KUCHING — On 13 February, many former students of the late Br Columba Gleeson came to Tan Sri Datuk William Auditorium of their alma mater to bid final farewell to their beloved ex-principal.
It was an emotional ceremony as they were able to relate to the many memories mentioned in the tributes.
The commemoration service was followed by the requiem Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral. Presiding at the Mass was Archbishop John Ha with Bishop Simon Poh, Bishop Richard Ng and nine priests.
“Today we come to honour, firstly, the work of the La Salle brothers in this part of the world and throughout the world, and in particular, we honour the legacy of Br Columba who died on 3 February in Ireland,” said Bishop Simon Poh during the homily.
Br Columba was born on 18 March 1935 to a farming family in a small town called Cullenwaine, Co. Offaly in Ireland. At the age of 13, he left home to join the De La Salle Brothers’ Junior Training Centre at Mallow and Castletown. At a young age of 22, he arrived in Sarawak in 1957 to teach in Sacred Heart School in Sibu until 1962 when he returned to Ireland for further studies.
Whilst in Sibu, he excelled as a footballer and was a member of the Sibu football team in the then Sarawak Cup competition in the early 1960s.
In 1966, he returned to Sarawak to teach in St Joseph’s School Kuching. He took over as Principal of St Joseph’s School from the late Br Albinus in 1970 and remained as principal until his retirement in 1987.
During his stewardship at St Joseph’s School, the School enjoyed a most successful era of having excellent academic results and outstanding performances in sports and other extra-curricular activities.
A skillful motivator, with a commitment and dedication to his vocation which was always second to none, Br Columba forged a strong bond with his fellow teachers and students, developing their teaching and intellectual potentials and instilling in them strong moral values. He cultivated virtues of mutual respect and understanding amongst his staff and students of diverse family and racial backgrounds, cultures, creeds and levels of abilities. For his outstanding contributions to education and invaluable services to St Joseph’s School, he had been honoured by the State, and most recently, with a Bronze Commemoration Medal during Sarawak’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of Independence.
“The leadership of the man in stirring interest and commitment among students, teachers and colleagues alike is exemplary of the man and leader he was,” testified Dr Sim Kui Hian, the chairman of the Old Josephians Association and an ex-student of Br Columba.
After his retirement from St Joseph’s School, he was actively engaged in pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Kuching, including counselling of the youths, a task which he always enjoyed and found most fulfilling.
During this period, he founded the newspaper, Today’s Catholic. His regular column, Signpost, was a favourite amongst many of its readers who find his writings an inspiration in the search for a true meaning of life. These articles have now been compiled into a book, Living Our Faith.
For family reasons, he returned to Ireland in 1997 where he served the La Salle Community in various capacities in Castletown and Belfast. He returned to this part of the world from time to time on the invitation of his former students to “catch up” with them in Kuching, Sibu and Singapore. Many of his students also visited him in Ireland particularly in the last few years when he was at Miguel House, the retirement home at Castletown where he passed away peacefully on 3 February.
Br Columba is buried in the De La Salle Brothers community cemetary, Castletown, Ireland.
Today’s Catholic Vol.27 No.12 March 2016