Posted January 19, 2009 in MH Edmonton AB:
Men Who Stay the Course

by Patrick Stewart.

Last August, Michael Fagan, one of the staff of Marian Centre, traveled to Combermere to celebrate with his classmates his fiftieth anniversary as a member of Madonna House. Mike is a gem of a man.

Living at Marian Centre, I have come to know lots of men who are gems. I’d like to share a bit about just a few of them.

I’ll start with Gerrad (not his real name. I’ve changed all the names.). A few months ago, Gerrad was admitted to the palliative care unit of the University of Alberta Hospital. He is dying from a fast-growing type of melanoma.

Gerrad has been working with the cancer specialists to beat this thing for something over a year now. His prime motive for trying to live longer has been John Francis, a younger man, who has become his best friend, brother, and son.

John Francis struggles with severe mental illness, and Gerrad, who worked in the mental health system, has been God’s perfect gift to him. While Gerrad was fighting for his life, he organized his finances, bought a home, and made his will in such a way that John Francis will be materially secure for the rest of his life.

When I visited Gerrad in the hospital recently, he was in a considerable amount of pain. He had, however, come to peace with his illness and with God about his coming death. His one remaining petition is for John Francis, for his strength, his peace, and that his needs be taken care of. Gerrad is like fine jade.

Another friend of Marian Centre, Walter, took early retirement from the oil patch up north in order to stay with his wife Larissa and their two children, Aaron and Liza, here in Edmonton. The children would be leaving home before long, for school and work, and he wanted their last years at home to be good and life-giving.

Less than six months after his retirement, he had a massive heart attack. He likely would have died if he had still been under the pressures of the work place, but he got through it all with his family at his side and was back on his feet and strong enough to see Larissa through two major illnesses. She is still battling a rare form of cancer.

In and around all of this, Walter took the family to New Zealand and Spain. He mentors Aaron through all his sport activities, and though he’s not a musician, he’s right in there with Liza’s musical training and performances.

Besides all this. Walter, often accompanied by Larissa, comes to Marian Centre most Mondays to serve at our soup kitchen. Walter is like a black pearl.

Then there’s Roger. For many years he was the director of an overnight shelter for intoxicated men and women, a shelter which Mike Fagan helped start in the 1980’s. I think he met his wife while she was volunteering there. Now Roger stays home and takes care of the house and children while his wife Sarah, an oncologist, works at the city’s cancer hospital.

Roger, a bear of a man, a man’s man in the best sense, is a gentle giant and tender as can be with his family, but he is not afraid to use his strength of mind and body when necessary.

On several occasions, for the sake of his children and others in the school system, he went all the way to the top in challenging some questionable activities and programs.

At one point, for example. he obtained permission from the principal for his son George to be excused from a martial art class with a strong eastern spiritual element. When this resulted in George being banned from other sports activities as well, Roger successfully fought that, too.

Roger was a weekly volunteer at Marian Centre until his daughter Katherine was born six years ago. I imagine he’ll be back once she’s in school. Ray is like ivory.

Finally, there is Tom. Tom is from the inner city. He’s big and tough and has a heart of the finest gold. Tom has been volunteering at Marian Centre daily for the past couple of years.

Tom has had lots of troubles. He still struggles with his demons, but puts his body where his heart is. His sharing at our daily coffee break is often colorful and is always important for Tom to say and for us to hear.

Tom could knock down the biggest of the big, but he uses his strength and prowess to help the weakest of the weak by the simple tasks he does here day in and day out. Tom is like a diamond in the rough.

There are, of course, many other men I have come to know in Edmonton whom I could mention here.

At a time when so many of us have suffered from the absence, ignorance, aggressiveness, and sometimes ill will of our fathers and other men, it is important for us to acknowledge those who have stayed the course, those who have gotten back on their feet, those who have done and are doing their best even in the face of adversity and poor formation in the skills and glories of manhood.

In Madonna House, men like Michael Fagan have stayed the course. Formed by years of hard work, sacrifice, and setbacks, they have been emboldened by love, hope, good humor, and God’s generosity of spirit. I am a far better man for having known, lived, and worked with Michael and other gemstones in Combermere and in our field houses. May I continue to grow into the man the Lord has destined me to become, and may all my brothers in the apostolate continue to do so as well. May we each become a gem in the crown of Our Lady of Combermere.


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