WORK IN PROGRESS - TO BE COMPLETED!
The following extracts are taken from the booklet
Brother Maurice Kirk F.S.C. (1928-1974)
Brother Lawrence O'Toole F.S.C., the then world-wide head of the De La Salle Brothers, shortly after the death of Brother Maurice in 1974
Among the many tributes which were paid to Brother Maurice after his death, one in particular, it seems to me, fitted him very aptly: "He was a man in a hurry. I do not know if he had any premonition that his allotted time was short, but he packed into a few years what many of us would regard as the work of a lifetime. He never seemed to cease and lived at a frenetic pace". The service which Brother Maurice rendered the Province will continue to bear fruit for years to come. One thing alone mattered for him - the promotion of God's kingdom. This was his driving force in his direction of the Province, in his work for education and in his dealings with others. Everything else took second place. And how he worked for that end! Innumerable hours of discussion and consultation, long tiring journeys for meetings and late hours at his desk were all accepted with a cheerful smile. He was a most selfless man. But while his great service to Christian education will long be remembered, those who knew him really well will remember him especially as a religious of deep Christian faith. Whether as confreres or friends we thank God for the example of his life. This booklet will serve to keep his memory fresh.
- Brother Columba, f.s.c., Provincial.
DIRECTOR OF NOVICES:
On his return from the Second Novitiate Br. Maurice found himself appointed sub-Director of the novitiate in Castletown. Two years later [in 1965] he assumed the succession on the retirement of Brother Oswin and was Director of Novices for three years. As was to be expected he took his onerous position very seriously. The old Rule of Government was still in force and its twenty-five pages of minute instructions on the role, the importance and the duties of the master of novices left nothing to caprice or whim. When St. de La Salle decided that, if the apostolate of the Christian education of the children of the poor and the working-class was to have any permanence, the schoolmasters should become a religious congregation, he would have no half-measures, but planked down his new foundation in the full mid--stream of monastic tradition, with all the customary trappings of religious life. The Common Rules and the Meditations for Sundays and Festivals leave no doubt as to the seriousness with which the Founder treated the religious character of his Brothers. Thus, in his meditation for the feast of St. Peter Celestine he says “Though you are required by Almighty God to devote your attention to exterior things, and you can find therein the means of sanctifying yourself, you must be careful not to lose the desire and love of retirement. So arrange things, therefore, that when you are no longer required outside, you may retire at once to your community, as to your chosen dwelling, and find your consolation in the assiduous performance of your spiritual exercises." And for the feast of St. Paulinus he tells the Brothers "You, too have renounced exteriorly the world and all that men most prize. Make sure that this renunciation is also interior and leads you to complete detachment." And for the Feast of St. Benedict "By the Holy Rule and his own well-regulated and saintly life he drew a great many souls to God by separating them from the world and from conversation with seculars in order that they might converse with God alone. This, indeed, is one of the greatest benefits we can enjoy in this world and the most effectual means by which we can give ourselves to God. The greater your regularity, the closer you will approach the perfection of your state and the less you converse with men, the more will . communicate Himself to you."
Some ten years ago it became the fashion to blame St. John Baptist de La Salle [1651 - 1719] for imposing the monastic pattern on his Institute of schoolteachers; good Catholic schoolmasters is what they were intended to be, not monks. It was even hinted that the imposition of the religious character on the first Brothers was little more than a trick on the part of the founder, to ensure that they would stay on the job and work without pay! But for three hundred years the Brothers have always thought of themselves as primarily religious, "monks" even. The whole framework of their life was monastic and the main purpose of the novitiate was to train the young aspirants in all the traditional disciplines of the religious life: prayer, asceticism, silence, recollection, the following of Christ. Into this pattern the apostolate of the schoolroom was incorporated and indeed so impregnated was the activity in the classroom with prayer, pauses to recall the presence of God, reflections and instructions on the Christian life, that it reinforced rather than hindered the distinctly religious life of the Brothers.
It was against this traditional background that Br. Maurice saw his function as Director of Novices. "The ideal he set before us" says one of his novices "was based very much on the old Rule. He expected us to live up to the spirit and letter of that Rule. In his conferences he outlined, explained and discussed the vocation of the De La Salle Brother. His own standards were high and he showed the way. He was always available, always conscious of his responsibilities, always there to help. He treated us as individuals, knew each one of us, our weaknesses and our good points. He never demanded confessions or manifestations of conscience; one was always free to express or withhold one's private thoughts and feelings, but he always listened when one confided in him.
"He was hard to make out at times. There seemed to be two sides to him. To some he seemed severe, demanding, annoying. Yet he swam with us in the Nore, played soccer with us on the 'new pitch' and hurling and Gaelic football in the High Field. He could laugh, joke, enjoy music or a good book. He brought the novices to Dublin to see the film ‘The Sound of Music', something unheard of in those days! For my part I liked him and felt close to him".
Others of his novices concur with the views expressed above. He was, they say, very serious and gave the impression of an austere and perfect religious, a model in every way. His habitual attitude inspired respect but not everybody was attracted by it. He insisted on an exact observance of the Rule, even in minutiae, - not crossing one's feet, custody of the eyes, silence, proper decorum, and in his conferences he frequently castigated and carelessness or laissez-aller in these matters. It was while he was in charge of the novitiate that the momentous Chapter of 1966 scrapped the Holy Founder's Rule and substituted one that was considered more relevant to actual conditions today. Brother Maurice accepted loyally the decisions of the General Chapter, but pointed out that in the interpretation of the new Rule the centuries old traditions of the Institute had to be taken into account and that there had to be some continuity between the old and the new.
He was strong on 'professionalism', insisting that both as religious and Christian educators, the Brothers had to be at the top of their profession and that fourth of fifth-rate performance was not good enough. One felt this professional conscience in his own dedicated approach to his work. He was never slovenly, never gave the impression of making up as he went along or playing merely 'by ear; all instructions were carefully prepared. He insisted on clear elocution and intelligent reading. Manual labour had to be done thoroughly and intelligently. The novitiate grounds and flower-garden were 'kept in such a way that the novices could always be proud to show them off.
After Brother Oswin, phlegmatic in character, unflappable and unexcitable, Br. Maurice sometimes gave the impression of tenseness. He was definitely a perfectionist and suffered accordingly from any form of slipshodness or slovenliness. This did not make life easy for the easy-going and inevitably there was some grumbling.
In his conferences Br. Maurice was uncompromising but in reddition he was prepared to make the necessary allowances in the application of general principles to individual cases. He was very kind and understanding in these intimate talks with his novices.
When the Director perceived that a novice was not responding to the opportunities and graces of the novitiate, he prayed, considered and studied the situation and then came to a firm decision. He declared that he never regretted the dismissal of a novice since it was never something precipitate but the fruit of prayer and reflection.
Br. Maurice attached great importance to a thorough grounding in Christian Doctrine, not to say 'theology'. Every morning, both as Sub-Director and as Director, he gave a lesson on the subjects a lesson that was always thoroughly prepared. Then he would divide the novices into groups to discuss a particular aspect of the subject being treated and very now and again the fruits of these discussions were edited, polycopied and sent round to the communities. When the Council documents began to appear, each novice was given copies of them and was asked to make a particular study of one or other of them.
On free days and holidays no one could be more cheerful than the Director of Novices. At Christmas time the novices were given two weeks ‘vacation’, during which duties were reduced to a minimum and there was plenty of time for recreation and healthy relaxation. Picnic days were really enjoyable and on these occasions the novices were permitted to wander where they pleased. He particularly loved the traditional outing to Glandine, 'the mountains', and never failed to climb Arderin. On one such outing, when, like the novices he was in his shirt-sleeves, a novice, mistaking him for one of his chums, playfully tweaked his braces, only to find that it was no novice, but the Director himself, who turned round with a look that said very clearly "We are not amused!"
For the postulants Br. Maurice showed special consideration. He eased them gradually into the full novitiate programme. Every afternoon they were allowed to play a game and they were given extra time for recreation. A special series of instructions prepared them for the reception of the habit and novitiate proper.
The testimony of Br. Maurice's sub-Director during those years can fittingly close these considerations on him as Master of Novices. "When Br. Maurice became Director of the Novitiate in 1965”, he writes "I took his place as sub-Director. He took his work very seriously and tolerated no nonsense. Like so many people from North of the Boyne he was straight in his dealings with people and expected them to Act in like manner. His view was that a good, solid formation during the novitiate was essential for a novice's future life. He spent any free time he could dispose of preparing his conferences or reading up-to-date spiritual books and magazines. He purchased for the novitiate libraries quite a number of modern spiritual books.
"He was very kind and considerate towards the Brothers of the novitiate staff as indeed also towards the novices. If a novice seemed to be off colour, he would be told to go to the refectory at eleven o'clock where he would find a jug of milk from which to drink. He believed a lot in games as a means of keeping young people fit."
PROVINCIAL VISITOR: [Head of Irish Province]
In 1968 Brother Maurice found himself suddenly lifted from the pleasant if arduous environment of the novitiate in Castletown and faced with a formidable responsibility through his election by the District Chapter as Provincial Visitor, to succeed Br. Aloysius, the Brother who had brought him to Castletown in 1942. It was the first time the District was allowed, following the decisions of the General Chapter of 1966, to choose its Visitor. Br. Maurice's election was an extraordinary sign of confidence. At the age of forty he represented, it is true, the younger element of the Province, but considering how comparatively short a time he had spent in communities in Ireland, and the fact that he had never been a Director in an ordinary community, his election came as a surprise to many. His predecessor as Provincial had filled that office for a record twenty-one years and had built up a District that was amongst the most prosperous in the Institute, with over five hundred Brothers and forty-seven communities. The succession was made all the more difficult by reason of the particular circumstances of the moment of time in which Br. Maurice assumed office.
Br. Maurice took the government of the District in hand at a time of profound change and even disarray. For multiple reasons the period since the end of the Second Vatican Council has been one of almost catastrophic decline in religious congregations all over the world. In the heady euphoria of liberation that followed the Council and the General Chapters of the various religious orders subsequent to it, there was a general tendency to throw out the baby with the bath-water and the ‘Fais-ce que veux’ of Rabelais’s abbey of Theleme became the general slogan. The results were disastrous: massive defections, the drying up of vocations and a loss of a sense of direction.
Ireland, it is true, reacted more slowly to the Conciliar emancipation than most other countries and the Irish District of the De La Salle Brothers escaped in the Main the polarisations that occurred in so many other provinces of the Institute. Nevertheless, the uncertainty of the whole situation, the universal questioning of so many traditionally accepted truths and practices, the disarray of the Church at large and permissiveness and moral latitudinarianism characteristic of our time, led to numerous defections and to an alarming falling off in the numbers of vocations to the Brotherhood. The relevance of the Brother's vocation was increasingly called into question; even Brothers long in the Institute suffered an ‘identity crisis'. All this presented the new Visitor with a formidable challenge. For the first year of his 'reign' he had at least the experience and wisdom of the Auxiliary Visitor, Br. Oliver, to fall back on, but with the sudden death of the latter on October 4, 1969, he was left entirely on his own, at least until a successor to Br. Oliver was eventually chosen. Moreover, in addition to the problems concerning religious life he had to cope with new trends in education and startling new initiatives on the part of the Department of Education, out to rationalise and modernise a rather chaotic school situation. Quite quickly he got caught up in a battle with the Department, not only in defence of his own De La Salle schools, but all the schools run by religious congregations. In 1971 he was chosen as spokesman on educational matters by the educational sub-committee of the Commission of Major Religious Superiors of Ireland. He spoke particularly for the many convent schools, not all well qualified to deal with new demands and novel situations. In his last couple of years as Provincial the constant vigilance called for by the situation and the frequent confrontations with the Department, took up so much of his time that his specific duties as Visitor of his own congregation, in the opinion of many Brothers, suffered somewhat.
BROTHER MAURICE IN HIS OWN WORDS
In the retreat of 1972 he begins by noting that our District, like all the other Provinces of the Institute and indeed all the Religious Orders in the church, is in the throes of an agonising reappraisal of what the religious life means to-day and in a crisis of faith in the Church in general and the Institute in particular.
"In a world of vast change and upheaval" he says "there must be in religious life also change, experimentation, mistakes, anxiety, fear and doubt, misunderstanding, speculation, as we strive to adapt our life and our apostolate to the times, we live in. "But", he adds "We must understand and accept the basic principles of our religious life. Amidst all the flux and change are some unalterables which we disregard to our own cost and that of religion. We need to ask ourselves not so much 'What is the religious life?' but 'Where is the religious life?'. Religious life is a gift of God to His Church, calling individuals to a state of life which witnesses to the Church, and so to the world, the powers of the Kingdom of Christ that are already at work in the world and that challenge every Christian from the moment of baptism". For religious orders and the Church, he says "The great problem of the present time is perhaps less one of relevance as of a closely related problem: identity. To survive, the Church must make itself relevant to the world without losing its identity and without abandoning its stance of prophecy. Christians who begin by seeing secular involvement as the true meaning of their Christianity often end by finding their religion irrelevant. If the Church does not represent something unique it has no justification for existing."
He then goes on to consider what makes the religious life a special or particular way of living the Christian life and sees it as (1) The special public setting apart or consecration of the person with a view to seeking God (St. Benedict) (2) a special following of Christ and a special share in the sacrificial life of Christ; (3) the power, the freedom of action that results from celibacy; (4) a special insertion into the Christian community, into the Church, in and for the Church (here he stresses the importance of community, especially of the praying community). (5) A special kind of service to be a sign of the reality of God and the credibility of the Church (6) An eschatological sign: the future life projected into the present time.
From here he goes on to consider the basic constituents of the religious life as encapsulated in three vows; Celibacy (non-sensual, non-exclusive love) Poverty (non-possessive sharing of goods) Obedience (God's will all in all). It is faith that gives meaning to the religious life for it would be inexplicable if God did not exist. In this connection consecrated chastity is the most striking witness to God in a world of sensual permissiveness. Poverty is also a witness to the Kingdom of Christ but in order to be this there must be a reality about it. "Our District" he says "has yet to take this truth to heart. God does not abandon us; we desert Him, alienate ourselves, shut Him out. We profess poverty, then we must live poverty, live poor lives, consciously and deliberately, make personal and community decisions in favour of a poor life. This means sacrifice and death and our District has to die, now, by free choice, before it can take on new life (of parable of the grain of wheat). Such personal, community and District poverty will be the surest sign of faith and vitality. Decisions must therefore be generous, willing and radical and extended to every corner of our lives"
The Brothers' specialised apostolate, the Christian education of youth, naturally- comes up for consideration in the course of the retreat. In this connection he asks a series of questions 'What is it that made and makes our schools distinctive, unique? How does that fit in with present mood and educational planning? What are we fighting for? Are we still living in the past, with its security, its predictability and its assurance? What kind of service Midst we provide?' He then points out that as. a District we have to face the present actuality and think, plan and work together so as to make the necessary readjustments. He lays down the principles that must govern our thinking and planning in the field of education (a) the primacy of the spiritual over the secular. - First things first - the eternal truths which we live and which we preach for the sake of the Kingdom (b) The primacy of the sacrificial over the aggressive, the rebellious; (c) the primacy of the apostolate over social involvement or the promotion of humanitarian reform.
A subject that preoccupied Br. Maurice considerably was that of prayer. He read widely on this topic. He mentions a number of authors: Father Basset, Archbishop Bloom, Fr. John Sheet, Fr. Six, Von Balthasar, J.B. Metz. Prayer, he says, must be based on and spring from faith. He castigates those who “measure their service, have a parsimonious and niggardly approach, whose only ambition is to get by and never come to realise what life and prayer are all about". On the other hand, he praises those "who open themselves up to God, realise their true position, their need, and go to God for help, in season and out, at the times prescribed by the Rule and in between, when reading and walking and travelling". We speak" he says "of witness, of relevance, of service, but it is impossible for us religious to begin to realise the meaning of these words, to begin to plumb their depths, to come to understand the world and the needs and expectations and hopes of people, unless we steep ourselves daily in prayer."
Referring to the phenomenal success of Michel Quoist's "Prayer of Life" he insists that "real prayer arises and grows from real living; otherwise we merely go through the gestures. Prayer is for and about life and will involve us in events, in people and their emotions, doubts and anxieties. Prayer should become spontaneous, appropriate, sincere, humble, constructive, direct, simple." "The type of religious I want to become" he continues "is the one that is deeply religious, wise, experienced, prudent and patient, and this is impossible without prayer, regular, sincere and open-minded".
In this connection of prayer he laments also that "in our communities there is too much evidence that change and renewal have not resulted in greater intimacy and friendship with Christ, if we are to judge from appearances: Gone in many cases, are visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, Rosary, Monthly Retreats."
The Brothers have to live in community, and it is as a community, primarily, that they exercise an influence in a school. The importance of the "community" as a cell of the Mystical Body, as the Mystical Body in microcosm, as providing the individual with the opportunity of seeing Christ in others and being Christ to others, is a topic that is' greatly stressed in our time, and Br. Maurice deals at length with it. Community, he says, has always been important. So much depended for us as young Brothers on the particular community we were assigned to, on the people we met there, on the attitude that obtained in it, on how we were treated. He defines a community as "a group of people, living together in charity, in response to an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in faith, for a specific goal." A community, he says, is not a static thing, formed once for all "it must be created and worked for, and for a multitude of reasons it is not easily achieved or easily maintained. A person becomes a real member of the Order through deep inter-personal relationships in community. Each member communicates the special sacrament of Christ's presence, which is in himself, and shares in the sacrament of the others".
He appeals then for maturity, corporate responsibility, mutual support and understanding, self-sacrificing decisions, availability, in the Brothers' community relations. He points out that the post-Conciliar and post-Chapter gener
Looming large in the preoccupations of the members of the convention was the “crisis of identity". Had the Brothers' vocation become irrelevant? Was there any real need any longer for the Institute? What was a Brother doing, anyhow, that a good Catholic lay-master could not do equally well, if not better? The different language groups attempted to grapple with this problem, and we find the echoes of the debates in the pages of Br. Maurice's diary. "Why be a Brother"? he asks on one page and replies summarily:
(a) Ours is a unique way of living the Christian life;
(b) The world needs God and dedicated persons to show them God
(c) The Brothers' community forms community in the school,
(d) He has a special mission to the poor.
The debates at the convention ranged over many topics - community, authority, prayer, recruitment, formation, missions, finance. There was even a discussion as to whether the Brothers Assistants should travel round the Institute in teams. This proposition was rejected on various scores, among others that they would be regarded as a "travelling circus".!
A number of Br. Maurice's "personal" applications are interesting as showing his desire to improve his own performance as Visitor and raise the standards of his District. Thus on community prayers "Perhaps we could make an attempt to vary our community prayers, to introduce more meaning into them, to make them living prayers for the Brothers. Dialogue together is necessary to get us to think better on the subject. The effect this would have on the community. Perhaps some samples carefully prepared and distributed would help introduce the idea."
On the canonical visits “Visiting the communities, especially on the official visit, to be prepared to open up any and every question for discussion with the Brothers. To call as often as possible and to have the subjects prepared - read them up, have notes taken, to be familiar with them.. .
The funeral in Castletown on Holy Saturday  was a massive demonstration of the high place Br. Maurice had attained in public opinion and of the deep sympathy for the Order that his tragic end inspired.
"Brother Maurice" writes a Brother "was taken from us just when he was coming to the summit of his powers, when he was, perhaps, beginning to see a glimmer of light from the end of the tunnel, when he was beginning to apprehend the shape of things to come and to be able to offer us the vision and the inspiration that would enable us to emerge from our present impasse and discover what God wants from us in the future. His sudden and tragic death at this critical juncture was indeed a heavy loss to the Irish District and we hope that from a better world he is still concerned for us, still helping us along the road."