The oldest Christian Brother in Africa, Mark Hallissey – born ‘Michael’ in Ireland, 20 May 1920 – died peacefully in his sleep on the night of All Souls, 2/3 November 2009, at the grand age of 89. Longevity runs in his family. The ‘baby’ of six siblings, who lost their mother when he was only one year old, he is survived by his sister Sheila Burke in Ireland, and an ailing brother, Father James Hallissey in the USA. Three members of the next generation travelled to his funeral on Friday 6 November.
Mark entered formation almost 75 years ago, and spent 56 of these in Southern Africa. After teaching in Ireland for over a decade, he worked in Christian Brothers’ schools here for a total of thirty years: CBC Kimberley in the 50s, CBC Bulawayo and CBC Boksburg in the 60s, CBC Springs and CBC Bloemfontein in the 70s, St Bernard’s Bochabela and Mariasdal in the 80s. He served as Principal in the two Bloemfontein schools and Community Superior in Bloemfontein and Mariasdal.
His greatest interest became theological studies. In his late thirties, he was part of a group of CBs given the chance to study at Jesus Magister in Rome for three years, and to the last day of his life he remained a great reader, taking notes and annotating texts liberally with comments, exclamation-marks, and question-marks. In the early 1970s, he found a special opportunity to share his enthusiasm for Scripture, Theology, and Catechetics, as a lecturer training new Brothers in an outstanding programme run jointly by the Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers in Pietermaritzburg. In the 1990s, Mark became involved in retreat ministry at the Christian Brothers Centre in Stellenbosch, and in hospice ministry in Cape Town. He proved to have a special gift for being with those who were dying.
He spent his last five years in retirement in Stellenbosch, taking a great interest in the novices coming from all around Africa to the Brothers’ novitiates in the Cape. His daily routine started with a long period of prayer in the chapel, and included Mass, many hours of study, a walk, preparing supper for himself and a disabled Brother, and keeping in touch with world news. People would describe him as being in heaven’s waiting-room. Though his hearing had weakened and his frame became increasingly frail and stooped, he continued to move with vigour, reflecting his active interest in everything from new thinking to new manifestations of greed, which he saw as the greatest evil of our time. A year before he died, he traveled to Ireland to visit family and friends, and in his very last week he attended a gathering of frailer Religious in Kirstenbosch Gardens, rebuffing the offer of a wheelchair to ease the uphill walk.
Mark’s deep faith was most evident in his devotion to prayer and Eucharist, but also in his unfailing kindness and in his conversation. He had a profound loyalty to the Popes of his time, familiarizing himself with their writings and quoted speech; in later years he had an amusing reputation for being able to steer almost any discussion towards a reference to these. The Christian Brothers and the rest of Mark’s wide circle of friends will remember him warmly for his unshakable sense of a loving God and his commitment to responding as a disciple of Jesus.
Michael Burke cfc
Photo by Brother John Paul Oluoch