Good-bye, cheerful Br. Camillus!

In memories of br. Camillus

The presence of Brother Camillus in Kenya was not so long, but in spite of that his remembrance is still lively.

He came to Kenya in 1987 and was assigned to Tabaka Mission Hospital as a nurse, but he did not stay there much time because his extrovert character made him to ask to go to Nairobi where he could come in contact with more people.

He was assigned to the community of Bolech House/Caledonia, namely to the residence of St. Camillus Seminary, in Langata, where he worked as the bursar of the seminary and as vocation promoter. His presence in the formation team was relevant, particularly from the moral and spiritual aspect, because he was the elder of the group. For the young seminarians he was really the mzee (elder in Swahili language), which is an essential figure in the African culture. In fact he was an example of wisdom, gentleness and goodness. Punctual in prayer, respectful of community life, Br. Camillus was cheerful in dealing with people, willing to chat and familiarize with everybody. His main duty was to reply to the letters that the prospective seminarians wrote to him, asking to be accepted in our formation house. In his answers he was always open, optimistic, ready to welcome young men in the seminary in good number. I think his innate goodness and warmness of character have drawn young Kenyan to join Camillians more than many words or vocational meetings. His presence, particularly when he wore the Camillian white habit, was attractive and appealing, therefore he was always the prima donna in the “come and see” encounters with the prospective seminarians.

If I have to describe in few words Camillus’ temperament, I would say that he was a cheerful and gentle person, a happy Camillian! In the years I shared with him in the seminary I never saw him sad or angry. On the contrary, the arrival of Camillus on the scene, was it at table, or in the course of a discussion, or in a spiritual gathering brought a note of joy and relaxation.

Unforgettable were the times spent with him over a cup of tea, particularly in the evening after the students had retired to their rooms. He used to remember with a lot of details the time he spent in England (where once he had the chance to take tea with the Queen!), in Australia, in Italy and of course in Ireland. He was proud to describe how he was choosing nice places for relaxation, how he knew, in nursing to elderly, to take care of old ladies who would – at their last departure – leave some of their goods to the Church. Camillus was well known by the religious houses around the seminary since on his way back from Karen – a small town in the outskirt of Nairobi – where he went to buy food supply and collect the post (e-mail was not yet born at that time) he used to stop at this or that religious house and chat with the in-dwellers of which many were Europeans.

When purchasing food he never missed to buy butter because, as a true Irishman, he was keen of it. One day I got the gut to tell him: “Camillus, are you not exaggerating in spreading all that butter on your slice of bread; it will make your cholesterol go too high”. “No problem about that, Paul – he answered – my mum used to eat kilos of butter and lived up to 87 years. Our bodies are accustomed to such diet”. Now I have to admit he was right. In fact, in spite of that “weakness” he reached 97!

Apart from such colorful and worldly aspects of his life, Brother Camillus was a man of prayer, a good religious faithful to his duties, a lover of life but especially a lover of God, of Mary and of St. Camillus. I am sure the young Kenyan seminarians – me included, since at that time I was young – got a lot of inspiration from his jovial, gentle and generous behavior. I am sure he will continue to entertain people, up there, through his remarkable sense of humor.

Paolo Guarise