Thursday, September 28

Obituary for an iconic La Salle Brother


IT seems to be the pattern for some to use the occasion of giving “obituary” on a La Salle Brother’s demise, to launch an attack on those of his students who had allegedly “gone astray”.

A typical example is what purports to be an “Obituary” captioned Iconic Brother Inspired Many Generations published in a news portal (Malaysiakini) on Sunday, February 14, 2016.

The writer of that “Obituary” took the occasion to make critical and disparaging remarks about those who had been taught by the late Brother Columba but who, according to that writer, had “gone astray” to be rubber barons, timber tycoons and lavishly dressed thugs, or climbed the social ladder, became well-off, but never helped the less fortunate” or “migrated abroad and never to return to Sarawak” and that Sarawak is a “beautiful place run by ugly people.”

I can say, categorically, as someone who had personally known the late Brother Columba for exactly 50 years from the day he stepped into my class in January 1966 as my Form Teacher till his death early this month, that he would not have expected, and would never have approved of anyone to using the occasion of his passing on to the Lord, to launch a tirade against some of his former pupils and condemn them for whatever the free choices they had made for themselves.

Surprising, that “Obituary” writer even quoted Brother Columba as having written in an article, Heaven begins on Earth, that “God does not ‘send’ us to heaven (or to hell). He merely honours, as He always does, the free choices we make every day…” God is merciful and He forgives.

Brother Columba described the Christian model of education in his Article — Education, published in Living Our Faith pp.63-64 — as to be like a “Gardener tending to his plants, giving space and time to grow into their particular shape and beauty,” leaving that shape and beauty to be determined by the will of God. In other words, not even he, Brother Columba, would judge his students. God will do so.

This special virtue of Brother Columba was best illustrated when he was driving me from Castletown, Ireland, in 1999 to a nearby village to visit another Brother who was on leave from Hong Kong, I casually mentioned to him that one of his former students was arrested in Miri for possession of stolen valuables.

He expressed sympathy and asked if I could get some lawyers to assist him. On my return, I discovered that particular former student had pleaded guilty, sentenced to a day in jail and fined RM8,000. When I reported this to him, he asked if he was able to pay the fine! Not a word of condemnation of that former student for having “gone astray” preferring to leave him to the mercy of the Lord.

We should not also forget what Brother Columba taught us from the Scriptures (Gospel of St John) “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.

Like Jesus, Brother Columba left it to our own conscience to determine if we are free from any of the imperfections of human mortals and in our own ways, make amends for whatever shortcomings in ourselves.

Therefore, it is bad taste and disgusting to use the pretext of giving an Obituary for Brother Columba, to criticize and condemn his former students for having “gone astray”.

This is not befitting of the La Sallian spirit and a dishonour to an education obtained from a Christian Brothers’ School.

As to that Obituary writer’s lament that Sarawak is governed by “ugly people”, I firmly believe, from my more than half a century of close interaction with the La Salle Brothers, here and in Ireland, all of them including Brother Columba, believe in democracy and democratic values.

The State General Election is in the horizon. The writer is free to offer himself for election and govern, but when he does so, he should solemnly pledge, in public, to Men and God that should he walk the corridors of power, he too will not turn “ugly” in the eyes of Men.

J C Fong

(St. Joseph’s School 1955 to 1967), Kuching