Abbot Malachy Thomas Brasil OCSO born 2 February 1883 entered 15 August 1905 professed 28 December 1910 ordained 23 June 1911 Abbot Mount Saint Bernard 1933 -1959 died, Nunraw, 28 July 1965
Abbot Emeritus of Mount Saint Bernard Obituary Dom Malachy Brasil, former Abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Mount St. Bernard in Leicestershire, died 28 July 1965, aged eighty-two. He was born Thomas Brasil at Ballylanders, County Limerick, on February. 2nd, 1883, and his character never lost the impress which was first made upon it by simple Catholic piety, the habits of a farming community, and an education at the college run by the monks of Mount Melleray. The monastery of his choice was Mount St. Joseph, Roscrea, near his own home county: here he taught in the college, became novice-master, and finally prior. By 1933 quite a notable revival had taken place in the century-old monastery of Mount St. Bernard, near Leicester. Dom Celsus O'Connell had been chiefly responsible for this, but he was now elected to Mount Melleray, and Mount St. Bernard found itself without an abbot. The few, entitled to vote chose one who was hardly known to the community, the prior of Mount St. Joseph. It was soon found that the abbot knew his own mind about what Mount St. Bernard needed, and that no ordinary difficulties would deter him from carrying his policies into action. By the autumn of 1939 the abbey church had assumed those graceful and austere proportions which have since aroused the admiration of thousands of Englishmen, and considerable extensions had been made to the monks' living quarters. There followed the grim task of guiding a monastic community through the years of the second world war. Peace brought an influx of aspirants, as was to be expected. The burden which Abbot Malachy had to bear was hardly more than that which must rest on the shoulders of any religious superior; but he carried it for more than twenty-five years. When he celebrated his silver jubilee of abbatial office in 1958, his health seemed to have been undermined beyond repair. However, the acceptance of his resignation a few months later brought a new lease of life. His last years, spent at the abbey of Nunraw in East Lothian, were all the more happy for him because he was not left inactive, but was able to direct a rising generation in the capacity of Father Master of students. These young monks seem unanimous in acknowledging the help which they received from Dom Malachy's experience and insight. He died at St. Raphael's Hospital, Edinburgh, and his body was brought to Nunraw for burial. Many of those who had been praying beside him had the impression that all traces of age, suffering and strain, have fallen away: He now looked just like the stocky, tenacious man who came across from Ireland at the age of fifty just over thirty-two years ago, and undertook the government of a monastery which was quite strange to him. If the community of Mount St. Bernard Abbey has now been able to spread out into Bamenda, West Cameroon, this is because it was held together and formed under Dom Malachy's influence and in the light of his example. John Morson, Prior, Mt. St. Bernard The Tablet, 7 August 1965 Dom Malachy attributed to the retreat given to the community at Roscrea, in the opening days of 1914, by Dom Columba Marmion his love for and wonderful appreciation of the monastic and contemplative way of life. The following ‘word’, spoken at Nunraw in 1961 is typical of his teaching. PRAYER ACCORDING TO THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT. The Holy Legislator has left no special system of prayer, apart from his Rule, as a directive for his followers. No method or way of prayer is to be found in the Rule apart from the instructions on reverence at prayer and at the Divine Office. Consequently if we look for a scientific direction on the subject of prayer in the Rule of St. Benedict, we shall find none. Why is this? The answer is all important. Because the whole Rule is primarily and entirely concerned not with a system of prayer but with a life of prayer. In this prayer life, one learns not only how to pray but to give oneself spontaneously and naturally so to speak to a continuous exercise of prayer. This is Our Blessed Lord's admonition literally fulfilled: 'Pray always' - 'Pray without ceasing' as St. Paul says. The Benedictine monastic prayer is unceasing. Every exercise of the Rule promotes and sustains it, especially the lectio divina, regular reading, public reading at meals and in chapter. The monk is so constantly reminded of the presence of God as to be always attentive to his voice, ever ready to speak to him, exteriorly or interiorly, mentally or vocally, in short ejaculations. Such, as far as one can see, is the Benedictine way of prayer, so very like the prayerful lives of the early Christians, who had but one prayer as well as but one heart and soul. Abbot Malachy Thomas BRASIL (1883-1965) Abbot of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Profile Novice - 2 February 1883 Thomas Brazil. the son of William and Mary nee Murphy, was born 2 February 1883 at Cullane, parish of Ballylanders, Co. Limerick. Strictly speaking then our Thomas was the second son. Possessed of a large farm of good land the Brazils were said to be well off people. There were four surviving children, two boys and two girls. After attending the local national school all got the opportunity of receiving a secondary education. Every morning Tom rode his pony to a classical school that was five or six miles from his home. He was sometimes seen to dismount and visit a wayside church. On finishing here Tom went to St. Patrick’s College, Thurles. Though situated in Co. Limerick, Ballylanders is in the Archdiocese of Cashel. Tom, it would appear, left St. Patrick’s after a year and went to Mount Melleray. There he studied philosophy. On finishing the two years’ course he applied to Mount St. Joseph as an aspirant. If we are to credit some of his contemporaries he was a backward student but a young man of excellent character. He did not distinguish himself in the field of sports, games or the stage. In manner he was reserved, gentle and gave no offence to others. We find it recorded that on the feast of the Assumption 1905 Thomas Brazil with another class-mate, Thomas McCormack, entered the novitiate. At that time the simply professed remained in the novitiate until solemn profession. During the three extra years they were still regarded and even referred to as novices. Hence one could truly say that the period of the novitiate extended to five years and was usually preceded by a two month’s postulancy. Even then there was a further delay owing to the fact that the candidate was not proposed for either simple or solemn profession for some days after the expiry of the prescribed period. At the time, however. both classes of vows were taken usque ad mortem. On the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, October 15 following, the two received at the hands of their superior the white novices garb. St. Malachy of Bangor and Armagh became the patron of the subject we have under consideration. From the beginning of the novitiate it became evident that Bro. Malachy realised for what purpose he had come to the religious life. He unremittingly applied himself to gain full knowledge of all that a Cistercian novice is bound to learn. Hence his minute study of the Holy Rule. the Constitutions that interpret it for the Order of the Cistercians of the strict observance, the Regulations that instruct him in every detail of the full Trappist life. Junior Monk - 1 Nov 1905 When Bro. Malachy had completed the prescribed time of probation the community admitted him unanimously to simple vows. His mother came for the occasion. She usually visited her son yearly. The ceremony took place on All Saint’s day 1905. Owing to having the two years philosophy already finished our newly professed joined immediately the theology classes, Soon he got the office of assistant sacristan. To have charge of a large monastic church where twenty priests celebrated Holy Mass every morning on over a dozen altars was not even for an assistant a sinecure. The years hurried on and the next important event in Bro. Malachy’s life was that of his solemn profession. Again the voting of his brethren in this important matter revealed an unanimous decision. The same could be said when our brother later had been proposed on three different occasions for the major orders. In other words Bro. Malachy never received a black vote. This indeed proved to be a record and it speaks eloquently of the grand religious spirit of the young Cistercian. Hence one need not delay on those years of his life in the cloister. Bro. Malachy made his final profession on December 28th 1910. The function had to be postponed for almost two months. This happened first owing to the fact that the previous September the superior appointed him to teach an elementary class at the college. Then the annual retreat commenced during the absence of the students on Christmas holidays. Bro. Malachy often said afterwards that it had been during those years as a teacher that he grasped the Latin and other languages and other subjects. The president and visiting inspectors always reported favourably of his classes. He himself became proficient in speaking and writing the language of the church. Ordination - 24 June 1912 On New Year’s morning 1911, three days after solemn profession, our brother and the young religious who entered with him viz. Bro. Colmcille McCormack received at the hands of their abbot, Dom Camillus Beardwood, clerical tonsure. On the feast of the Epiphany following the same prelate conferred on them the four minor orders. The bishop of the diocese, Most Reverend Michael Fogarty, came towards the close of the same month (Sunday January 29) to raise to the priesthood three other members of the community. On the same occasion the four acolytes of whom Bro. Malachy was included were ordained sub-deacons. Before they received the second of the major orders a year almost intervened. In the month of July of that year (1911) the reigning abbot passed to his reward. His successor, Dom Justin McCarthy, did not receive the abbatial blessing until St. Luke’s feast in October. This undoubtedly accounts for the delay. In the following year, Dr. Fogarty came on January 14. He conferred on the four sub-deacons the order of deaconship. As the bishop could not come again that Summer he gave permission for the young levites to go to All Hallow’s College for ordination. The four together with Fr. Joseph Hayes who was, owing to serious illness unable to receive the other orders with them, were clothed with the priestly office on Sunday, eve of St. John the Baptist’s feast, in the college chapel. It was the year 1912. Most Reverend Patrick Morrisroe, bishop of Achonry, conferred the sacred orders. After his ordination Fr. Malachy’s classes at the college were increased. For the next few years teaching took up daily three or four hours. On concluding his classes he came back to the monastery and usually went out to the work in the fields. The superior had enjoined this on the monks teaching there. Being a religious of more than ordinary virtue this expressed wish of those in authority was looked on by the young priest as if it were a command. His fidelity to rule and his vocation greatly edified not only his brethren but also the employees at the college. In consequence he was quickly promoted to the most important duties in the monastery. Early in 1915. the third subprior of the community died. He had come from Mount Melleray on the foundation in 1878. At the time it was more or less the practice to appoint only the senior members to the important offices. During the vacancy several spoke of Fr. Malachy as the ideal for the position. Others said he had only been a priest three years. In fact he and the companion who entered with him were the two junior priests of the community. Nevertheless Dom Justin believed our monk to be the most suitable for the position. A year or two later the Fr. Subprior became master of the brothers and the brother novices. Some time after 1920, Fr. Bernard Master of choir-novices, fell ill. Owing to obesity and other ailments he relinquished this office. Fr. Malachy again filled this important post. Hence at the same time he had the responsibility of being the subprior of the abbey as well as being novice-master of both classes of novices and the charge of the solemnly professed brothers. When appointed subprior in the beginning of 1915 he left the college. No one ever saw him go there in after years. Shortly before his death in 1922 the prior, Fr. Patrick Corbett, asked to be relieved of that office. On coming on the foundation from Mount Melleray in 1878 he had been the senior member. Again Fr. Malachy succeeded him as second superior. He still remained the Fr. Master of choir-novices and took on the teaching of dogmatic theology. All those years from his first appointment as an subaltern superior to his leaving for Mount St. Bernard in the month of May 1933 he was responsible under the abbot, Dom Justin McCarthy, for many improvements in the abbey. Mount Saint Bernard Abbey In 1927 the superior ‘ad nutum’, Fr. Louis Carew, passed to his reward. There had been no abbot therein since the passing of Dom Wilfred Hipwood in 1910. The number of monks in the meanwhile had dwindled to seventeen. Fr. Louis, a monk of Mount Melleray, was succeeded by Fr. Celsus O’Connell, prior of the same abbey. Two years later as this monastery commenced to increase its personnel an election took place (1929). Dom Celsus was chosen to continue his successful government. Three years later, 1933, Abbot Stanislaus Hickey after a short reign as abbot of Mount Melleray went the way of all flesh. At the election for a successor the monks of this venerable abbey chose their former prior, Abbot O’Connell. This left Mount St. Bernard without an abbot. It appears that at the time the community believed that they had no one suitable to fill the position and in the event elected Fr. Malachy as successor of Dom Celsus O’Connell. Not until almost the eve of the election at Mount St. Bernard did Dom Malachy learn that his name had been mentioned, as the likely choice of the community. On the eve of Ascension Thursday, May 24, 1933, as Dom Justin was vesting in the sacristy to officiate at the burial of a deceased brother a wire was handed to him by the brother-porter. On reading it he gave it to one of the assistant priests. He made no mention to anyone of what it contained. All proceeded in silence to the church. As the procession passed out in the open ground the monk who had been handed the wire and who knew that there was a possibility of Fr. Malachy’s election got an opportunity of reading it. The announcement was certainly brief, viz.. “Your prior elected”. He passed it on with congratulations to our priest. Feeling, no doubt, overcome the prior retired at once from the procession and repaired to his room. Next day, Ascension Thursday, he left Mount St. Joseph for good. The Abbot The Abbot Elect after spending a short time in a Dublin clinic betook himself to Mount St. Bernard. There the prior and community received him with a good grace. (Dom. Malachy received the abbatial blessing at the hands of the bishop of the diocese Most Reverend John McNulty on the feast of our Lady of Mount St. Carmel 1933). On going to England Dom Malachy developed a genuine love for the country of his adoption and took out British citizenship. In stature he was below medium height. He sometimes quoted St. Paul’s words about his insignificant appearance. He had a massive roundish head deep forehead, fair-hair, though sparse, fresh complexion, rotund in body but not over stout. His first move, we were informed, was to call in an outsider to improve the chant and discharge of the divine office. After examining the accounts and revenue of the abbey he planned the building of the monastic church. Already Pugin, the famous architect of the nineteenth century had designed a small church of which the nave had been completed. There it stood for nearly a century unfinished. With admirable courage the new superior changed the plans and built practically another church twice the size of what was previously designed. There were critics, of course, of the monastic edifice with a nave in the east and one in the west with the altar in the centre Since Vatican ii however, visitors to the monastery say that Dom Malachy was a century ahead of his time. Next he beautified the grounds, enlarged the guesthouse and brought it up-to-date. Not a year passed during his time as superior that did not witness improvements made in both the buildings and farm. During this period the personnel of the community also increased and reached the highest ever. He received subjects professed them and had a large number of his monks raised to the priesthood. When eventually he laid aside the pastoral staff in 1959 he left to his successor a flourishing abbey. By far the greater part of Abbot Brasil’s life in the cloister was passed in authority. Like the late holy father Pope John XXIII, he could say he never sought nor expected the different positions of responsibility that were thrust on him. Even at his passing on July 28, 1965 at the age of eighty two and a half years he was honoured by having both the abbot-general and the abbot-vicar present at the obsequies. Retirement 1959 - Death 1965 Early in 1959 when he had just completed his seventy sixth year he had then been ill in hospital. Without notifying the abbot-general of this step he made it known to the brethren of his monastery. As this procedure was not quite in order Dom Malachy had to go through the usual formalities i.e. first to notify the general giving the reasons for his retirement.Some time later Dom Malachy’s abdication was formally announced. On leaving hospital he went directly to Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw, Scotland. (In 1946 he had been associated in negotiations for the establishment of Nunraw and would seem to have had an attraction to the place). Here a former novice of his at Mount St. Joseph, Dom Columban Mulcahy, and others that knew him at Roscrea extended to him a warm welcome. He took up the position there as master of Scholastics. This duty he held almost to the end. Abbot Malachy made the occasional remark about his personal vocation. He admitted that he felt the first years difficult as a Trappist but on witnessing the death of a holy brother that ‘clenched’ (his own word) his vocation. On being asked by one of his brethren did he always feel an attraction to the priesthood, his reply was that in early years he believed he could never attain to this but then he had hoped to be a Christian brother. The questioner was not quite sure what he meant by saying, “he believed he could never attain to the priesthood”. Was it that he had a feeling of unfitness or unworthiness or that he was backward at his studies? As a monk he had no time for those who indulged in criticism of superiors or were given to gossip. We have already spoken of the sufferings and trials he endured in order to follow his vocation. It reminds one of St. Jerome’s advice to his spiritual daughter when he wrote advising her that if parents or sisters or brothers were to throw themselves on the threshold of the door to prevent her from embracing the religious state she should step over their bodies and pay no heed to their moans and groans. Abbot Malachy’s years as a religious needed only eighteen days to complete sixty (1905-1965). In 1962 he celebrated the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination. He had indeed always been a man of deep religious conviction, a man of prayer, a man of integrity. He bore the crosses that the good God permitted to be his portion as a monk and as an abbot with admirable patience and charity. In the three abbeys of his of his Cistercian life, his name will always be held in esteem and honour. May his soul rest in peace.