A CHRISTIAN Brother whose first job was working in a shearing shed in outback Queensland and who ended up ministering to prisoners died recently after an accident on the road to Toowoomba.
Br Gary Ferguson and a fellow Christian Brother Patrick White were both taken to Toowoomba Hospital after the accident, and Br Ferguson died there on December 27 surrounded by his four sisters, two nieces and Br Marty Sanderson, a member of the brothers’ Oceania leadership team.
The two Christian Brothers were on their way to the home of one of Br Ferguson’s sisters at Withcott for Christmas when the accident happened.
Br Ferguson’s nephew Anthony Frangi, in a eulogy at the brother’s funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Banyo, said his much loved uncle had ministered at Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care in Fortitude Valley when he retired home to Queensland.
There he used his skills as a chef to serve up many meals and he listened to many stories from the people who frequented the centre.
“Looking back on his career, Gary said that he never forgot the words from a priest who once told him – ‘Don’t talk about it; just get in and do it’ – and he followed that mantra because it is how he was brought up,” Mr Frangi said.
“Gary said – growing up we helped each other out and were practical in what we did.
“Gary’s family meant the world to him. He cared about us a lot and never wanted to lose touch.
“Every Christmas he would travel home to Queensland to enjoy time with his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces …
“Gary’s zest for life, sense of humour and culinary skills made every moment with him special.
“Gary was a great conversationalist – you could actually spend long hours conversing about both meaningful and meaningless things.”
Having joined the Christian Brothers as a 20-year-old in 1962, Br Ferguson served in New South Wales until retiring about four years ago to the Viridian retirement community at Boondall, in Brisbane.
Br White, a friend from Br Ferguson’s days in NSW and more recently at the Viridian community, and Mr Frangi gave a two-part eulogy at the funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Banyo.
Mr Frangi told of how his uncle, born in Surat, south-west of Roma, as the sixth of nine children to Colin and Veda Ferguson (nee Stephenson), took up a job in a shearing shed on leaving St Mary’s College, Toowoomba.
He then trained as a chef, worked in a cafe in Surat, and became a shearers’ cook and managed his father’s supermarket outside of the shearing season.
A priest he met when still in primary school and who later became a friend influenced him to join the Christian Brothers.
With the brothers, he earned a fine reputation for his culinary and catering skills over a 20-year period at Mount St Mary’s, Strathfield, where he was responsible for organising jubilee celebrations and other major events.
He later managed a retreat centre at Gerringong and a retreat and conference centre at Mulgoa.
Joining the St Vincent de Paul Society broadened his ministry to the poor and marginalised.
He volunteered with the Vinnies Night Patrol working with the homeless on the streets of inner Sydney.
He was on the founding committee of the Ozanam Youth Lodge, was appointed to the NSW State Homeless Committee and became involved with various other initiatives assisting homeless youth.
From there, he was invited into prison ministry, and he took to that with compassion.
In one of the many tributes that Br White read during the eulogy, Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning said Br Ferguson became “a wonderful man for others, especially for those broken and excluded in and by our society – prisoners, the homeless and the plain and simple lonely”.
“He was a companion to those who had none,” Mr Glendenning said.
“He had a gentleness of soul that was rare, someone who never allowed his empathy and openness to others to be limited by cynicism or guile.
“He leaves behind a legacy of kindness and compassion that will never die, and that this world needs.”