In 1962 after teaching my first 4 years at Molloy, a school I learned to love, I was transferred to St. Helena High School. My new school I would learn to love through those memorable 9 years I would teach and coach there. Admittedly, at first I was disconsolate, finding the adjustment difficult. But there was Declan, whose name was already synonymous with the personal warmth and vitalizing atmosphere in St. Helena classrooms and the Brothers’ community. From the beginning at my new school, Declan sort of adopted me. As I look back I realize I gradually evolved into his brother in the true sense of the word. His concern and personality lifted my spirit. He had an exceptional gift for changing darkness into light, for infusing laughter and vitality, not merely into the commonplace, but into ridiculous and difficult situations. Looking back from the vantage point of old age, it is clear to me that God was directly involved in my life when I was assigned to St. Helena. There I met several of the Marist Brothers who would be among my closest friends, sustaining and enriching me through some challenging years up until the present….Foremost among these was Declan!
What can I say about Declan? Over the past 50 years I’ve shared countless wonderful, fun-filled experiences with this exceptional bright, witty, insightful, articulate, compassionate friend. I’ve frequently been awed by his nimble mind, his phenomenal memory for small, long ago, forgotten details of stories, as well as, for the melodies and lyrics of numerous Broadway musical scores, his uncanny talent for mimicking the voices of colorful characters that peopled our past.
Declan treated his students the way he always wished to be treated by authority. I believe he felt a teacher never abdicates his moral authority. Imitating the Great Teacher who has called us to life of faith, hope and love, Declan lived by the law of compassion, even when challenged by students to defy it. Misbehaving students expect a negative response. Negative reactions rarely promote lasting change or growth. Declan confronted students with positive reactions – patience, understanding, counseling and acceptance. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t frustrated and upset at times, however, he was committed to the core truth of education – “self hate destroys; self-esteem saves.” Students felt that Declan really liked them and they readily bonded with him. Over the years, listening to students, boys as well as girls, the most frequent refrain I heard was “I love Br. Declan.” Most teachers would be happy to hear “I respected you, you were fair, and I learned a lot.” “I love that teacher” is a step up and that’s the one that remains enshrined in their memories for life.
His last two years of displacement, illness, and suffering have been painful for Declan and those who love him. The Brothers, his wonderful friends extended themselves attempting to lift his spirit and diminish his suffering. The poet standing by the bed of his dying wife, reflects upon the many happy years they spent, and moans “it wasn’t meant to end like this.” “What story deserves to end in suffering and death? The story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in which it does not ‘end like this’ is for some a breakthrough into faith. This is the story that makes all our life stories meaningful. Faced with death – ours and that of others – we too may feel ‘it wasn’t meant to end like this.’ In the Gospels we discover it does not and thus our lives are not absurd and meaningless. We believe the tomb is simply the womb of eternal life.” (quote from Why Go To Church – T. Radcliffe.)
– Br. James Maher