A debt that cannot be repaid

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KOTA KINABALU: The late Datuk Brother Charles Michael OLeary was a mentor and father to thousands of boys who attended La Salle Secondary School in Tanjung Aru, said lawyer Marcel Jude.

“How many flowers and wreathes can you send and how many candles can you light, or words can you write, to honour the man you owe a debt you can never repay, either in part or in full?” said Marcel yesterday.

Coming from a family with an alcoholic father, life was difficult for Brother Charles. However, never did this Irishman sit down and look for excuses on why acquiring an education for himself would be difficult, he said.

With him, there was no time for self-pity; there was only time to find solutions to the problem, he pointed out.

“Brother Charles was a believer in education and he gave me refuge, a sanctuary to study not only in La Salle but also to pursue my law degree later as a young adult; he let me stay with him in his Tanjung Aru home.

“He was a man who lived a life of giving there was no end and no bottom to the storehouse of his charity,” said Marcel.

He sacrificed much, forgoing the comfort of home and family by leaving his native of Dublin behind, to reach the shores of Borneo for the sake of caring for his (Lasallian) boys.

Surely, he had his moments of loneliness living in this land, but he never showed signs of weakness or regret.

Till the day he was called to eternal rest by the Lord, he would sit through hours of meetings and functions, he added.

Brother Charles passed away on Christmas eve after attending the morning mass at Stella Maris Church here.

Marcel also said Brother Charles was a devout Catholic but he never used race or religion to discriminate. He was colour blind to all, whatever their creed, race, educational background or disposition in life.

“I remember receiving my offer to study form six in La Salle. I had decided to forgo the offer because of financial difficulties and pursue working life instead.

“I was shocked to find Brother Charles at my doorstep the day before my offer expired, telling me sternly that I was to quit my job in 24 hours and turn up to school the next day,” he recalled.

According to Marcel, you never argue with Brother Charles, you just do as he says. To him, education was paramount and there was no compromise when it came to education.

“I could not afford the bus fare to La Salle and I stayed in a single room which doubled as a bedroom, living room and just about everything else.

“I had to walk to school at 6am from Karamunsing to Tanjung Aru. At night, I would only leave the school at 11pm to walk back home. I would ‘lepak’ around the school as if it was my house.

“This went on for about seven months before Brother Charles found out. At first, he was livid; he said I couldnt treat the school as my house. Then, he told me to stay in the boarding house and there were no ifs or buts I was to move in the very next day,” he added.

That was the kind of person he was; no time for regrets, just get the problem solved and move on.

Marcel adopted Brother Charles’ principle in life and it pushed him to become a lawyer.