By Clare Burns
FATHER Emmanuel Green had many names.
Big Ray (Raymond) to his family, Big One to Louise his long-time carer, Father Green or Father Emmanuel to the parish of St Clare’s, Box Hill North, where I first met him nearly 30 years ago, Cha Green to his Vietnamese friends but to many he was simply known as Father.
On the memorial card Father drafted were the words Worker-Brother-Priest, perhaps there wasn’t enough room to add artist, architect, builder, poet, author, cook, as well as English teacher and furniture supplier to many refugees. He also held a black belt in aikido.
Fr Green left this earth on Friday, February 6. He had been suffering for many years and while death was expected I was still caught off-guard.
Then again Fr Green always did have a way of surprising, usually this came in the form of unearned generosity.
Not only did he provide daily bread as priest, he gave books, artwork, cards, food, laughter and cherished conversation.
Fr Green was big.
He had a big frame, built big monasteries, painted big images, had a big dog called Bear and liked a big, strong Vietnamese coffee to finish his meals.
“Tell me anything? Ask me anything,” Fr Green would often say.
“Be rich in friends,” was also a constant saying.
Fr Green was rich, he had built up a big account throughout his life.
He treasured people, giving them his time.
He also treasured what was given to him.
I remember feeling humbled in my late teens seeing a Wilson’s Promontory card I had posted displayed in his artist studio.
Last year when Fr Green moved into a nursing home I was presented with a large envelope – it had many of the cards, sketches and letters I had given to him over the years.
While many people were drawn to Fr Green, his laughter, constancy and creativity, he was drawn to them too.
Even in ill health Fr Green was Christ-like, waiting for me to come to visit, embracing me and always looking forward to our next meeting.
In many ways Fr Green was ahead of his time as a refugee advocate, recycler and designer. He liked to: “build churches and schools so they appear as if they are floating with almost no support”.
Fr Green often made these buildings from brick off-cuts, long before there was any mention of a hole in the ozone layer or sustainability was officially in vogue.
More than 30 years after Fr Green drafted and built a school for the Woodend community in 10 days, modern designers were so impressed with its unique, modern structure they renovated it into an extraordinary award-winning home, lauded by the architect community.
When I was a child in the mid-1980s Fr Green took my sister and I to visit refugees in high-rise buildings.
It was authentic experiences like this that taught me so much, mainly from being in Fr Green’s presence and observing.
That said, not all was passive, Fr Green was never shy at delegating a job if something needed to be done, as many of his friends will attest – they will also attest to being happy to serve.
I think I knew Fr Green well enough over 30 years to be able to say I didn’t know him.
About 10 years ago I edited some of Fr Green’s book A Man’s Job for God, and on every page I learnt something new whether it was his love for God and Church, appreciation of form and design or wood and steel.
I miss Fr Green. While he needed to go to the big banquet in the sky I somehow hoped he’d be around just a bit longer. Thank you, Father. May your rest in peace be big.
Fr Emmanuel Green was born on May 11, 1936, and died on February 6, 2015. He moved to Ayr, Queensland, at 18 to join religious life, helping establish a new Australian order – the Confraternity of the Christ the Priest.
Clare Burns is a Melbourne Catholic studying in Brisbane.