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RIP – BRIAN SSF

Brother Brian SSF

 by Christopher John SSF

Brothers make their mark in community in various ways, but Brian’s gift is well expressed in our Principles which speak of becoming ‘emptied of self’ and ‘surrendered to God’ and becoming ‘effective instruments of [God’s] mighty working.’ Brian was such a person emptied of self, and he bore the fruits of a life dedicated to seeking God above all else.

He once described the secret of his life as being ‘the 3 Ps’ of ‘Prayer, Pills and Prunes.’ The list gets variously added to (Persistence, Patience …). But it was Prayer which was the centre of his life, even as illness and pain increasingly accompanied him in his last few months.

That life began in a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Bristol and then took him to theological studies at King’s College, London. He began to explore his vocation with SSF, and got to know our work in Cable Street, London. He was inspired by the poverty of the friars there and the incarnational ministry which flowed from that. After ordination and serving a curacy at St Agnes Church in Bristol he came to SSF and was made a novice in 1956 in Hilfield, professed in 1959 and then life professed in 1961. He was then despatched almost immediately to Papua New Guinea. SSF had only a short time responded to a request to set up a presence there. Although we were short-staffed, the decision was made to send some of our best men. Brian was one of them.

His thirteen years in Papua New Guinea were some of the most formative for him. He lived very simply, refusing any ‘white man’s privileges’ and was able to guide others, such as our own novices, and through his work as Principal of St Francis Evangelists’ College, train local men to be evangelists in their villages.

Brian wanted to withdraw from active ministry and experience a deeper life of prayer, but there always seemed to be a greater need. Finally, the chance for this came. The Community of St Clare were building a mudbrick monastery in Stroud, New South Wales.  They needed a chaplain. So Brian came in 1979 to live with one or two other brothers in the nearby hermitage. These were turbulent times as Sister Angela’s experiments provoked daily instability, but Brian’s unfussed patience provided a lifeline of stability.

He was then elected Minister Provincial (1981 to 1987) of the newly formed Australia–New Zealand Province, and later served as Minister General (1991- 1997). When he was elected we took a junk room at the end of the hermitage corridor, got rid of most of the junk, knocked a hole in the wall, put in a window and a desk and installed him there. From that desk he ran the international affairs of SSF, writing numerous aerogrammes in his rather indecipherable hand. He would then from time to time wander off with his bag in hand, catch the bus to Newcastle, the train to Sydney and a plane to somewhere else in SSF.

He enjoyed the chance to travel and meet people although probably not the meetings he had to attend. However, he was able to indulge his great love of cricket and somehow it usually seemed that wherever Brian was, there just happened to be a test match.

The final chapter in his life was his time in New Zealand. For five years he lived in a small hut at St Isaac’s Retreat near Opononi, in Northland. It could be a temptation for such a life to be withdrawn from the concerns of those around them, or to be in a spiritual world looking to models on the other side of the globe, but one thing Brian found was a deep awareness of the needs of those living around him and the effects of rural poverty.

Life in a remote rural area was getting too much for an octogenarian and in 2005 he moved south to the friary at Hamilton where Brian became known as a man of prayer. Always faithful in the offices and daily Eucharist he was a well-known sight in the surrounding village of the social ministry agencies of various churches as he made his way from friary to chapel and back again three times a day.

Brian’s final move to Assisi Rest Home, just round the corner from the friary, was to be very brief. He died just ten days afterwards. But he had achieved one of his final goals – he wanted to simplify his life even more and the preparations to move meant he did a final downsizing of what little he had.

Brian would probably not want the fuss of an obituary, perhaps saying the best memorial to him would be if we all simplified our lives and were faithful in prayer.  However, the final word comes from Archbishop Sir David Moxon, a good friend from Hamilton, and now Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. ‘Brian was and is a holy man, who upheld us all through thick and thin in prayer and personal holiness. Such a presence is hard to find and of rare value. …  He represented the still point of the turning world for many. I don’t imagine that this vocation was easy and was born of many decades of ups and downs, of trials and joys. Maybe that’s why his witness was so tangible.’

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

 

Brother Brian SSF died on 29 October 2015, and his funeral Mass was held at St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton, New Zealand. He was aged 90 and in the fifty-seventh year of his profession in vows.