We were good mates
I haven’t thought about Brendan Connell for decades. We were mates in primary school, when we both were unequivocal catholics. He was good fun, smart and a better than average sportsperson. We competed fiercely with each other scholastically and in a sporting sense. Occassionally we came to blows. Neither of us would give an inch, but whatever the problem was, it would be forgotten the next day.
I remember him having a remarkably inquiring mind. We teamed up in Grade 4 to do a lengthly project on UFOs and ancient aliens. I don’t know how we got away with that. I suspect it was Brendan’s big winning smile and cheeky confident innocence.
For all that supposed innocence Brendan was much more worldly than I. He was much more familiar with the mechanics of sex. He spoke openly about violence in a very familiar way. His father was Scottish and loved soccer. Brendan introduced me to the fierce rivalry between Rangers and Celtic that according to him made Carlton/Collingwood look like a meeting of the Catholic Ladies Auxillary. He was a huge boxing fan, absolutely loved Muhammad Ali and could recount tales of his most famous fights. He was great company.
For all intents and purposes, Brendan seemed like a normal boy, other than his devotion to his religion. I don’t know what year it was in primary school that he told me that he was going to be a priest. It didn’t shock me, but I was ten years old at the most.
Parting ways with Brendan Connell
For reasons lost in the mists of time, I transitioned from St Bernards to St Josephs College in the last year in primary school. Brendan waited a year before starting at St Josephs in year seven.
He arrived well adjusted and stayed that way. I was already retreating into myself. Nevertheless, it was great to renew acquaintances even if we weren’t allocated to the same home class ( there were three or four classes of 35 boys each). Brendan never changed. He remained true to himself, his values and his God. Whereas I was busy jettisoning everything in search of something I could believe in.
Its fair to say that we never hung out much together. He hadn’t changed. I had.
The last time we had anything to do with each other was in year nine – when the teacher made us sit together at the front of the class. He was still mischievous and cheeky in a healthy way. I was moody and recalcitrant. Still, he made me laugh and we got into our fair share of disclipinary trouble.
I knew Brendan was special and was a little jealous of how natural and confident he was. I’m pretty sure that our year nine teacher, Miss Freeman, a blustering, bulldozing woman, had a bit of a boy crush on him. She was putty in his hands, although that didn’t stop her belting him with the strap on a daily basis. (We had a bit of a competition going on that score and it was neck and neck all year.)
After that year, I can’t remember much. We always remained civil, perhaps as an acknowledgement of our history. We simply no longer had anything in common.
To be honest, I can’t remember completing VCE with him. Maybe he went somewhere else. Maybe I just choose not to remember my last school years. I’m not sure.
Finding Brendan Connell
We didn’t just go separate ways after school, we went pretty much in opposite directions.
I just never thought of him until one of my mates told me that Brendan had become a priest. It didn’t surprise me. It seemed inevitable. His faith was uncompromising and he had always seemed focused on his goal.
Good for him.
I never gave him another thought. Not until recently.
Then, I started to wonder how a man who was obviously so devoted to his faith coped with all the criminal behaviour within his church. There would be some dark days, I imagine. I also imagine that Brendan being Brendan would face up to the situation and call a spade a bloody shovel and get on with living the life he chose. There would be no other way for him.
I imagined but didn’t know.
So, I went looking for him online. I found him in Tasmania. The features have grown a little haggard, but that big grin is still there, along with that openness and willingness to learn. He’s doing a doctorate in theology and still satisfying that enquiring mind.
I still have no idea how he copes with the obvious hypocrisy of his church. I know he will find a way. Brendan Connell is living his dream. Good for him.
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