CHRISTIAN Brother Bill Tynan is “supposed to be looking for a job”, but that task will have to take a back seat until two East Timorese teenagers currently in Brisbane return home.
The youths are recuperating from orthopaedic surgery and come from Railaco Kraic, a mountain community outside of Dili, where Br Bill worked until April this year.
Having known the children for almost 10 years he is keen to be around for their recovery.
“I’ve set aside some time. I’ve told my bosses that for the next six or eight weeks this is what I will be doing,” he said.
Hearing Br Bill talk about his life, work and dedication to the Christian Brothers it is probably a safe bet to assume those “bosses” will support his decision.
The weeks Br Bill devotes himself to the young patients may also give him time to reacquaint himself with his hometown, having grown up in the Hendra/Clayfield area of Brisbane.
“I’m a past student of St Rita’s, (Clayfield) and St Columban’s (Albion). I used to walk down the road to St Columban’s which is now a retirement home,” he said.
He’s also enjoying the hot showers and flushing toilets that come with being back in Australia.
Coming from a family Bill considered well-off, he paints a humbling picture of life for the East Timorese where the average living income per family is about $500 a year the equivalent of a low income weekly wage in Australia.
Br Bill said for the East Timorese youths currently in Brisbane, Australia would provide new experiences.
“They have never seen running water or a flushing toilet, never had a shower or used a bed with a mattress on it so everything would be brand new,” he said.
Br Bill’s family was, in his own words, “a bit unique”, in that three of the four Tynan siblings chose to enter religious life.
“I had a Catholic father who used to be a bookie and a non-Catholic mother who never became a Catholic,” he said.
“And we’ve really tried the lot – priest, brother, nun and one got married.”
Older brother Pat is a diocesan priest, one sister Kathleen is a Presentation Sister with the other – Roslyn – the Tynan who married.
“I’m the youngest (and) I was a spoilt brat,” Br Bill said.
He said his father died in a car accident in 1973 and within a year of that death Br Bill’s mother moved in with his brother Pat.
“Mum said, ‘I’m living on my own, Pat’s living on his own at the presbytery, so I’ll go and be the housekeeper’,” he said.
Br Bill admits he once raised the issue of his mother, a spiritual woman in her own right, converting to Catholicism.
“In one fervent moment I actually asked her ‘Hey, Mum, why don’t you become a Catholic’ and she said ‘No, that’s not very practical – who’d have Pat’s breakfast ready for him after he said morning Mass if I were to become a Catholic’?”
As the youngest, Br Bill was still in primary school when Pat entered the seminary but credits his education for his choice to become a Christian Brother.
He said the difference between toady’s education and his school years was that all except one of his teachers from Grade 1 to 12 were religious.
“I was mad keen on sport and the Brothers at St Columban’s – Dan Coffey, Darcy Murphy, Billy Busuttin (now Fr Busuttin) – were terrific guys and I just got on well with them and admired them and thought, ‘Yeah, I think I want to follow them and go and do the sort of thing they do’,” Br Bill said.
“My brother became a priest but I said, ‘No, that’s a lonely life. I want a community life.’
“So that’s the difference between the diocesan priest and the religious – you go and live in a community.”
Br Bill said that, after joining the Christian Brothers, he then taught for the next 33 years, first in Canberra followed by posts in Mackay, Yeppoon, and Brisbane.
“Then I was boss of St James (Spring Hill) from ’80-’86 then headed north and had a year at Yeppoon, three years at Charters Towers and then I was principal of Mount Isa Catholic High School – which is now Good Shepherd College – for eight-and-a-half years then flicked back to Brisbane for three years on the Queensland leadership team,” he said.
Br Bill started on the leadership team on his mother’s 90th birthday on June 21, 1999, in what was the start of his association with East Timor.
“In that group of five people I was the person then responsible for the indigenous ministries and East Timor,” he said.
“My mate Dan Courtney had started Communidade Edmund Rice (Railaco Kraic, East Timor), and I was responsible for them from June ’99 and all of a sudden I found I was responsible for people who might get killed in September 1999 and they got evacuated.”
Br Bill was then responsible for the ministry and visited East Timor three times in 2000.
He said that, in October 2001, Br Courtney was seriously injured in a motorbike accident and spent more than 10 years in a coma then semi-conscious at Canossa hospital, Oxley, before dying on July 8 this year.
“When the pace picked up I realised what Dan had started was terrific I said ‘I’ll go and do it’, so I started working up there in August 2002,” he said.
“I stayed there for 10 years and did the various things we are doing up there which is health and education and preschools.”
Br Bill’s uncanny ability to network has resulted in Queensland Catholic school and parish communities playing a prominent roll in that work.
Those communities are many and varied and include schools such as St Edmund’s College, Ipswich; St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace; St Laurence’s, South Brisbane; and St Patrick’s, Shorncliffe.
“Being a Christian Brother I’ve tapped into the Queensland part of the Edmund Rice network and I’ve tapped into my ex-Christian Brothers,” Br Bill said.
As for the work of Communidade Edmund Rice (CER) its list of achievements is impressive but Br Bill said the work had not happened overnight with CER not seriously involved in education until 2006.
“You have to build up your credibility so I had been there a while and eventually said ‘Does anyone notice there are no teachers at that school over the road’?” He said since then CER had “taken over” three government schools.
“The Deleco school is classic. The teacher would come every now and again … and the building was about to fall down,” he said.
Br Bill said that, with good teachers graduating from the Marist Teachers’ College in East Timor, it was agreed they would staff the school.
“So we started the school and then the next year we built the school so when Blessed Edmund Rice School at Deleco opened at the end of 2007, the Communidade Edmund Rice and the Terrace Timor Network and other helpers had built the four-room school for $20,000, we were paying the three teachers to work in it entirely and it was still a government school, and they would just come along and visit every now and then,” he said.
Br Bill said that, with the success of the Deleco School, CER turned its attention to the school across the road from where the Christian Brothers community lived in Railaco Kraic.
“We did the same thing there and then a few years later when St Edmund’s, St Laurence’s and St Pat’s, with Hutchisons Builders – which we call HELP – got involved we put two rooms at Samalete in 2010 and the year after the same group came and put two more rooms in in 2011 so the little kids at Samalete from preschool to Grade 3 don’t have to walk the four kilometres to school,” he said.
Br Bill expects to head back to East Timor in September to help the new CER team out when Brisbane schools and an Inverell school arrive for annual immersions.
He said it was not just city communities who had helped.
“Inverell Rotary have been fantastic with regard to Communidade Edmund Rice,” he said.
“They’ve contributed well over $100,000 and in conjunction with Warwick parish who have also given well over $100,000 for what we have done over the years.
“You just find these generous country people who do something.”
Co-ordinating the care and accommodation of the two East Timorese orthopaedic patients in Brisbane is no hardship for Br Bill who sees the Timorese community as “family”.
“The highlights (in East Timor) are the friends,” he said.
“Being a Christian Brother I have never had any children but being in East Timor I’ve got hundreds of ‘grandchildren’.”
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