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Eulogy for Brother Lewis Dorrian FMS, 1928 – 2011

 

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12/01/2012: Scotland

 

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I would like to thank Monsignor John Gilmartin, the principal celebrant, for joining us today, and for representing Archbishop Conti, who wrote personally to express his sadness at the death of Brother Lewis, and who regrets not being able to be here personally. I would also like to thank Fr. John McGrorry, the parish priest of St. Peter’s, Rev John Kernaghan, and Fr Peter Dowling,  the parish priest from Govan,  who has joined us the morning. Brother Lewis was very proud of the fact that he came from Govan, and would be delighted to know that the parish priest from his home area was present today. Earlier today Brother Joe McKee, VG, phoned me to say that he had hoped to attend this morning’s mass, but hat it has not been possible due to commitments in Rome and difficulty in finding suitable flights. He asked me to pass on his condolences to the Dorrian family and to the Brothers in the Province. May I also pass on the condolences of the Marist Brothers to George Dorrian, Lewis’ brother, and to the other members of Lewis’ family.

2.    
 Edward Vincent Dorrian was born in Govan on the 6th of February, 1928. He was one of four brothers. We heard in the first reading of today’s mass that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rm. 10:13). Lewis heard God’s call as a boy, and his desire to serve God led to his decision to attend the Marist Brothers’ Juniorate in Hetland House, Dumfries, from 1941 – 45. That call stayed with him, and it led to continuing his initial religious formation at the Hermitage in Athlone from 1946 – 1948. He attended Glasgow University between 1947 – 50, graduating with a degree in Mathematics and English.

The first reading of our mass (Rm. 10: 13 – 15) continues by emphasising the need for someone to be sent in order that people hear the good news. Lewis followed in the footsteps of other Marist Brothers in becoming a secondary school teacher. He taught in St. Mungo’s Academy, where he was very happy, before being “sent” to the province mission in Nigeria. According to Harry Gillan, otherwise known as “Brother Raphael” or “Titch”, his arrival was certainly good news for the Brothers and students in Nigeria. Nigeria brought out the best in Lewis, and forever marked his life as a Marist Brother.

Harry sends his condolences, but sadly cannot be here this morning. When I spoke to him a few days ago, he said that Lewis was an outstanding community man, who was a great support to Harry when he was head teacher of Bishop Shanahan College in Orlu. Lewis also founded the legion of Mary in that area, and spent time visiting people in the local villages. He did not confine his missionary experience to the Brothers’ compound. Harry referred to the fact that Lewis had strong opinions on various things, including superstition. On one occasion when Harry was on holiday, Lewis was responsible for organising the sports day. Even though Sports Day was held during dry season, it was customary to give a “dash” – a financial emolument or “bribe,” depending on your point of view -  to the local witch doctor, to guarantee good weather. Lewis refused to go along with this. When the day arrived, the various Colonial administrators, chiefs, dignitaries etc. arrived, expecting to be provided with beer and refreshments, and an enjoyable sports event. Unfortunately, the heavens opened and it rained – for two solid days. The sports were a wash out - and much beer was consumed! Harry told me that in subsequent years he always made sure that the medicine man got his dash!

Perhaps the key event of Lewis life happened in 1967, when the Biafran war broke out, due to the desire of the Igbos to secede from the new state of Nigeria.  Lewis and Harry were captured by Fdederal troops in Orlu not long after the outbreak of the war. Harry told me that he tried to persuade Lewis to go home, as his dad had Parkinson’s disease and was dying. Lewis did, in fact return to Scotland, but flew back to Biafra and worked at the airstrip near Orlu for two years. Schools were closed and the missionaries who remained gave themselves fully to the relief of starving people, particularly children. Lewis was in charge of the distribution of food from Caritas International and a Scandinavian Charity. One has to imagine the situation: a road was converted into an airstrip. The plans landed by night, and the lights were left on for only a few minutes, in order to protect the planes that were trying to land, and workers on the ground, from the Federal bombers that were in the air hoping to attack. Food was scarce, and Lewis had to ensure that it went to the appropriate lorries and was distributed to those who had most need. He was captured at the end of the war and was sentenced to six months in prison. For years after he took pleasure in telling people that he was an ex-convict!  After two months he was released, but could never return to Nigeria.

Brother Christian Mbam, former Provincial of Nigeria wrote to me last week and said,

The presence of the missionaries meant the world to the Biafran people, who suffered during those most trying times and felt isolated from the world. Lewis lived in the house next door to a military barracks, and so the area was a constant target for the federal MIG fighters and bombers. One night, when he had just returned from a holiday in Britain, his plane was targeted and it was missed by a fraction. I happened to be at the airport that night and we thanked God that the fighter missed Lewis’ plane.

Brother Christian stayed at Marist House over the Christmas period and accompanied Brother John Phillips to visit Brother Lewis. Brother Christian was able to thank Lewis on behalf of the Brothers and people who were taught by him or who benefited from his work during the war. Lewis smiled as he listened, no doubt remembering people, places and significant events during this formative period of his life. When I was told about this visit I sensed that it was a sacred moment. I feel this even more strongly now, given that Lewis died not long after Brother Christian’s thoughtful visit.

 When Lewis, Norbert and the others left Nigeria, they travelled in the soutanes they stood up in. They returned via Zurich and Rome, where they met Pope Paul VI.

Brother Arthur, the Provincial at the time, offered Lewis three options when he returned to Great Britain, including a renewal programme in Rome, the Second Novitiate in Fribourg, Switzerland, or a degree in Theology at Maynooth, Ireland. Lewis told me that he replied saying, “Which one is the longest?” In that way began what I think was the second most significant experience for Lewis – the study of theology at Maynooth. The second reading of today’s mass begins, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are” (1 Jn. 3:1). It seems to me that this line encapsulates the core of the theological vision that Lewis carried with him for the rest of his life. If I can put it succinctly:

We are brothers and sisters of Christ, and sons and daughters of the father. We are called to build God’s Kingdom.

This simple, clear, but profound vision, influenced him in his work for the Better World Movement, provided the thinking behind his talks and presentations, inspired his work as a Religious education teacher, provided the energy behind his commitment to Vocations promotion, and constantly focused his vision as Provincial.  

After returning to Scotland in 1975 with an STL in Theology, he taught Mathematics for a year before becoming head Teacher of St Joseph’s College in Dumfries. He saw through the transition to Local authority control, and served the new Head Teacher, Michael Taylor, as Deputy Head Teacher. It is to Lewis’ credit that he had no difficulty handing over this job to another man and serving faithfully as his deputy. In 1985 he was asked to take on the responsibility as Provincial for Britain and Cameroon. When I look back on Lewis’ years as Provincial, I am struck by the utter commitment he gave to the job, in what were, at times, difficult circumstances. He supported the Kinharvie project, which brought together Marist Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters, and then lay people, and tried to support new initiatives where possible. I remember that he had a small note pinned to his wall, that he had borrowed from Brother Basilio Rueda, the Superior General from 1967 – 83:

The Provincial who sees the Brothers through his experiences of those who have difficulties, is like a psychiatrist who sees the world through the eyes of his clients.

Lewis continued to be optimistic about religious Life and the Marist Brothers in particular, despite being Provincial during a time when a number of Brothers left the order, there were few vocations, and houses had to be closed. When he retired as Provincial he moved to Glasgow and served as Director of the community in Marist House for nine years. During that time he served as President of the Conference of Religious in Scotland, helped at the Wayside Club, was involved in RCIA in the Parish, served as a Eucharistic minister in the Western Infirmary, and helped in the Solidarity Shop.

3.    
The typically Marist qualities are listed as Humility, Simplicity and Modesty – Lewis had these qualities to a high degree. He lived a simple life-style, valuing poverty as a virtue. In fact, at times he used to carry it too far. A certain Brother in the Congregation, a life-long friend of Lewis, tells the following story:  
About 20 years ago this Brother received a letter from Buckingham Palace announcing that his name would figure in the forthcoming New Years’ Honours List “for services to education in Africa,” and asking that the Palace be informed if this would be acceptable to him. Since Lewis was his Provincial, it was to him that he took the letter, asking if he could accept. As Lewis read the letter the Brother was thinking how proud he must feel at one of his men receiving such an honour. Eventually, Lewis looked up and asked: “Will it cost us any money”?!!... Yes, the virtue of poverty did indeed rank high on the list of Lewis’s priorities!

He was an intelligent man, but there was also a simplicity about Lewis. He had no guile. He was direct, honest, and open to changing his mind if he heard an idea or was given information that showed a situation in a new light.

I would like to say something about the place of friendship in Lewis’ life. Those who studied with him in Athlone, or who worked with him in Nigeria, remained his lifelong friends. Those who were together during the Biafran war, many of whom are here today, had a special bond that is obvious to those of us who know them.  The discovery of the value of friendships with women, in particular, added a new dimension to Lewis’ life and brought out different qualities in him. Never having had any sisters and then spending all his formative years in an all-male environment, Lewis, in his early life as a missionary was originally very much a man’s man. However, during the Biafran crisis, he struck up a friendship with a religious sister and it changed his life forever. The growth of honest spiritual friendships with women was an important and life-giving development in Lewis’ life. Lewis never ceased to thank God for this gift and subsequently the few very dear female friends that entered his life, some of whom are with us this morning,  were valued as a great gift from God and he would speak about them as such.

Of course, the greatest female friend whom Lewis ever had was Our Blessed Lady. He prayed to her, often painted her picture, and wrote his dissertation on her at Maynooth University. His topic was “The Marial devotion of the Marist Brothers,” and this was in response to a request from Brother Arthur, the Provincial, to help the Brothers who were struggling with changes in Marial Devotion in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. He was particularly attached to the Legion of Mary, which he promoted in Nigeria, and was spiritual director to the Legion in The Wayside Club, Glasgow. Indeed, as the power in his legs began to fade, it was to the Wayside Club that he struggled weekly, the little Legion handbook tucked under his arm. Lewis was attracted to the idea of Mary as our Sister, and brought his theological education to his love of Mary. He shared these insights with people whenever he had an opportunity.

Lewis had a range of interests. Many people will know that he enjoyed painting and had an interest in art. He loved music, and encouraged musicians in the parish. He also loved sports, especially football. He continued to read theology, and participated in Living Theology conferences well into his seventies. He enjoyed drinking beer, and told me that after retiring as Provincial that he sampled a range of beers over a period of time, and then put the bottles in order of preference from best to worst. Anyone who has spent time in Africa as a missionary, where drinking beer was part of the way of life, would understand the value of this particular research project!

Lewis remained very fit and involved in his elder years, but suddenly began to deteriorate around four years ago. When I became Provincial I had the unenviable task of beginning to have conversations with him about the need to go into a care home. Just over a year ago I met with him and said, as sensitively as I could – partly out of respect for him, and partly protecting myself from feelings of anxiety - “Lewis, do you remember that when we last spoke I said that we might need to make arrangements for you to go into care?” He looked straight at me, and with an open expression, said, “No.” I took a deep breath and said, “Well, we did talk about it, and I need to let you know that the Brothers can no longer care for you in the way we would like, and we need to make arrangements for you to go into care.” He paused, and then said to me, “I would prefer to stay it the community, but I knew that the day would come when we would have this conversation. And so if that’s what you want, I’ve no objection.”  I then said, “Lewis, thank you for not making this difficult for me.” He replied, “I am lucky. When I was Provincial I never had to make that decision for anyone.” I then said to him, “Lewis, when you were Provincial, you had other difficult decisions to make. This is one that is part of the job for me.”
I had a number of quite significant conversations with Lewis in these last two years, and I will treasure them. Lewis was not always the easiest person to talk to. He could be abrupt, gruff, direct, stubborn. However, it is the memory of my conversations in these last years that will stay with me, as he dealt with the infirmities of old age, and let himself go gently into the “Future that has not yet been revealed” (1 Jn. 3:2), as we heard in our second reading. The Gospel today commanded us to make disciples of all nations, and Lewis was faithful to that command (Mt. 28: 16 – 20). I have no doubt that as he enters that reward, he will have wonderful conversations with his many Brothers and Sisters in Christ, including our Blessed Lady, his sister par excellence.

4.    
In conclusion, Lewis would never forgive me if I didn’t thank a number of people this morning:
•    The Sisters and staff of Nazareth House and the Southern General Hospital and to the carers who often braved arctic conditions to tend Lewis in the midst of his community in Marist House.
•    Brother Colin and the community of Marist House, for their care for Brother Lewis in these last years, and for preparing for today’s funeral.
•    Angela Ferrier, who has given her assistance during the holiday period,
•     and Fr. Gerry Fitzpatrick and the St. Mungo Singers, for assisting us in their usual outstanding way.
To them, and to all of you, particularly those who have travelled long distances to be with us today, our sincere thanks.

May Lewis, our Brother in Christ, rest in peace.

___________
Brother Brendan Geary, Provincial Europe Centre-Ouest.
6th January, 2012.
Read the file sent by the Province

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