Br Gabriel Curtis died very quietly and peacefully after a long illness. He was born in Dublin and baptised and confirmed in his parish church of Terenure. He was a panel beater by trade and had experience of working in Northern Ireland and in England where, during an early bombing raid in the Second World War, he very narrowly escaped being killed. God had other plans for him. He became a Cistercian at Roscrea, where his brother (now Fr Emmanuel of that community) had preceded him. However, the greater part of his monastic life was spent at Tarrawarra; almost exactly 30 years, for he was in one of the first groups of monks to come to the new foundation, arriving in Melbourne aboard S.S. Orion in August 1955.
During all those years, Br Gabriel was our truck driver, motor mechanic, welder, plumber and a host of other things besides. But it was the personal qualities of the man which endeared him to us: his sense of humour, his Dublin accent which he never lost, his endless yarns and anecdotes, and his small repertoire of tunes from the 1930s and 1940s which you would often hear him singing or whistling.
The Abbot said in his homily at the funeral that you understood Br Gabriel when you remembered that he was a Dubliner through and through, who grew up in that city in the 1920s and through the Depression. That meant hardship and a lot of hard work, but the qualities of that old city and its people also gave him the liveliness and optimism which so marked his character. There was too, a close family life and, above all, there was a great devotion to the Mass and to prayer. It never mattered how late Br Gabriel might be back after a trip to the markets or elsewhere, you would always see him in the Blessed Sacrament chapel finishing his Office and perhaps saying the Rosary.
From this prayer and this background, there was in him a fundamental attitude of adherence to the will of God. Perhaps, in the end, that was the most characteristic thing about him: he was obedient to God’s word in whatever way it came to him. This surely explains the truly wondrous peace and resignation with which he accepted the news that he had not long to live. Throughout his last illness, he remained alert and in good spirits to the end. It was a privilege to be nursing him here at home and as he died, and to witness God’s manifest blessings to him. Br Gabriel’s funeral on 4 April 1985 was attended by a very large gathering of friends.
(Tarrawarra Newsletter, April 1985)