Posted January 15, 2016 in MH Ottawa ON:
The Poorest Man I Ever Knew

by Shatzi Duffy.

Malachy Brian Scott, whom we buried last summer, was the poorest man I have ever known, but he was rich in faith. When Madonna House Ottawa met him forty years ago on Parent Street, we were the strangers and he welcomed us with food and other gifts.

Born and raised in Lower Town, Ottawa, Malachy never completed grade school. And though he took some high school correspondence courses, he could not function in the workplace. He was fiercely independent, and in the end, people left him to his own resources.

The illness he suffered, paranoid schizophrenia, cost him everything—family relationships, the dignity of work, and friends.

But Malachy delighted in doing little things for other people. He lived a simple life of errands, little kindnesses, and prayer. He often walked to Mass at St. Patrick’s Basilica, a good hour from his home.

Malachy loved his coffee, and he made little jokes that few could hear or understand. He was one of the gentlest men on earth, and his crooked smile and vulnerability brought forth compassion from others. As far as we know, he never held a grudge.

When I met Malachy about ten years ago in his bare city apartment, Martha Shepherd and Arlene Becker, the staff at MH Ottawa, were bringing him food and other things. His rundown room lacked curtains, and the dirt on the windows was so thick you could barely see out.

We perched awkwardly on the floor because there was so little furniture—a bed, a desk and one chair. All the same, he resisted our offers of pictures or a table. Stuff suffocated him. No matter what you gave him, it went to someone else.

Malachy loved these weekly visits because he loved to eat. Martha and Arlene would cook 24 pieces of chicken and leave them for the week in his vacant fridge. Otherwise, he ate at the local soup kitchen, his home away from home. He liked the atmosphere; in fact, he would have liked to live there among the poorest of the poor.

Martha died three years ago, and distressed about this, Malachy arrived at our house and gave us a wad of bills. Then he disappeared.

It was unlike Malachy to lose touch, so we started phoning around—his landlord, the hospitals, the police. Finally, the building manager gave me the name of a friend of his who might know his whereabouts. This friend, a social worker at the John Howard Society prison ministry, had found Malachy lying unconscious on the floor of his apartment.

After we spoke, Rob was nonplussed. He turned to his colleagues and said, "I have some startling news; Malachy has two other friends!"

Malachy’s frequent charity visits to the John Howard Society had earned him a place on the staff roster hanging by the door, but he had never told them about us. He had his secrets.

From Rob, we learned that following the seizure, Malachy had landed at a city hospital. The seizure had probably been caused by years of massive doses of medication.

After this, he was quickly evicted from his apartment, his few belongings ending up in the rubbish bin. His doctor had retired years ago, and a social worker had dropped him. He was always falling through the cracks of the system.

At first, Malachy was determined to leave the hospital. "All I want to do when I get home," he said, "is to pay my bills, go to Mass, and do little things to help other people." But he never did leave.

For the most part he accepted his treatment there—both the good and the bad. The hospital became his monastery; the hallways he walked up and down with his distinctive Parkinson shuffle became his cloister walk. He also tried to help the other patients.

One day when he asked to go to Mass, the nurse was astonished. She hadn’t known he could talk.

Another day, a bemused physiotherapist waited twenty minutes while he finished multiple novena prayers for friends, including several for MH staff.

Moreover, in that hospital which routinely destroys children in the womb, his very presence witnessed to the value of life.

After ten months, Malachy could no longer bear the confinement of a hospital ward and attempted his first "jail break." One time he got as far as the bus stop, but his hospital gown and shuffle made it difficult for him to succeed. Even so, the security guard posted outside his room failed to intimidate him completely.

Malachy had his ways of expressing his displeasure non-verbally. One of them, sailing down the corridor with gown flapping and bare flank exposed to the wind, evoked a variety of responses.

By the time he had been in the hospital for two years, Malachy had sort of adapted, but nothing could prevent the seizures that left him progressively weaker.

When Malachy died, this man who had suffered so many indignities, he was given a sung Tridentine funeral Mass. It was an eloquent beginning for the glory of his Real Life.

Malachy died and was buried just before Arlene, who founded MH Ottawa and had spent more than forty years there, celebrated fifty years as a member of Madonna House. One of the countless people whom she listened into life, he was certainly part of her celebration. Arlene says she spent more time listening to Malachy than to almost any other friend.

In his own way, Malachy lived the life and spirit of Madonna House. And broken and unfixable like all of us, he bears the marks of Christ crucified. Now he also bears His glory.

"Every stranger is a gift from God," Catherine Doherty used to tell us, and some friends, like Malachy, change our lives forever.


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