Br Celsus Hendron

Br Celsus Hendron died peacefully, at the age of 91, in our infirmary in the early hours of 19 May. On 27 May a large crowd gathered for his funeral Mass and burial, in the monastic cemetery. Two priest cousins, Fr Liam Mackle of the Servites, and Fr Jim Victory of Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese, were among the concelebrants. His niece, Marianne, joined us from Ballarat, as well as a distant cousin, David McCorry, who lives these days with his young family in Melbourne. Celsus’ youngest sister, Ita, who flew out for periods around his last three birthdays as well as on other occasions stretching back over decades, knew that she was saying “goodbye” when she left this time on 18 March. She and two other surviving siblings, Br Joseph and Sr Kathleen, were very much part of our farewell in spirit. The family in Ireland had a memorial Mass later when Br Joseph was present with them on his annual leave from England. Eight of Joseph’s De La Salle confreres in Melbourne put in an impressive representation, on his behalf, at the funeral Mass.

Dom Steele Hartmann’s fine homily for the occasion appears on the back page and contains other biographical details that don’t need to be repeated here. Celsus was the third of eight siblings, son of Joseph Hendron and Bridget Mackle. Four became religious. Celsus was the only Tarrawarra Founder from Northern Ireland, and he was indeed a Northern Ireland Catholic. Steele recalls one occasion when he referred to “Londonderry” and was informed by Celsus, with his customary economy of words, “It’s Derry!”

He moved to the Republic of Ireland to join our mother-house, Mount St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, even though there was a fairly recently established community of the Order across Lake Neagh from his hometown, Portadown. His early formation was received at Roscrea, Fr Finbarr Linehan being his novice master there. Finbarr was sufficiently proud of Celsus and another of his former novices to digress, in a Moral Theology class to the early Australians at Tarrawarra, applying to these two novices St Paul’s boast to the communities of Thessalonica and Philippi: “[They] are my pride and joy… [They] are my joy and crown”. He was right.

Celsus made his final profession at Tarrawarra on 12 April 1956 as he had been flown to Australia in September 1954 to become the first of our monastic farm managers. He had been a monk for only four years when this conspicuous confidence was shown him by Dom Camillus Claffey. After his death his brother Aidan Hendron (Br Joseph) wrote: “I always felt that Celsus found deep fulfilment with the Cistercians in the 60+ years he spent with them – and he was very happy in Australia among the Aussies. I did have occasion to visit him when I visited our [De La Salle] Communities in Australia. He had a pride and joy in the progress and development that followed the Foundation, and although he didn’t express it openly, a certain satisfaction, I think, that he had made his contribution in laying good foundations – foundations in every sense of the word”.

Brothers Munchin Sheehy and Kevin Burke were his offsiders on the farm in the early years. Munchin, in his typical comical fashion, has recorded of this arrangement: “Celsus, all power; Kevin, some power; Munchin, no power”. Two old soldiers, Boland and Baxter, also carried on some share farming at that time, often proving a further complication. Managing the farm was hard slog when machinery and other resources were difficult to come by. A sentence from our Cistercian Constitutions (3:5) provides some clue to an understanding of what probably accounts for Celsus being perceived by his brother as “very happy in Australia”: “Only if the brothers prefer nothing whatever to Christ will they be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious”.

The time came when Celsus was no longer directly responsible for running the farm. But, like Berger’s paint, he “kept on keeping on”, decades after he reached pensionable age. He was an implacable foe of thistles. He was a familiar sight filling in pot-holes on the front avenue and farm roads. He chopped great piles of wood for winter fires in our guesthouse and also to share with the needy. Fires were one of his “favourite things”; on more than one occasion the fire brigade had to be called to one of his burn-offs that got away. He rang the rising bell for over fifty years, and then, just as the guests, perhaps, were dropping off after the carry-on into the wee small hours by the possums in the ceiling, Celsus would start cleaning the ashes out of the fireplace below and setting up for a cheerful roaring breakfast fire.

Celsus strove to maintain a monastic life that was generous in his work commitment without neglecting his prayer life. He loved reading the scriptures and St Bernard. He spent a day each week in the hermitage at a quiet spot on the property. On one such occasion a police helicopter searching for three prison escapees known to be in the area landed close by to check out this small building tucked away in its isolation. It would have made a good yarn at the pub that night when they told of surrounding this hut, cornering a bloke, and being told, when asked what he was doing, “I’m praying”. Good onya, mate!

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