially our dedication to education.
The first surprise I had in Sri Lanka was when I saw the many cattle, people, and some elephants walking through the villages going busily about their work. I still recall seeing a big fuel drum of petrol fastened with rope to a cart being pulled by oxen. The reason why it struck me as so odd was that the filled drum had its trademark on the side of the tank: Esso. There were very few cars, with mostly cattle and people sharing the dirt roads. That was in 1959 and I can assure you that it is no longer like that. The streets have been paved and widened but there is still quietness about the place, and no one is in a rush to get anywhere.
When I arrived there I learned about our first arrivals in the original Ceylon in 1911, and that they were much appreciated. In fact of the five Bishops or Archbishop in Ceylon, at least three of them are Marist alumni. Of the first four Brothers who arrived from France, one had died early, two left to return to France, and only one remained, who was introduced to me as the real Founder of the Sri Lanka mission. It was Bro. Francis Anthony, who was very respected by all the Brothers and alumni and left his mark on the country. He was after me until he died to get started with a mission of the Marists in India. He so wanted that grace before dying, and he was delighted when we first started the transactions to get going in India and then later in Pakistan.
At the time I came to Sri Lanka, our outstanding school was Marist Stella in Negombo. We had three or four other schools, and one of them up-country in Bandarawela. It had a tremendous reputation and to this day it is exclusive and appreciated. When we left it due to lack of Brothers to continue the work, it was taken over by the Buddhists, who still call it St. Joseph’s and have the picture of St. Joseph on the wall hanging in the interior court and play area.
We have few schools in Sri Lanka, but those we do have are exceptional. As mentioned before, of the five or so Bishops in the country, three are “Old Boys” of the Brothers as they call themselves. Marist Stella has been excellent in graduating students with high academic achievement as well as students who are well-versed in sports. The Brothers live simply, and do a lot for the poor of the area, especially the parents who have been pleased to let their children join us in our work. The Province has been under the charge of Sri Lankan Marists. The original training house slowly became an exceptional chicken farm, started by a German Marist who had been a missionary in China and came to Sri Lanka. Nearby there is the Postulate and Novitiate where the Juniors are still close to the farm. For a while the General Administration furnished the funds to provide a quiet Novitiate near the new Cathedral of Our Lady. There are seven of the eight schools operating today. A good number of the students are not Catholics but appreciate the good education that they are offered. Champagnat would be proud of his men and their quiet work and dedication to Mary. There are very few missionaries left, and all the administrators now are Sri Lankans.
I wish to single out two Brothers out of so many who were in charge over the years who have left their mark on the Sri Lankan community: Brother Anthony, the first missionary from France, and Bro. Peter Berchmans, the outstanding native. It is a credit to this Province that in spite of its few members it was willing to help out in the Foundation of the Marist Brothers in India, and especially to accept Pakistan as its own foreign mission. Our Sri Lankan Marists have been dedicated to the poor in our schools and also dedicated to the hard work on the farms, providing a way of life to the poor and needy. The Champagnat spirit is very much alive here. My first visit was too short and I promised myself to stay longer next time, and I have done just that, even returning there for a rest and vacation when I was no longer a representative from the General Administration. It has always been a home for me to come to.
The next stop was Singapore, which is an island country exceptional for its international business. It is a storing place for goods that come from all of Asia to be reshipped mostly to the West. Many of the people of Singapore were Chinese who left the mainland to be able to quietly practice their religion. There are also a number of Indians and Portuguese. Singapore is a bit strict in its demands on its people, but I would say that it is the cleanest and neatest of all the countries of Asia. We were teaching at the Catholic school there for some time, and the children of the prime minister came to our school. Later, we started our own Maris Stella primary and high school, and in true Chinese style it became a first-rate school very well supported by the many Chinese and Indian alumni who had attended our Marist schools in China and were pleased to have their children continue with us here in Singapore. We have one of the best kindergartens of all Asia, and our alumni of all denominations make good use of it. It enjoys a tremendous reputation, as do our other schools in Singapore. This is pivotal point for travelers and a place to stop for a break on many of the long flights going both East and West. It is convenient and a fantastic island country “mall” where visitors can enjoy the products of almost every country of the world.
My first visit here was mostly as a stopping point, but I would later come for the official visit. This was only an introductory visit to get to know our men and our work here. As I said already, my first impression is one of thorough cleanliness. It is a country of discipline and strict observance of principles. I was very much impressed by the teaching facilities here, and I would eventually get more involved for the foundation of our first kindergarten by the senior Chinese Brother of the Province: Brother Alphonse, who at 94 was still going strong. I will talk more about him and his kindergarten later.
This was my very first opportunity to visit some of the first Marist missions that had been established at the time of our saintly Founder. These were the missions he himself had so desired to serve as a missionary, but was unable to do so due to the need for him to supervise a very young congregation of Brothers, a job that took up most of his time from the very beginning. He had been satisfied with choosing carefully the Brothers that he sent and gave them all the preparation that he could. As he had so often said, “All the Dioceses of the world fall under our eagerness to serve.” As I had been asked to form part of our Marist Mission Committee, I was keen in my desire to visit one of the very early missions. Besides, at the time we had two American Brothers helping the French Provinces. This would be a precious occasion, and that was why I stopped in Australia for a quick visit, since Sydney was the closest point to most nearby missions. This was the place to come for all who wanted to visit our early missions. Our Brothers in Australia were well-acquainted with procedures and the best and safest way to visit these missions.
The two American Brothers referred to above were stationed in New Caledonia and that was where I wanted to go for my first stop to a Marist mission. Our two Yanks were completely taken by surprise and most pleased. Bro. Charles Raymond and Bro. Henry Firmin were both from New England Franco-American families and were happy to serve in one of our earliest Marist missions. But theirs was a five-year pledge quite different from the early missionaries of our congregation. I admired the many old Marists still living and very well-occupied each place I went and they wanted to know if more would be coming to help them out. They took me to some of the nearby islands where some of our other Marists were active such as Isle des Pins. They took great pleasure at meeting someone from the Mother House, especially if he could talk French.
I had wanted to visit with more than just two Yanks. What always put me in touch with our Marist roots was a visit to the cemetery. No matter where I went, I wanted to see the cemetery, and I spent a long time praying there. I spent some time in our cemeteries, marveling at the various graves where many of the deceased had lived beyond ninety years of age. They’d come as young missionaries to work and die in a foreign land and had never once returned home for a visit. In those days that was the rule, and it was accepted in that type of service of the Lord. I knelt and prayed for these valiant Marist missionaries and asked the Lord to give me some of that same spirit in this new mission or assignment that I had received at our Chapter.
I knew that we were assigned for nine years, little knowing that my service would eventually be for eighteen years. I had always wanted to go to the missions, and I recall when we started the mission of the Philippines on June 20, 1948. I was at the college then, and had asked the Provincial to please consider me as a candidate at any time. His answer was direct and sincere: "You have a mission to do right here; do it." He was right, of course, but the Lord had an even greater mission in mind for me at the time that I did not and could not realize. It was the vastness of the territory that I was to cover as Assistant General of the Marist Brothers, and specifically working on the Mission Commission. This assignment would take me to a greater part of the globe than I could ever imagine. There have been so many concrete examples for me to realize that it is always better to do your best and leave everything in the hands of the Lord. He has a greater and certainly better vision!
My first visit to the various missions was mostly a get-acquainted visit. I had returned to the U.S.A. to get my clothing and to help solve the immediate problem of separating the United States into the two Provinces: the Esopus Province and the Poughkeepsie Province. The Provinces had been preparing for this move for quite some time already and it was agreed in the fall of 1958, after I returned from my first courtesy visit to the initial missions of the Institute, the various Provinces were to be assigned to me. I had stopped briefly in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore as well as in Manila and then to Sri Lanka.
Now on this visit we had the time for personal interviews with each Brother as well as assessment of the financial status of each house to become familiar with the needs and problems that would have to be faced and solved. It was impossible for me to visit anyone in China proper. First of all, there were just a few Brothers remaining in mainland China, and they were managing the best they could in the areas of Beijing and Shanghai. All of our schools had been taken by the government, as well as our winery at Chala. Brothers were looking abroad for some possible teaching jobs and were encouraged by our many alumni who had also left the country to settle once more in various cities or countries that welcomed our Chinese and foreign Marists. We received much help from our alumni. I could never think of visiting the few Chinese Brothers on the mainland, but I had not forgotten them. It wasn’t until 1982 that I could find a safe method of visiting the few remaining Chinese Marists.
The China Province was started in 1891 when the first few missionaries came, mostly from France and with a few German and Spanish Marists as well. They started a good number of schools and from the beginning stressed the learning of the French language whereas other Marist missions stressed the English language. Our outstanding French school was known as Jeanne d’ Arc and the English one was St. Francis Xavier. Most of the more well-off Chinese were eager to have their children trained in English or French schools. It was a plus for them to have all these outstanding foreigners here to teach and to operate schools for the Chinese.
We were soon getting candidates to become Marist Brothers. As we did in every country we went to, we tried our best to get qualified native teachers and helped those interested in joining the Marist congregation by organizing Juniorates and Novitiate training. Many of our graduates became alumni, teaching with us, and some of the more serious joined the congregation of the Marist Brothers.
These were good years of blessings and success, and we profited by them. The alumni were loyal and a tremendous help to us during the years of teaching, and also later during the period of persecution. The country became strongly communist, and that is when the trouble started. Many native Chinese were joining the foreign input and were slowly getting away from the communistic system. The result was an outbreak of trouble, and just fifteen years after the foundation of the Province a group of our Chinese candidates and Brothers were martyred in 1906 during the Boxer Rebellion.
We had a good number of schools by that time in various cities, and many Chinese were eager to learn the various languages that we were teaching in our schools. Besides English, there were also schools teaching German and some Spanish. As was mentioned above, our two schools with the best results were the St. Francis Xavier College for English and the St. Jeanne d’Arc for the French. Our French Brothers started the winery at Chala, which had exceptional success. As soon as the Chinese government began to take over some of our schools, they also planned to take over the successful winery. The Chinese families from the much earlier time of Saint Thomas coming there as a missionary had developed a very strong devotion to Mary, the Mother of the Lord, and they joined the churches and the various devotions and loyalty to the saints and especially to Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Our Brothers were involved with the Legion of Mary and were spreading devotion to Mary wherever they went.
But the communists were against devotion to Mary. That was why our Bro. Joche Albert was publicly martyred on April 21, 1951. He had prepared a fine group of young men and women who had joined the Legion of Mary. This irritated the Chinese government tremendously, and to make a lesson of their objection to the Catholics and this devotion to Mary, they assembled the twenty-four converted young people at a public square where they had Bro. Joche Albert on his knees with hands tied behind him. They lined up the young people in from of him, and they wanted to show to the people what they thought of the Legion of Mary so they killed every one of the recent converts and then put a bullet through the head of Brother Albert. This was their warning. We are told that a nun in secular clothes had been obliged to attend that function, and after the people left and things were quiet she went to dip her handkerchief in the blood of Bro. Joche Albert as a relic of his martyrdom.
During this same period the Marist Brothers were doing their best to send all their young trainees out of the country to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. Many of our young people came to Macao and to Hong Kong, and it was from Hong Kong that each year three or four of the young candidates were sent to Marist College to complete their studies. From the early ’50s and for the next fifteen years we had close to fifty-nine young Chinese who came to Marist College to complete their education. These were the Brothers who returned to Asia and were assigned to our schools there in Malaysia and Singapore as well as in Hong Kong. As many as possible who wanted to leave China were allowed to come to join our work outside of China proper.
If one visits our main house on Flower Road and in the living room of the Brothers one can see the framed annual photos of the Chinese Province on mainland China. One can see the hundreds of candidates, Juniors or Postulants, and all the Novices as well as all the professed Brothers united at the close of an annual retreat for a majestic photo of all the personnel of many of our schools. It was a glorious Province at one time and being chased out of China proper was the occasion for our spreading to other countries, and to many cities all over Asia.
It was on June 3, 1949, that we started our schools in Malaysia, in August 1949 that we also started in Singapore, and on the 20th, 1951, that we started our St. Francis Xavier College in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The young Chinese who came to Marist College would then go back after graduation to work in Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong. The mission in Macao was started in 1958, and in 1960 a second St. Francis Xavier School was opened in Tseun Wan in the new territories area. In 1954 we purchased a house for the training of our candidates called Chanel House after St. Peter Chanel, the martyr of Futuna, who was killed on April 18, 1941. The Chanel House is now used as a residence for Brothers.
At one time we had a Juniorate in Hong Kong, and many left to start their own families. A number of them who moved to the west coast of Canada in Vancouver are now well-established and still keep in touch with me each year here in the U.S.A.
When the troubles started in China it opened a whole new Province of China outside the mainland, and our Marists spread all throughout Malaysia and Singapore. We also went to Taiwan, where we took over the teaching to help the Dominican Bishop. We built quite a school for mixed students and worked there for years. In fact, our first Chinese Provincial, Bro. Philip Wu, did a lot for our Marist School in Kaohsiung. He died there, and the school carried on with only one Brother. After his death, it was turned back to the Dominican Bishop of the Diocese.
The Champagnat roots were spreading all over Asia with several schools in Malaysia, a few in Singapore, and also a foundation later in Sibu, East Asia, where we are still serving a tremendous Chinese community that was started in 1960. Every place we have gone has meant a lot of very serious and difficult work for the founding Brothers, but it has also meant service to the needy and has been a source of vocations.
That has been especially true in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In each place we can recall the memory very often of a one-man project with a lot of hard work and financial help from our alumni to produce the schools we needed. In Singapore we had a Catholic high school and then the Marist Stella Project, which was the pride of the zeal and hard work of Brother Chanel. I cannot omit the mention here of Brother Alphonse and his outstanding kindergarten in Singapore, which is a model for others to follow and which the good Brother, over ninety, was still following closely and helping out whenever he could. We have had dedicated men in Ipoh, PJ, and Malacca, with in some cases even the pastor of the area becoming an affiliate member of the Marist Brothers and sending us a regular flow of vocations, many of which are still active in the Province today.
The work is about the same everywhere, but with varying aspects at times that make a place unique by its characteristics and contributions to the work of the Church. We have dedicated Marists in every foundation who have given their lives to provide for others what the Lord has shared with them, and to come to the rescue of the needy. It is wholesome to have natives of a country become the Superior of a Province, such as we have witnessed in the Chinese Province.
I wish to end this long background on the Province of China by paying a special tribute to a uniquely gifted Brother who, besides being a teacher, was also an artist. After one of my many journeys to Asia, I returned to the Generalate to give my report and to rest up a bit. It was in the early days when we had started in Rome and needed to have a better copy of the Marist seal of our Institute, for the old one was getting shoddy and could not last or be used much longer. I was able to tell the General Council that we had the right person for that kind of artistic work in the Province of China. He was retired and living in Singapore at the time. On my next visit I brought him an old copy of our Marist seal and asked him to please reproduce it as faithfully as he could. He produced an exact copy of what we wanted. Brother Victor was indeed an example of the Founder’s request for his Marist Brothers to always “do good quietly.” Brother Victor, the Chinese missionary, is buried in Singapore where he culminated his dedication to Christ. When next you see our seal, please remember Brother Victor.
I want to put in a word also about the exceptional alumni who have come to us from the Chinese Province. They suffered with us through the difficult years and were most loyal to their classmates and to their teachers. They also sought out their Marist alumni and, if needed, provided them a job. It was said once at a meeting that so many of our alumni have been given work by their alumni buddies that if one were to go into the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank and call out, “Alumni of SFX Shanghai or Jean D’Arc,” they would appear from all over the bank and would all know one another. And this can be said of the same bank whether it is Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, or Manila. Bro. Konrad Bower of Hong Kong can also vouch for this.
It was on June 6, 1948, that the first four American Marists left the United States to start their mission work in the Philippine Islands. We were welcomed by the Oblate Fathers who were already there and they assured us of a warm welcome. They had also sought out many good vocations in the country ready to do the apostolic work for the Church; the Filipinos were especially devoted to Mary, the Mother of the Lord. There were, of course, some troubles with those of a different faith, especially the Muslims, but there was already a good breakthrough and in many areas the Christians and Muslims were working together very well. The evidence of the devotion to Mary is shown in the fact that Our Lady's Name was the main feature of every school the Oblates had and we would gladly follow that tradition. The Marist schools in the Philippines are Notre Dame of Cotobato, ND of Kidapawan, ND of Dadiangas, ND of General Santos, ND of Marbel University, ND of Marikina, and ND of Solo.
The people were poor and had very strong faith. Another quality, which is precious in the mission, was their great love of work. Most of our schools had a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a high school, four of our schools also had a full college course, and one of them is on a university level. It is really incredible how fast they grew and how anxious some native Filipinos were to join and become Marist Brothers. In fact, a good number of the early Filipino Brothers were sent to Marist College to complete their education, at least until they began to have their own colleges.
I remember that it was on one of my visits there that I was offered an honorary doctorate. I believe they offered it to me out of gratitude for taking their young candidates at Marist College at the time when they had no colleges of their own. One of the outstanding Filipino Marists who came to Marist College later became the Provincial of the Marist Philippine Province, and in fact was also named Assistant General at one of our General Chapters where Brothers unite in selecting the new Superior General and his Assistants to supervise the work of our congregation. This was our Bro. Renato Crux, who has already left for his reward in Heaven.
Our Filipinos did so very well that they have been in charge of their own Province for years now, and in fact there are only two Yanks still working there: one as principal of our first founding high school at Cotobato, and the other working for the development of the existing colleges and in the founding of new areas for our apostolate among the poor. Jim Adam and Bob McGovern are the last Americans still working in the Philippines full-time. Our Filipino Brothers are not only running the great Notre Dame of Marikina near the capital city of Manila but also started and have been leading the work of training for all the various countries of Asia who wish to send their candidates to be trained at the Marist Asian Center, which serves all Marist activities in all the countries of Asia. This activity is under the direction of the Major Superiors in Rome.
The country is rich in religious communities, colleges, and retreat centers for special training. And in the spirit of our Founder, our Filipino brethren have been keen especially in their service for the poor. So many of our Filipinos have trained in the U.S.A. that there is a close relationship between the two countries. There is only one of the original Marist Brothers, Bro. Joseph Teston, who is still alive, and in 1998 the Philippines celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Marist work there.
My visit to Asia had fascinated me due to our Brothers’ ability to leave their country and to continue their apostolate in an entirely different area with as much vigor as they had had originally; they could be missionaries no matter where. Two of the Brothers in particular were kicked out of China and tried to settle in Hong Kong. But Hong Kong had been overwhelmed by missionaries. They only stayed a short while until they were able to find a welcome for them to come to serve in Japan. These two European Germans were still young and full of energy, and so they applied to come to Japan on July 21, 1951. This was a relief for the crowding of Brothers in Hong Kong and a welcome to Japan. The first two Brothers came to Kobe to do some teaching in an international school, mostly to children of diplomats. They taught classes in English while also learning the new language.
The two Brothers found a beautiful site up in the hill country, which was ideal for quiet and good health but rather removed from the city. On the other hand there was a congregation of German Brothers in the heart of the city of Kobe who were running a kind of hospital for patients suffering from lung problems; these patients were really in need of fresh air and sunshine. The two groups of German Brothers visited each other several times when it finally dawned on them that they would both be better served if they were to exchange properties. So this is what was decided, and a simple exchange of documents and keys was effected. The Brothers’ school was in the heart of the city whereas the German Brothers now had a fascinating spot and a real recuperating clinic in the country. Thus both religious congregations benefited from their friendliness and common sense. All involved with the exchange were very satisfied.
About this same time the Province of Poughkeepsie also decided to start a school in Kobe, Japan, and were happy to benefit by the great location in the heart of the city that the two German Brothers had found. The German Brothers decided to create a school for the children of diplomats, working in harmony with the Province of Poughkeepsie, which they decided to join. Thus it was not long before the Marists had a new grammar and high school. It was later that Poughkeepsie would start a new boarding grammar and high school in Kumamoto, which would also take care of the children from the various islands in the area. This was a big help for the parents to have a proper boarding school for the younger students. It was a new school dedicated to Blessed Marcellin Champagnat, the Founder of the Marist Brothers. And his statue had a center spot at the entrance and was saluted daily by each student who went to this school.
It would take a few years, but eventually we established a full grammar school and a complete high school for boarding students, staffed with a fine group of lay teachers. There were few Marist Brothers in Japan, so only three could be spared for the school at a time. The others staffed our school in Kobe.
We had had four Japanese Marist Brothers over the years. It was best for non-native Brothers to eventually pull out, leaving the school in the hands of our Japanese Brothers. The school had a first-class standing and an excellent reputation all over Japan. It became an elite school, and all of this is a credit to the American Brother Patrick Tyrrell, the founder of this great school, whose success had been recognized by the education department of Japan. We also were blessed with the help of an exceptional Catholic Japanese family, and this couple was eventually affiliated with the Marist Brothers.
Our schools in Kobe and Kumamoto were both doing very well, but it became evident to us that since there were not enough native Japanese to join the Marist Brothers we would eventually have to think of turning it over to someone else. There were some vocations for the nuns in Japan, but not so for the men, so there was no one to turn our school over to. Recently there was the terrible earthquake that destroyed so much of the Kobe area that we did not know how we would ever be able to replace the needed facilities or to carry on our work. The Brothers stuck to their guns and worked hard to repair what they could and with the help of the government and the alumni were able to replace enough of the school to be able to continue. Our reputation had helped us get the aid needed to rebuild.
I wish to single out here an event that happened that proved to us without a shadow of doubt just how much the Japanese appreciated the dedication of the Marist Brothers in coming to take care of the training of their children and demonstrates how well we were accepted. We had had four Japanese young men join the Marist Brothers. One of them we discovered after some time did not have our spirit at all, and when he got into some serious trouble we transferred him quietly to an area where he decided that it would be best for him to leave the Brothers. Two of the other Japanese Brothers are carrying on their apostolic work very well and giving full satisfaction. They had come to America to complete their training and returned really dedicated and loyal.
One of our candidates had died as a Marist Brother. He came from a strongly Catholic family, which had really accepted and understood his vocation and dedication, was very proud of him, and was pleased with his choice of vocation in the service of the Lord. The parents lived in the Tokyo area when the Brother died. As was the custom, at the death of the Brother in Kobe his body was cremated, and it was the father who came for the funeral service to start the cremation ceremony. The family then left to return to Tokyo, and we divided the ashes into three urns. One would be for the Marist Brothers, one for the school where the Brother had died, and finally the third was to be carried to the parents in Tokyo.
On the day of the funeral service the Marist Brothers had brought the urn with the ashes and placed it at the head-center of the table. The family gathered around the head of the table and all the visitors or friends gathered around the bottom of the table as was their custom. Everyone was respectfully waiting for the ceremony to start. The father of the Brother sat at the head of the table with his immediate family. When the second eldest son was about to get up, the father signaled to him, and the son stooped to listen. The son then stood up, faced his friends at the end of the table, and said that his father had reminded him that the Japanese custom was for only the family to be at the head of the table. He went on to say that his father had also reminded him that his brother had two families, and that his brother loved both equally. He loved both his natural family and his religious family. The father then instructed him to ask the two Marist Brothers present to come up to the head of the table and to sit with the natural family, where they really belonged as an extension of the Brother’s true family. This made us realize that they had really understood and appreciated their son's religious vocation.
last updated on June 10, 2004