Br Brendan Gaynor
Our Brother Brendan Gaynor died peacefully in our infirmary on 16 April, eighteen months after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. The community, his sisters Mary Harper and Bernadette Kearney, and brother-in-law Chris, surrounded him with prayer during the last hour of his life. One of the community said later: “That was a beautiful death. I would like a death like that”. He had undergone surgery and received the whole range of treatments but to no avail. Brendan was present at the deathbed of his ninety-five year old mother, Irene, a fortnight earlier. Her funeral in Bacchus Marsh was also an opportunity for him to say goodbye to the many relatives and friends who attended. After that, he seemed to have permission to relinquish the long struggle and follow. He was sixty. A friend who was at Irene’s Requiem wrote after Brendan’s death: “I hold a wonderful memory of my last embrace at his mother’s funeral when he seemed so full of joy”. His funeral Mass and burial in our community cemetery on 20 April was attended by over 300, drawn from a large extended family, his personal friends, the cattle confraternity, and the many faithful friends of Tarrawarra. We thank them all for their prayerful and loving support of Bren and us, his monastic brethren.
Brendan was born at Bacchus Marsh on 18 November 1950, the son of Tom and Irene (nee Egan) Gaynor. He had only two siblings, Mary and Bernadette. But there was a large extended family, his mother Irene, for instance, at her death was the last of seventy-four first cousins. Was there any Victorian Catholic family, priest or religious he wasn’t related to? The Gaynor family were dairy farmers, a background to Brendan’s widely appreciated farming expertise. He joined the Carmelite Friars at the age of seventeen, spending three years with them. The Spirit, however, seemed to be leading him along a different way.
When he was discerning a Cistercian vocation he wrote: “My Carmelite vocation still means a lot to me and it seems wrong to consider changing. I suppose I have taken my vocation reasonably seriously and all my ideals and approach to life have become Carmelite. Perhaps one of the strongest things linking me to the Order are the Carmelites that make up the Order. I have grown very close to them and have formed some very wonderful friends among them. So, you can probably imagine the doubt that comes to me when I am tempted to leave the Order for another. And yet, I don’t think this is my vocation. Basically, I think that God wants me to serve him and his people as a contemplative. It seems to me that the hidden, simple life of prayer, penance and poverty is more my way of living out the Gospel. I think it is this idea of simplicity in serving God which attracts me most towards your Order. Naturally, I realise that even at Tarrawarra it is not ‘simple’ to serve God but you probably know what I mean”. Some of his Carmelite friends from those days joined us at his Mass and burial.
Brendan entered the Tarrawarra community on 28 July 1970. He received the Cistercian habit on 5 September that year. His first profession as a monk on 16 September 1972 was followed by solemn monastic profession on 8 December 1975. During those years he studied in the community and developed a love for early monastic literature. He found his year of studies at St. John’s University, Collegeville, in the United States, an enriching experience. The visit to the Holy Land which was part of that course, together with travel to Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries in various parts of the world, including Africa, further rooted him in these traditions he cherished. He would later teach some segments of the monastic spirituality course to more junior members of the Tarrawarra community. Feedback from his students revealed their appreciation of his knack of leading them to enjoy those studies and to continue to want to explore for themselves.
Brendan contributed to the life of the community in other ways also. At various stages he was on the Abbot’s Council, the Finance Committee, the Liturgy Group. On the finance side of things, he met regularly with the members of our invaluable lay Tarrawarra Advisory Group. The farm, both dairy and beef, claimed an enormous amount of his working life. He has left a spoken and lived testimony that monastic work is not a necessary evil but an integral part of our spirituality. He was what is referred to in twelfth century Cistercian literature as “a lover of the place”.
The Yarra Valley and the Tarrawarra property had a special claim on his heart. His love for the place was not merely romantic. He was committed to practical care for the property and the stock. He built on the great work of those who laid the foundations in the early decades. The pastures, the tree plantations, and the much sought after cattle that had been so carefully bred, all speak of his dedication. He had an amazing know ledge of each beast and its bloodlines. The cattle industry recognised his expertise and demonstrated this when he was taken to Tasmania to judge in an Agricultural Show, and was involved in many Charolais events.
Over the years he struggled with prolonged periods of both floods and droughts. The most devastating and traumatic challenge he had to face was the bushfire of Black Saturday 2009. It was the farm that was impacted that day. The loss of pastures, plantations, and fencing was bad enough. But Bren’s greatest trauma was to witness the suffering of the sixty-three beautiful heifers that had been burnt and had to be put down. In the months that followed his courage and endless work to restore what had been destroyed was incredible. This was a very unromantic revelation of what it meant to be “a lover of the place”. May he enjoy the fullness of God’s life and love.