THERE was excitement when the Lower Sixth Class of St Joseph`s Secondary School in 1966 learned they were getting a new Brother as their form teacher.
They soon found out this new Brother was quite different.
Johnny Kueh and the other boys found that Brother Columba had “an angelic smile and was very handsome.”
Daniel Law said the Brother had a gentleness about him.
“He was unassuming, had an unthreatening way of communicating which made us very comfortable.”
The 10 girls from the St Teresa`s Convent School across the road obviously felt a lot more.
As Josephine Kong put it: “With his strikingly good looks and charm, Bro Columba immediately became the favourite teacher of the young female population in Lower 6 who soon fondly referred to him as Robert Redford. We were not only mesmerised by his good looks but also by his teaching.”
She added: “He had the ability to turn dull economic theories of supply and demand, marginal utility and so on into a fascinating subject, and explain complex issues in a way that made sense to us and he did it all with a great sense of humour. You could not find a more patient and understanding teacher than Brother Columba.”
The boys concurred. Datu Haji Abang Helmi bin Ikhwan said he scored an `A` in economics because of Brother Columba`s handling of the subject. Both he and Josephine later majored in economics in university.
Brother Columba was the eldest in a family of eight. He was born to James Gleeson and Annie Corbett on March 18, 1935, in a townsland called Cullenwaine, Co Offaly, Ireland.
He was baptised James Gleeson as it was common practice in Ireland then for the eldest son in the family to take the father`s name. He went to the National School at Moneygall, the neighbouring village, from where President Obama`s great, great, great, great grandfather emigrated to the US in 1850.
James Gleeson senior was a full-time farmer and Annie was a full-time farmer`s wife. They worked their farm “solidly, ploughing with horses and planting crops such as potatoes, turnips, beets and mangels, as well as grain crops and raising livestock.”
James Junior and his brothers helped with various tasks on the farm after school.
At a little over 13, in 1948, James Gleeson or Jimmy to his family, left home to join the De La Salle Brothers` junior training centres at Mallow and Castletown. Why he did so “remains a bit of a mystery even today.”
A De La Salle Brother had visited and talked to students of his primary school about the work of the Brothers. He had regularly read some religious magazines and such events “probably sowed the seeds of attraction to the religious life.”
For three years James studied for the Irish Intermediate Examination. He excelled in his studies as well as in games, especially the Irish game of hurling.
In 1951, he progressed to the Novitiate for a year of intensive training for life as a Brother where he was given the name Brother Columba.
On leaving secular life to formally enter a religious order, it was the practice for Brothers and Sisters to be given a new name, symbolising their new commitment and way of life.
“Looking back,”Brother Columba said: “I regret having to lose my baptismal (and my father`s) name but that was the strange system in those days!”The Sunday Post
Shaping Lives-A Brother’s Story
Shaping Lives-A Brother’s Story