Br Joseph McArdle died among us in our infirmary on 10 May, some eighteen months after he had been diagnosed with a melanoma. A large crowd attended his funeral Mass on Wednesday 15 May, and accompanied him on the lovely walk through the gum trees to his resting place in the monastic cemetery a few hundred metres down the front avenue. Joe presided over the preparation of graves for many years, and his own was, to an extent, no exception. Under his direction the local contractor, Frank Woods, normally brought in his machinery and dug three or four at a time and filled them with sand. Then they were available with a minimum of fuss in whatever Melbourne weather. “We have our standards” was undoubtedly Joe’s mantra. Was he just a little disgusted on 15th to find that there was a slight crumbling at the top on one side?
Joe was born in Dublin on 24 January 1933, the only son of Patrick McArdle and Clare Moran. He had three much loved sisters: Madge O’Donnell who predeceased him; Barbara Thompson who lives in Dublin; and Marie O’Connor who migrated to Vancouver, Canada, with her husband, Seamus, and family. At his baptism a week after his birth, he was named Eamon Patrick.
After primary school he was apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner for five years, then continued to work in this role. The scouting movement was one of his valued involvements. (His 1928 copy of Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys, and a later Australian Scout Handbook, were still on his bookshelf when he died). On one occasion he camped with the scouts on the property of the Cistercian monks at Mt St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, in County Tipperary. God works in mysterious – or simple? – ways. It was there, surrounded by mates, that he heard the call to become a monk.
He entered the monastery at Roscrea, at twenty-one, on 16 July 1954. When he took the lay brothers’ habit on 30 January 1955, he was given the religious name, Joseph, appropriate enough for a carpenter. Scouting mates were with him when he made his solemn profession on 25 February 1960. On 31 October of the following year, he arrived in Melbourne aboard the S.S. Strathmore to contribute to the life of the young community at Tarrawarra.
As Dom Steele mentioned in his funeral homily, Joe has left his mark on the place via his workshop. Wood was his great love. We laughed when someone rang three days before his death to remind him that he was booked in for a wood-turning class on the Saturday, the day he actually died! He was an insatiable learner, always interested to know how things worked. As one of the brethren who preceded him to the cemetery once impatiently expostulated in response to his persistent questions: “You’re too bloody technical, Joe!”
In the early eighties, he was back in Ireland for two years helping to nurse his father. Of course, he leapt at the opportunity to do a course in basic nursing. This was an invaluable resource when he returned to Tarrawarra. For over 25 years he filled the role of infirmarian, caring for the elderly, the sick and dying members of the community. He really took on board St Benedict’s dictum: “Care of the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ”.
Joe had a great gift for friendship. His final weeks were an endless procession of visitors. (We were exhausted just sitting on the sidelines and watching the passing parade!). They didn’t all come from a hop, step and jump down the road. Some drove or flew from interstate. The day the Palliative Care Nurse arrived for the first time she was ushered into his small room to find it crowded with Joe and two friends sitting up knocking off a Yarra Valley chardonnay! She was delighted at the spirit he brought to his impending death.
His sisters, Barbara and Marie, spent time with Joe in Australia last year at the time of his diagnosis. He preferred that as quality time with them. His cousin, Vera McNamara, a great mate, who lives in Brisbane, was a wonderful support to Joe in his final weeks. We were also pleased to welcome Joe’s Aussie relatives, Vera’s daughter and sons, Denise, Declan and Colm, as well as Marie’s son, Frank O’Connor, to his Mass and burial.