A Tribute to Brother Columba – by Today’s Catholic

Dr Dennis Lee was the pioneer team of Today's Catholic who worked alongside the late Brother Columba Gleeson

Brother Columba was instrumental in the establishment of Today’s Catholic. He was one of the founding members of Today’s Catholic where the newspaper was his brainchild, initially as a bulletin for St Joseph’s Cathedral Parish but soon became an archdiocesan newspaper spreading to all corners of the archdiocese and beyond after a formal publication permit was granted.

Under his committed guidance, wise advice, and active participation, the newspaper quickly grew from its early beginnings in the mid-1980’s into what it is today – a current, well-run, and much admired Catholic newspaper. 

Since the beginning of the newspaper he was the ‘force’ and ‘inspiration’ behind it, always advising, directing, contributing to, and encouraging the editorial team who often struggled to meet press deadlines and distribution targets in the early years.

He was chiefly responsible for procuring the name ‘Today’s Catholic’ for the newspaper. A naming competition was organised and he persistently persuaded the Catholic students in St Joseph’s Secondary School to participate, resulting in the winner entry from a student which is how ‘Today’s Catholic’ got its name.

Since the conception of Today’s Catholic in 1986 till he left Sarawak in 1997, he was the advisor and director for Today’s Catholic. In a couple of intervening years when the editor’s post was vacant, he even stood in as editor-in-chief.

As an advisor, he wasn’t just giving advice on the side lines. He was totally committed to giving spiritual and temporal advice, always guiding the editorial team to ensure that Church guidelines and doctrines were adhered to. As a director he actively participated in the operation and production of the newspaper – that news items were of quality and news worthiness, providing administrative support, and always suggesting ways to improve. But more importantly through his guidance and direction, he had imparted onto the Today’s Catholic team his steadfast vision for the newspaper – that it grows and directs itself to become an effective instrument to evangelise, and supplement the faith formation and spiritual needs, of our Catholic community.

His column, the ‘Signpost’ had been one of the key features in Today’s Catholic and a favourite among readers. Although he started writing only in September 1997 after he left Sarawak, he described his writings in absentia as his labour of love for the Church he lived and worked for thirty years. He stopped writing in December 2012 only because of his declining health.

In Signpost, he wrote vigorously about living out our Catholic faith in our daily lives and relationships. In his profound reflections on death and beyond, he wrote, telling us “do not be afraid” and “death is not life ended but life changed”, and that “heaven begins on earth” and we are all called to be “saints without halos”. In death, he must surely have found out now that his writings had been an unassuming and unintended witness and testimony of his own exemplary life and Christ-like values.

But the effect of the Signpost had been also greatly felt by many even to this day, with many readers enquiring why it was discontinued and expressing how many of the articles had touched their lives and how they could relate their daily lives and faith to. Subsequently his Signpost articles were compiled into a book called “Living Our Faith” which was widely circulated and is a much treasured collection.

Many of us were students of Br Columba, and perhaps we had viewed him much as a disciplinarian and a religious with a strict call to duty. But when many of us had the privilege to work together with him in Today’s Catholic since its beginning and for many years in the past, we related with him as co-workers and friends. It is at this relationship level one gets struck by his selfless, unassuming, compassionate, and warm humanity. He was heavily committed in guiding, directing, and driving the work in Today’s Catholic, yet he always cared deeply for and never took for granted the welfare and well-being of the office and volunteer workers of Today’s Catholic who worked with him.

Looking back in retrospect after his passing, the card one of us received from Br Columba just last Christmas will bear lasting testimony of this selfless nature, when he wrote, “I hope you are keeping well as we are here. I’m coping well – so much to be grateful for. Warmest regards and best wishes for the future. Take care and God bless”. Even in his last days, he mentioned his health condition only feebly and he cared more for the well-being of others, just as he had done all his life. Truly he had lived to serve and for others, not for himself.

It is truly fitting to cast Br Columba’s selfless and unassuming commitment and contribution to Today’s Catholic in a biblical context, in the likeness of Matthew 25:35-41 as him now meeting God and ask; “Lord, whence did I see you in doubt, down-hearted, spirit broken, and I encouraged, enlightened, and lifted up your spirit with comforting and inspiring words?” And God will surely answer him, “In so far as you wrote them for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”.

Br Columba’s legacy to Today’s Catholic is his selfless giving, and tireless commitment, of himself to the work of the newspaper to evangelise, serve and supplement the faith formation and spiritual needs our Catholic community and others – which is the perfect reflection of the true purpose of our newspaper. It’s indeed a great privilege and honour to have him so closely associated with Today’s Catholic. We will forever be grateful for his selfless contributions and he will remain permanently etched in our memory, and he will forever be part of the history and traditions of Today’s Catholic.

May he now rest in the peace and grace of our merciful God.

Dr Dennis Lee Haw Aik
(On behalf of Today’s Catholic editorial team)

Delivered at the St Joseph’s School Auditorium on 13 February 2016
Today’s Catholic Vol.26 No.12 March 2016


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