2020-04-14 AUSTRALIA

Leonard Smith

Leonard SmithJohn Arthur Brisbane Smith was born in Sydney on 6 November 1936. He was the second child of Catherine (nee Donnellan) and Anthony Smith. His siblings were Anne (deceased), Anthony and Paul (deceased). He attended Mosman before going to the Mittagong Juniorate in January 1954. He entered the Novitiate and received the Religious name Leonard Francis on 2 July 1955. Twelve months later he professed First Vows.

By any standard Len lived an extraordinary life.

Having progressed through the various stages of formation he began his teaching at the Minor Juniorate in Bowral and North Sydney. Len could have expected to have a rather regular Marist life – but that was not to be. Early in his time at North Sydney he contracted Polio and was soon paralysed. Time spent at the Coast Infectious Diseases Hospital and the North Sydney Mater totalled nearly 3 years.

This was, of course, a major life altering event. But at this time there was generally only one thing Brothers did and so he returned to school at Auburn. Teaching from his wheelchair meant there were a number of things that needed to be mastered: he was one of the first users of technology, using a primitive early overhead projector. He recalled how the Auburn boys would cheer when the bulb blew, as it often did. He also had to navigate around the school. So that he could get to classrooms, the Brothers would carry him, in wheelchair, up the stairs. This was fine, but sometimes at the end of the school day, he would be forgotten, and in the days before intercoms and mobile phones this would cause a problem. There were some scary Br Leonard Smith FMS 6 November 193 6 14 April 20 20 T u e s d a y , 1 4 A p r i l 2 0 2 0 P a g e | 2 moments when boys tried to help him to the ground floor. However, students were inspired by his calm demeanour, effective teaching and generosity.

Years at Pagewood and Dundas followed; he continued to teach and live community life. Adjusting to being wheelchair bound was not easy or quick, but he had great support from Brothers and friends, one of whom, Joy Maguire, encouraged him to drive. And so, he did, and it was for him a wonderful freeing experience of not being so dependent on others. It was during the mid 1970s that some pivotal experiences occurred. The first was his exposure to the ideas of Jean Vanier, with whom he did a Retreat. It was from this time that he really started to be aware of other disabled people. Later he was able to spend time living in L’Arche Communities, both here in Australia and, when he did his second Novitiate in 1980, overseas. The second was his move into remedial teaching. His first opportunity for study was a 5 month course in supporting students with special needs and learning difficulties. Working with the disadvantaged in schools then became his focus. It was around this time that he was given the opportunity to complete the 3 month Spirituality course at Pymble, and in Len’s own words, ‘it changed my life’. It was a powerful spiritual experience that further deepened his conviction of God’s abiding presence and love.

All of these experiences had a major impact on Len – they didn’t help him accept his disability, because he had done that years before, but more importantly, they helped him see the purpose of his disability. He developed a deep awareness that disability was his individual path, and in fact his ‘gift’. From this time his ministry focussed more exclusively on the disabled. During the International Year of the Disabled, he acted as a Project Officer for the Bishops Conference and carried out a range of tasks aimed at profiling the needs of the disabled. His exposure to so many disabled enriched him and taught him a lot about disability. He worked at the Saint Vincent de Paul sheltered workshop at West Ryde for 6 years. In Grafton he did pastoral work at a drop-in centre for the mentally ill for 3 years. Then in 1993 he went to the Little King Movement at Buranda in Brisbane. For over 12 years he continued his work with the suffering and disabled and supported Des Phillips in his own wonderful ministry of care. He eventually moved to Ashgrove as his own care needs increased.


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