Brother Columba – leading by example

St Joseph Secondary School Kuching school magazine featuring Bro Columba.

St Joseph Secondary School Kuching school magazine featuring Bro Columba.

 By Stephen Then

MIRI: I could not help but feel a deep sense of sadness as I visited my old school – St Joseph Secondary School – in Kuching.

I was back in Kuching the past three days for the Chinese New Year.

When I am back I make it a practice to visit two places that hold a lot of memories – my old school and my mother’s graveyard.

These two places evoke memories of the past.

Being there physucally gives me a chance to travel back in time in the mental and emotional sense.

This time, however, my visit to St Joseph Secondary School made me sad because a week ago (last Thursday) my former principal Brother Columba Gleeson passed away.

He died at the age of 81 in his retirement home in Ireland.

Bro Columba was the last of the De la Salle principal in my school.

He retired in the late 1980s after spending more than 30 years in the teaching profession.

I still remember him as a most-remarkable principal – but not in terns of academic achievement – though during his time as principal St Joseph excelled in many academic and sports fields.

My fond memories of Bro Columba was in his personal character – his loyalty and faith in God, his down-to-earth nature, his humility, his dedication and commitment towards education, how he cared for the welfare of his staff and students, his sense of justice and fairness and how he practised what he preaches.

He was the type of person who led by example and not just words.

While keeping his eyes on God, Bro Columba kept his feet firmly on the ground and was never carried away by his status or position in the education arena.

I knew Bro Columba not just as a principal, but also as a mentor and a friend.

We got to know each other well after I got into trouble for bashing up some school gangsters when I was in Form 5.

I took on two school hooligans and bashed up one of them pretty badly after prolonged bullying by them that drove me over the edge.

Bro Columba suspended me and one of the school bullies for a week. He gave me three lashes of the rottan as well.

After I served my punishment, I chanced upon him while on my way to the school library one afternoon and Bro Columba explained that he had to punish me because I took the law into my own hands.

He told me that he did some investigations into my fight with the school rascals and he found that I was actually the victim.

However, since I physically attacked the school bully I was in the wrong.

Bro Columba advised me to always seek help from the right authority first and he assured me he will give his personal attention.

I still remember that conversation well because after that Bro Columba shook hands with me and gave me a pat on the shoulder.

There was another incident in which Bro Columba showed his humble side by apologising to a student whom he had slapped.

That student who was my classmate invoked Bro Columba’s wrath during a public assembly by talking while Bro Columba was giving an important speech on the stage.

A few days later I bumped into Bro Columba while on the way to the library and I asked him why he had been so harsh to the student whom he had slapped.

Bro Columba explained that he needed to be firm when it comes to discipline or else there will be chaos in the school.

I thought that was it but to my surprise Bro Columba came to my class the next day and apologised to the student he had slapped.

He acknowledged that what he did was too harsh but of course, he also gave a good lecture on the need for strict discipline.

That incident whereby Bro Columba actually apologised to a student increased my respect for him.

This is one man who preached humility and mercy and showed how to do it through personal example.

Bro Columba penned a message in the school magazine before he retired and urged the students to aim for the stars.

He urged them to go out into the world to make it a better place and to always aim high for knowledge and enlightenment.

He made special emphasis on the need to nurture racial and religious acceptance among students and staff from every race and religion.

Bro Columba was an outstanding person who has inspired the thousands of young who grew up under his leadership.

I am honoured to have known this great man.

By now, the late Bro Columba would have encountered Almighy God for his judgement.

Bro Columba would have given an account to God on how he had lived his life while on this earth.

And I am very sure God would have spoken these loving words to Bro Columba – “well done, good and faithful servant”.

May you rest in eternal peace, Bro Columba.

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