Milestone for Dunedin’s last Christian Brother

8 Br Donaldson

by JEFF DILLON

The only Christian Brother left in Dunedin, Br Graeme Donaldson, CFC, celebrated his 70th jubilee of his religious profession on January 23 with a Mass of Thanksgiving at St Patrick’s Basilica in South Dunedin, the church in which he had been baptised.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Michael Dooley, with Fr Gerard Aynsley, Msgr Vincent Walker, Fr Michael Hill, IC, Fr Mervyn McGettigan, and Fr Mervyn Hannifin concelebrating. The occasion attracted a large gathering of well-wishers, numbering close to 200.

Br Donaldson, 86, is one of just 10 elderly members of the order left in New
Zealand, with the others retired in either Christchurch or Auckland. Some had travelled down to join in the celebration.

A leader in the group, Br Bill Dowling, CFC, from Christchurch, gave words of welcome at the beginning of Mass.

The homily was given by Fr Aynsley, parish priest of Mercy Parish. He said that he had been taught by Christian Brothers at school and that he was honoured to speak. Though he had been told by Br Donaldson “not to talk him up”, he noted that Br Donaldson himself was well known at public occasions for wanting to recognise the goodness done by others and urging a chorus of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”.

Fr Aynsley reflected on religious vocations, the vocation of a Christian and
the call to discipleship. That day’s Gospel spoke of crowds of people coming to listen to Jesus. They weren’t captivated by an ideology, but they were captivated by the person of Jesus. Fr Aynsley suggested that, throughout Br Donaldson’s life, he had been captivated by that person, Jesus Christ . . . “[you were] captivated by him and desired to respond to his presence in your life”.

He noted that Br Donaldson acknowledged that he had two vocations. His vocation as a Christian Brother and also his vocation to teach. Fr Aynsley mentioned that he recalled hearing Br Donaldson talking on a number of occasions — and with some delight — of teaching classes of 50 or 60 boys in his early years of teaching. Br Donaldson interrupted at that point and suggested that should be doubled. (As he later revealed, he taught a class of 109 boys in Queensland in the mid-1950s.)

Fr Aynsley suggested that Br Donaldson had also continued his vocation
when he became a prison chaplain in 1992. He further suggested that his most recent phase represented a third vocation. He said that Br Donaldson had defined the new phase as “being rewired and re-fired” as he continued as a member of this parish and diocese through his involvement at the St Vincent de Paul shop and through visiting many people during each week. He is constantly out among people and enjoying that role.

Towards the end of Mass, Br Donaldson took the opportunity to give a lengthy and entertaining summary of his life — the key ingredient of which was the decision to leave Dunedin to answer the call to become a Christian Brother when he was 16.

He entered St Enda’s Juniorate at Strathfield in Australia in 1950. After a few years of training, he spent most of the rest of that decade in Australian school postings, before being sent to St Peter’s College in Epsom, Auckland in 1960. For almost the next 30 years, he mainly taught in Auckland (two times), Oamaru (three times), Dunedin, and Christchurch
(two times). He finished in Christchurch in 1990. That was followed by time out on compassionate family leave through 1991, before beginning as a Dunedin prison chaplain from 1992 through to 2008.

He noted that, in 1982, he was given 29 weeks of leave and spent time in Rome. It was during that time that “he found
his God or rather his God found him”. He had, up to that time, regarded his God as one of awe and majesty, who was
statue-like and impersonal. But he came to the view that God was a friend in the form of Jesus Christ, whom he could talk to and relate to.

“Anything I have achieved has been God working through me,” he said.

The congregation gave him warm applause at the conclusion of his speech. After Mass, a cup of tea and light refreshments were served in the foyer, where well-wishers gathered to continue their congratulations.

NZ Catholic contributor

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