FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF FRANCIS GERARD O'SHEA
50 years on
Don’t worry tomorrow will take care of itself, a line from the gospel I quoted in the last article and perhaps a fitting epitaph for Francis Gerard O’Shea. He left this world laughing fifty years ago today. I was in Form three at CBC Warrnambool and he was teaching Grade six and among his students was my little brother Pat.We got the news around 8.30am on a Saturday morning June 29th 1968 as we were preparing to go into Warrnambool for the usual Saturday morning games of football.
The phone rang and Dad was called to the phone and Br. Dillon told the news that shocked our family’s world that morning.’ Sorry Pat but your brother Francis Gerard has died in his sleep.”
We still piled in the car and I was dropped at Merrivale oval while dad went onto the brothers to hear more. I remember the game and at three quarter time playing for CBC Gold, I had barely a touch and was dragged. How could I forget it?
The next few days are a bit of blur but I do remember the morning before the funeral at Saint Joseph’s Warrnambool going to Geelong with someone to meet a car coming from Mornington with Desie on board. Some travelled to Bundoora for the funeral but I didn’t get the call for that.
Francis Gerard was a stocky seriously over weight jolly bloke befitting the image of Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck. He was always welcome at Bridgie’s place and at Christmas I remember he could always be counted on to produce lots of toys, (I remember getting hours of fun from a couple of tape recorders) games, bikes, and then one year a 22-repeater rifle. A few rabbits, dogs and parrots were guilty of getting in its sights over the following years. One year he came and built a table tennis table which gave us hours of entertainment.
‘We are because they were,’ is a Kiswahili proverb and captures the African respect for the previous generations and special ancestors, and among the Christian Brothers the previous generation is well revered and remembered. Every brother has his life written and recorded in the necrology and each day the community traditionally read out the names of the deceased for that day and often when appropriate read the very abbreviated life of the man. (See insert)
Names in our family and in many other families I am sure, often was a way of remembering and respecting the greats of the previous generation. Michael, Cornelius, Patrick Joseph, Maggie, Bridgie come to mind and the lot fell on me in 1953 to get Francis Gerard.
In my early years as a brother I would hear the contemporaries of Francis Gerard recount great stories of his exploits and achievements. One event recorded in his biography was about his time as Superior and boss of the Saint Augustine’s Orphanage Geelong. He had created a stud Guernsey dairy herd and Francis Gerard took delight in showing them at local agriculture shows. On one occasion to have them pretty and looking their best he purchased a new set of hair clippers for tidying up their fringes. On the ball as ever, he wasn’t going to mess up with his soon to be declared prized cows, so he rounded up half a dozen of his orphans to practice on and when he was confident he had mastered the clippers he started on the cows. (Would it make the 7.30 report today?)
Another enduring legacy he left behind was his devotion to Mother of Perpetual Succour (help) Every house he had lived in had a shrine which he had taken great pride in creating out of wood and his fret saw.
Our house was no exception and every one of us would remember the shrine, complete with two lights, on the mantle piece in the kitchen. I am not sure if it got the desired devotions but it certainly did get used as it had a small-enclosed space at the bottom of it, which was perfect for placing some special letters, bills, card’s keys or whatever. A sort of sacred vessel!
Anyway all of this is verbose build up to my day yesterday. As recorded in a previous writing about last week, I really had to take refuge (succour) in my faith and in the newly adopted faith view of letting each day take care of itself.
So with some mindfulness time, I geared up for June 27th. It just happened to be the feast of Mother of Perpetual Succour and I know this because the Christian Brothers, (just because of a single historical incident) have had a long devotion to Mary under this title, going back to the early 1830’s when the brotherhood was young and needing some help to survive. Community prayers would end with Mother of Perpetual Help – pray for us. In addition to an awareness of this day and its historical relevance, was the fact that I have long associated the feast with the anniversary of Francis Gerard. Inspired by this year being his fiftieth anniversary and also with my enculturation after years in African which has taught me, it is who you know that is more important than what you know when it comes to getting help for something, I took the decision to pray constantly ‘Francis Gerard pray for us today” Sort of - I have my contact with the big woman thing. He will take me straight to her.
I arrived at 8.30 am and became quickly aware I was not the first to arrive. A mother had come in the early hours of the morning and had a baby around 5.00am and that seem to set the pace for a fierce morning of activity in the birthing unit, but I was not alarmed as I was holding on well to my mantra,
’ Francis Gerard pray for us.”
An outline of the birthing unit activity of the 27th June
Day in the Life at Maternity at Ruben Clinic.
A beautiful June morning and the sun is shining after some cool overcast days. The maternity unit has been quiet lately with only 1 baby born each day in the last 4 days. However all is about to change!
Day staff arrives to a smiling mother and baby delivered only 2 hours before their arrival. Mum and baby doing well. All is peaceful in Ruben maternity.
11.45 And Cecelia is called to the public toilet as there has been a baby born in the toilet. After the cord has been clamped and the baby carried to the Delivery bed, and mum following behind with the afterbirth still to be delivered. Whilst caring for this baby another mum arrives and is in the final stages of Labour and promptly delivers her baby. Two babies within 5 mins!
Just to give some background on these special deliveries is essential.
Baby A, a little boy who was born first in the toilet: Mama came to the regular clinic complaining of stomach pain. She did not look pregnant and did not disclose this information. She was asked to complete a urine sample. When she went to the toilet she apparently pushed this baby into the world and then a woman noticed her unable to lift the baby from the toilet. Mama had no Antenatal care at Ruben clinic and when questioned thought her baby was not due for another 3 months.
Baby was only 2050grams and had inhaled the toilet water at delivery. However this little boy was breathing by himself and once cleaned and warmed was very happy to be in the world and in a stable condition. The decision to transfer this mother and baby for follow up and observation of the baby was made. The use of the new Ruben Centre Ambulance was engaged and mum and baby were to be transferred to another facility with more advanced neonatal care.
However after a very hectic morning, I didn’t take as much notice of the mum and her appearance. Whilst getting ready for transfer, I noticed mum had only a Maasai blanket to wrap around herself. This was covered in dried mud. The shoes at her bedside were very old and torn and then she said she must return them to her friend outside the delivery suite and she did not have a pair of shoes with her. We had provided the clothes for the baby and also the blankets for mum and baby. It was in that moment that I felt unbelievable sadness for both mum and baby. What will the future hold for this new life and how will this mum be able to care and feed her child?
Baby B a beautiful little girl born wide awake and so alert. She has the most beautiful lips and face but will also have big challenges ahead in her life.
Her mum came into the delivery suite in the late stage of labour. She had not had any Antenatal care at Ruben Clinic or any other clinic, and therefore no history or blood results available. Blood tests were performed and a routine HIV test was performed and returned a positive result. How fortunate this little baby was delivered at Ruben maternity as she was commenced on treatment immediately after delivery and will have follow up care with Leo Toto to prevent the mother to child transmission of the virus.
Baby B with her wide awake eyes and knowing face made her mum so happy, that the delivery went so well and both were safe and well. Both babies clothed in donations to Ruben centre and looking so beautiful on their BIRTHDAY.
(Alison Slattery volunteer from Gosford)
Surely our Mother of Perpetual Help is smiling on Ruben and this birthing unit.
In the office I checked emails and was pleasantly surprised to see gifts of $A 20,000 from Coopers Investors in Melbourne and then Josie had sent a further $10,000 from family donations, so clearly not a bad start to the day.
Shortly Patrick O’Brien, the Chair of the 500 Supporters Club rang me to fill me in on some developments in terms of funding. They had their annual football luncheon at The MCG in mid May and the Father and Son team of Watsons from Essendon F C had been a real hit and donations were still trickling in. I literally could see over the phone the glow around Patrick as he talked of the profit for the luncheon reaching $A 380,000 including funds for the ambulance.
Patrick had just returned from Russia and had purposely rang to tell me about the luncheon he had attended that day at some fancy Toorak restaurant with a Jewish philanthropist who had invited a hundred organizations to hear how much money he was giving away to the potential right organizations. After eating Patrick was given ten minutes with him and he outlined the greatness of Ruben Centre. Given the momentum of the day, let us believe something will emerge and this seed will germinate. Francis Gerard pray for us.
Towards the end of the conversation Patrick’s asks me if I have heard anything about our multi annual funding application with Irish aid yet? My reply was,
’ Maybe mid July.”
We then talked about this new Trust he has on board and they are donating $40,000 for 2018 and asked me to think of a good program to support.
Finally we ended our chat but within ten minutes I was emailing him again.
I checked my emails and there it was.
Irish Aid have approved three year funding to Ruben Centre for a total of Euro 328,000.
Anyway I picked up the laptop and ran to the office where we have several administration staff working and read out aloud the mail. Great cheers went up and I just sat there recalling early December 2017 while back in Australia and my feelings at the time of hearing the news that Irish Aid had rejected our proposal. Lots of water under the bridge in the past six months… amen. Thanks Francis Gerard.
I left the Centre, pretty upbeat about the morning’s revelations. After reaching home I swapped car for my bike and headed into down town Nairobi. Weaving in and out of mostly parked cars on the highway, I kept chanting aloud,’ Francis Gerard pray for us.”
I had to try and finalize my foreigner’s card and on this the fourth time, managed it in no time. Francis Gerard was doing well so far, but his real test would come as I now was heading for a confrontation with the Centre’s legal Advocate who had let us down in a recent damages claim, resulting in a US$ 4,000 pay out. I have been at least three times and the receptionist kept saying he is not in. In addition, he is refusing to take phone calls, and so I went with little hope of seeing him, rather only to prove I was stubborn.
Walking in I found him there and then, with nowhere to hide, so he reluctantly called me into his personal office. Empowered by the day’s events and cruising with my,’ don’t worry stance,’ we argued the case of his failings for half and hour. I stated I just wanted him to refund the fine of $US 4,000 that I had just paid to the auctioneer. This same big shot had been given $US 6,000 by me in 2011, not long after I had arrived, when it was likely that I would have to go to court to defend our Ruben centre land. As it turned out, we managed a political settlement and so by passing the judiciary, meant he still had my money.
Finally after much carry on, he got up and as he left turned and said,’ Tuesday I will sort this out for you.” I muttered , ‘Francis Gerard pray for us.
That night I sat and reflected on the magnitude of the day and the potential bounty coming our way from all the happenings of the day. What a turn around from last week? How could this be?
I felt surprisingly small and irrelevant to the drama of things, but in a very tangible way knew the day had revealed to me that this was truly a one in fifty year event. “I am because he was,’ is real but in a sort of deeper mystical way, I also knew, ‘He (Francis Gerard) still is because I am.’