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Marist Bulletin - Number 62

 

Brother Denis Condado, at 91 years old, doyen of our Marist Province in China
11.04.2003

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THE SECRET of LONGEVITY: “JOY”

Br. Lluís Serra

At 91 years young, Brother Denis Condado is the most senior member of the Marist Province of China. Born in Santurde near Burgos, Spain, he has spent his life working in Tien-Tsin and Hong Kong China, Kobe Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia. From 1970 to the present, he has been a member of the Marist community in Hong Kong and continues to help students at Saint Francis Xaxier College in that city. Our interview took place in the living room of his community. He’s a careful listener and answered my questions in his clear and precise way.

You know with that beard you have, you really seem to be Chinese.
Once, when I was in the Scholasticate, near Beijing, in 1937, I was kidnapped for 48 days by a bunch of outlaws. Being unable to shave, I wound up with my little beard and I’ve had it ever since then. They captured two chaplains and six of us brothers. They said they’d let us go if we gave them weapons, but we had neither weapons nor money. When they realized the situation was hopeless, they sent us home. Eventually we kept in touch with them and we became friends.

Did you fear for your life at any time?
No, in spite of the fact that they threatened us a few times, even with death.

How did you wind up coming here to China?
There were 10 of us at home, four girls and six boys, one of whom had become a Marist brother. I wanted to be one, too. After I kept insisting, I succeeded in making my dream come true when I was 11. In the Juniorate, when they asked us who wanted to go to the missions, I put my hand up, and so at 12 years of age I was off to Grugliasco, Italy, to train for this.

When did you arrive here?
I shipped out from Genoa with some other brothers. I arrived in Shanghai after a journey of 28 days, on November 22nd – I was 19 at the time.

Wow, what an adventure...
This was a lifetime commitment. If you could return home, fine, but it was possible that you might remain here for the rest of your life.

How did your parents react?
They didn’t oppose the idea. They were solid Christians. They said to me, “If this is what you want, go ahead and do it.”

Your first assignment in China...
Teaching. At that time, classes were taught in English, since we were at St. Louis, an international school in Tien-tsin.

After so many years in China, what do you admire most about its people and culture?
The people are very friendly, very gracious, very hardworking, very religious. I’m fascinated by the arts in China, like painting, sculpture, temples...

How come you went to Japan?
En 1951 a school was opened in Kobe, and I was part of the group that got things going. A priest wanted to start this secondary school, and since he knew the brothers, he invited us to run it. We started out with just a few students but within a short period of time the place filled up. I was there for six years.

And when did you take up your work in Hong Kong?
After attending a yearlong spiritual renewal program in Rome, I came to Hong Kong to teach. After that I was Master of Novices in Singapore for four or five years. Then I went to Kuching, Sarawak, in Malaysia.

What are your fondest memories as a Marist educator?
One of my greatest satisfactions is to meet my former students, see how their lives are unfolding and how the training they received is helping them get ahead in their personal and professional lives.

You’ve spent your life in countries where Catholics are a minority of the population. What’s the significance of that fact?
After the Second World War, there were a lot of conversions because people were searching for spirituality. Now that there’s a lot of money around, it’s easier for people to distance themselves from religion.

How is it possible to provide a Christian education when Catholics are so few in number?
The Catholic Church is well respected. Families hold its schools in high regard and seek out Catholic education for their children. We teach the Bible in the early grades, and also ethics.

You have discussions with Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Muslims, and non-believer...
I’ve always been interested in other religions – for the most part, one is observant and respectful. Once, I asked a boy if he had ever thought of becoming a religious. At the present time, he’s in a Salesian seminary.

What has helped you most to persevere in your calling to be a Marist brother?
My novitiate experience was a very good one. We had an extraordinary Master of Novices. I read a lot about vocation. This impression has always stayed with me. I’ve always been very happy to be Marist, and have been a member of very joyful communities with excellent spirit.

If a young man told you that he wanted to be like you, a Marist brother, what would you say to him?
That he’d be very happy, that he would have a very joyful life, that he’d help young people a lot, and would win heaven and earth.

Why do you think that so many young people today find it difficult to accept the possibility of becoming religious brothers and sisters?
Setting their heart on something is a problem now that there are so many distractions in life, making it more challenging for them to concentrate on their interior life.

How have you seen our Marist Congregation evolve from the time of your youth until now?
There have been times when I’ve heard people say, “It’s all over, we won’t be around much longer...!” Better to shut up. Changes are taking place in the Church and some people haven’t been able to digest them.

You view our Marist future with hope?
I’m optimistic; there are ups and downs but there’s always something new coming along. A lot depends on us.

How many Marist Superiors General have you met in person?
Brothers Seán, Benito, Charles, Basilio, Charles Raphael, Diogene, Stratonique...

Seven out of twelve – not bad! What can an elderly brother contribute to our Marist Institute?
Good example.

Yes, but I’ve heard you play the organ at the parish church, you help out in the high school, promoting reading among the students... You still lead a very active life.
Since my heart attack, I’ve had to slow down a little.

How did you celebrate the canonization of St. Marcellin?
We enjoyed a wonderful celebration here. We organized a solemn Mass at the Cathedral. It was a very special time for our school together with our other Marist school in the city. After years and years of making novenas to ask for the canonization, we were all extremely happy. Our non-Catholic teachers even asked the principal to have more Catholic observances since we are a Catholic school.

How do you relate to the school’s lay teachers?
When I meet a teacher, we talk with each other as friends.

What role does Mary, our Good Mother, play in your life?
As Marists, she is truly our Good Mother, she’s part of our spirituality. In our celebrations, it just comes naturally to speak about Our Lady. We sense that she is always with us. With students who want to, we recite the Rosary during recess. Some come every day, more on feast days. Two of us brothers usually accompany them but it’s the boys themselves who lead the prayer; our being there helps them a little.

There are plans to construct a new six-story addition... but who will finance this?
The government pays for construction and our teachers. The students add a contribution of their own.

If you could start your life over, would you become a Marist brother again?
Why not? It’s useless to dwell on it. I am what I am, that’s it... I’m happy about who I am and what I’ve done.

In your present community there are two brothers from China, two from Malaysia, one from Germany, and yourself, from Spain. How do the six of you integrate the four cultures involved?
It’s very easy. We’re Marists and that’s our nationality. We’re very happy about the communities we have and an excellent spirit reigns.

Do you get nostalgic and long to return to Spain?
I’ve left that all behind... I don’t even think about it. My last visit was in 1983. I have a sister there, in Madrid. She’s 96. We write to each other once in a while

What do you think about being the doyen of our Marist Province of China?
It annoys me when people bring it up. So what if I’m the dean of the Province? It’s no big deal. People mean well but I wish they’d let me get on with my life.

Does that mean my interviewing you as dean of the Province has bothered you?
No, absolutely not.

But now the whole world is going to know when this issue of the Marist Bulletin appears...
That’s the worst of it. Say as little as you can about me.

How’s your health these days?
It’s not the greatest, since I have to be careful about my heart, but it’s OK. Mentally I’m fine, although sometimes my memory goes.

What’s your secret for living so many years with such a great quality of life?
Joy.

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