I have already suggested that if an Australian Brown Joey (a Sister of St Joseph) can get a Sydney ferry named after her the “Saint Mary McKillop”, a Marist Brother could well get his name on the list of “beatificandi” – candidates for beatification and later sainthood. Charley Howard, Brother Elias, was my Pygmalion at Marist Brothers High School Kogarah. I tell the story in the first chapter of my book, “From Illusions to Illumination. The Itinerary of a Franciscan Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”, which you can read posted in this Blog on September 28, 2015 (penultimate paragraph). But the future Saint Charles is famous and canonizable for other reasons. He devoted his whole life to Catholic education, and ended up General of the Congregation of Marist Brothers in Rome : a peerless pedagogue, a saintly, sincere, exceptional and exemplary servant of God and the Church. He was the best argument I ever encountered for believing in God and even Catholicism.
There is now another Australian candidate for sainthood. I knew him as a fellow Franciscan seminarian. I saw him for the last time a few years ago, before he died, like the Polish Pope, of Parkinson’s and pneumonia. He had become Emeritus Archbishop Sir Brian Barnes, O.F.M., D.D., MBE, KBE, GCL. His recent Requiem Mass underlined his extraordinary service not only of the Catholic faith but of the people of Papua New Guinea, whom he had served since his Ordination in 1958. His political outspokenness bore witness to his courage and dedication to eradicating corruption from politics in his adopted country. His outstanding fidelity to his Christian convictions and the Franciscan ethos were recognized throughout PNG, Australia and the British Commonwealth. He deserves recognition as a Saint.
During our seminary days – he was three years ahead of me – we called this popular confrere and gentle giant “Pud”, or “The Pud”. (My own nickname, “Chaff” or “The Chaff”, is explained by my addiction to corn flakes for breakfast; I do not know the reason for Brian’s.) His biographer might appreciate one anecdote concerning him which I remember. One day he swallowed an enormous peach-stone. We waited anxiously for the successful … outcome, which he was … relieved to report the next day. Among the god-awful hymns we used to sing was one praising Mary Immaculate : “O, Mother, I could weep for mirth; joy fills my heart so fast. My soul today is Heaven on earth. Oh, would the transport last !” From the day Pud passed the peach-stone, we could not sing the hymn without thinking “Oh, would the transit last !”
Of course, the title of “Saint” is no guarantee – notwithstanding papal infallibility – that the nominee is enjoying heavenly bliss. His body was cremated and Brian Barnes no longer exists. But during his busy, multi-faceted life he served not only as a missionary, trudging up and down mountains to administer to his parishioners in the PNG jungle, but spent twenty years as a uniformed Police Chaplain and thirty years as a Bishop, who did not hesitate to join bare-breasted men and women in tribal dances. Brian would be among the most colorful of the Communion of Saints. The title of sainthood, crowning the multiple other distinctions he received, would be a fitting tribute to preserve the memory and the example of a great man.
Canonizing Brian Barnes and Charles Howard would remind atheists – worse, renegade religious and apostate priests like me – that rôle-models for believers like Charles and Brian are not only immune to the best arguments we have to offer in advocating atheism; they themselves incarnate the least feeble of the arguments against it. St Charles of Kogarah and Saint Brian of Port Moresby would keep atheists humble, though I could personally brag about having known them both . . .
P.S. The distinction “G.C.L.” is the highest award given to outstanding citizens of Papua New Guinea. It stands for “Grand Commander of Logohu” and is limited to twenty living recipients, who are addressed as “Grand Chief”. There are five honorary Grand Commanders including former American President Bill Clinton and former Australian Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser.