2014-06-26 GENERAL HOUSE

Chris Mannion ? our Brother

Brother Chris Mannion, General Councillor, was killed on July 1, 1994, in Rwanda, together with Brother Joseph Rushagajiki. 20 years after this tragic event, we commemorate his life with a testimony of his friend Brother Stephen Smyth (Chris Mannion and Joseph Rushigajiki).


Chris and I were good friends, keeping in touch over 30 years, but only actually spending two of these in community together. So, while I have heard about many of Chris’s escapades, my own ‘Chris story’ is perhaps somewhat quieter. 

We first met in 1963 at a vocations summer camp run by the Brothers in St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, in the south west of Scotland. Chris had come up from Darlington in England and I down from Glasgow. He was heavily into the sports. I was always happy to leave that side of things to him. Over the next few summers we became friends. Then in ’69 Chris came to Habay-la-Vieille in Belgium to begin his Marist postulancy at the same time as I began my novitiate. During this year we truly became brothers. His sense of ‘being Marist’ and ‘being Brother’ continued to deepen and widen through all the later experiences and stages of his life.

Over the years Chris and I became part of each others’ families, with Chris’s parents, Terry and Harry, and mine also becoming friends. Chris had clearly inherited the gift of making and keeping friends. He maintained many strong and deep friendships from every period and place of his life. Significant among these are the Brothers in Ireland, where he made his novitiate; his community and colleagues in Cameroon, especially the Awa family into which he was ‘adopted’; and the religious who trained with him in St Anselm’s to become novice masters and mistresses. Family, friendship, fraternity and relationships were all central to his personality and spirit. 

Chris was a passionate man. He fell in love often: with people, with ideas and with life in general. He knew when to be intimate, when to be professional and when to be prophetic. He had great energy, a deep commitment to justice and equality and a capacity for hard work. He could be very direct, forceful, even brusque. Physically he was rather clumsy, as more than a few dishes found out. In all these characteristics he was loved in return – even, or especially, by those on the receiving end of his occasional practical jokes.

Even when I first met him, Chris’s ambition was to work in the missions. He fulfilled this when after completing his various studies he was appointed to Cameroon. 

We all know that Chris was a great sportsman. He loved all forms of sport but particularly cricket, football, tennis and running – all of which he took part in with gusto. Wherever he went, there are stories of robust football or tennis matches and, later, of running including competitions on Mt Cameroon. He played to win, both on and off the pitch or track.

He was a prodigious reader and a great educator. Education for Chris was far more than rote learning. With a love of history and a superb memory, he drew on many sources for inspiration. He expected the best of people and challenged and encouraged them to achieve, not only in academic subjects, but as fully rounded persons. He demanded no less of himself and he modelled what he taught. He treated everyone with respect. In Sacred Heart College Cameroon, his affectionate nickname was ‘Pharo’oh’ (Pharaoh) because of his strong leadership and example. 

He loved his ten years in Cameroon: the people, the culture and the teaching. It was then with some reluctance, but a deep sense of vocation, that he agreed to return to Britain and train as novice master. Being Chris, he threw himself wholeheartedly into that role. As well as deepening his own spiritual formation and widening his friendships, this re-kindled his love for Dublin. All of this prepared him for the later and demanding roles of Provincial and General Council member. 

In July 1994, I went over to Rome to have a short holiday and to spend some time with Chris. I arrived just after the community had heard that Chris was missing in Rwanda. A pall of sadness and uncertainty had fallen over everyone. Those were very difficult days. I had the privilege of being with Br Sean Sammon when he first phoned Chris’s parents. Their faith, like Chris’s life, remains a witness to us all.

We may never know exactly what happened to Chris. But, going to Rwanda in those circumstances was so ‘very Chris’. Almost regardless of the danger, he was driven by his care for the Brothers and pushing himself to do what he saw as right. His loss was both tragic and prophetic. It still speaks to all of us who knew and loved him. Inspired by Chris, we continue to stand in faith and solidarity with all those affected by the genocide that engulfed Rwanda.

Naturally, we may wonder what else Chris might have achieved had he lived longer, had he, that night in Rwanda, taken another path, another course of action. 

However, with great affection and respect, I prefer to remember and give thanks for Chris and all I know of his life. He and I were good friends and Brothers.  He was particularly supportive of me when, during his time as Provincial, I faced a difficult period on my own life. I consider that our friendship still lives on. I sometimes find myself ‘talking’ with him as I consider some issue or challenge. I think I know what he might say; I certainly know the love, principles, skills and sensitivities he would bring to bear on any matter.

In Sept ’94, a memorial mass was held for Chris in his parents’ parish, Holy Family, Darlington. Family, Brothers and friends gathered from all over Britain, Ireland, Canada and elsewhere. There was an impressive group of former pupils from Sacred Heart College, there to say thanks and pay respects to Pharo’oh and his family and his Brothers.

Later a brass plaque was set up in the Lady Chapel of the parish. It is a fitting memorial for Chris, a local son and our much loved and passionate Marist Brother: the simple plaque is discreet, beside our Good Mother, close to the altar.

Br Stephen Smyth, Glasgow
30 May 2014
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