Our community experienced the shock of a second death among its ranks only a matter of some six weeks after the death of Fr Finbarr. Early in the morning of 2 June 1999, when Br Leonardo did not appear, he was discovered to have died during the night. A death like this, completely unexpected, takes some time to come to terms with. Br Leonardo had lived with a number of health problems for many years, but none of them were life-threatening and, somehow, he seemed to be a survivor. It turned out from the autopsy that he had died — it would have been quite suddenly, the doctors told us — from a cerebral haemorrhage.
Br Leonardo Maria Xavier was one of a very large family originating in Macao and Hong Kong. Most of them, like Br Leonardo himself, moved to other countries, many of them to Australia, so that he had a lot of relatives and their families scattered around the country with whom he kept in close touch and often spoke about. But this is to get ahead of the story.
Br Leonardo moved into the area of clothes designing, with a special emphasis on furs and gained a considerable body of experience working in Hong Kong, Saigon (as it then was) and Paris and London. But he, too, eventually came to Australia. And it was here that the call of God to leave his work and take up a life of prayer eventually brought him to our monastery in 1976; he was no longer young by that time and was met with us raising the usual difficulties on that account, but he seemed quietly determined and so was accepted to enter, which he did on 21 August 1976.
He began the novitiate and things progressed for him in the usual way. Towards the end of his novitiate, however, a major health problem emerged which necessitated urgent surgery. At the time his doctors thought that he might not survive but, gradually, he recovered. Some time after this incident, Br Leonardo began to wonder whether the Lord was calling him to a more radical way of life and decided to test his vocation with the Carthusian monks at Parkminster in England. He went there in November 1979. He soon returned to Australia, but the call to a life of prayer was still with him and he asked to come back to our community.
He was accepted again, this time as a monastic Oblate, and returned to Tarrawarra in May 1980, resuming once again the Cistercian habit. He made his initial commitment as an Oblate in 1983 and permanently committed himself to the monastic Cistercian life on 15 August 1987.
During the time of his formation and since his final commitment, Br Leonardo devoted himself to the community with complete generosity, applying his many talents and skills for our benefit. In particular, of course it was the clothing department of the monastery, with its constant need for making and repairing our monastic habits and other clothing, that saw him contributing much. But he was also much in demand as a cook and over many years worked with Br Joachim in the kitchen in the difficult day to day work of providing meals for the community and its guests.
As well as this, his talents as an artist found expression in his painting, to which he applied himself with wonderful diligence and constancy over the years, as many purchasers of his oil and water colours will attest. On the great feast days it was Br Leonardo who undertook the flower arrangement, producing some magnificent floral settings for the sanctuary of the church. We don’t know about producing a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it was often amazing what Br Leonardo could do on some of the big days which occur in our winter when there was virtually nothing in the garden. His ingenuity showed itself on one memorable occasion when we were enjoying a visit from the redoubtable Benedictine scholar and authority on St Bernard of Clairvaux. Dom Jean Leclercq: it was known that Dom Jean loved collecting hats and, since he already had an Akubra, Leonardo fashioned a fur hat for him — out of a bath mat!
During his years in the monastery, Br Leonardo made contact with a wide circle of friends to whom he was very loyal, a loyalty which they returned to him in full measure. They will miss him very much, as will we his brothers in the community. But he once promised that he would look after us from heaven, perhaps even send us a shower of roses like his favourite St Therese of Lisieux. We haven’t sighted any roses yet, but we’re sure that the invisible graces are flowing. May he rest in peace.