Br James Michael Mahon, aged 93 years, passed away on Saturday 27 March at St Joseph's Aged Care Facility Kensington.
We remember him as a dedicated religious, serving in:
Surry Hills, NSW
Castle Hill, NSW
The Mass of Christian Burial to celebrate his life and entry into eternal life occurred on Thrsday 8 April 2021 at the Chapel of St John Baptist de La Salle, Oakhill College Castle Hill. Click HERE to see the following viewing page for this service.
Eulogy by Br Gerard Rummery FSC
It is my privilege to be invited to speak to you today about the life of our Brother James Michael Mahon. James, a kindergarten and primary pupil from St Peter's Surry Hills, entered the Juniorate or pre-novitiate at Castle Hill in 1941 and was received as a novice in February 1944. According to the tradition of that time, he was given the religious names of Brother Aloysius Mark, to be known as Brother Mark for much of his teaching life in schools. Following the Second Vatican Council's restored emphasis on the importance of Baptism, Brothers were free to revert to their baptismal name as James did in the 1970's. I will refer to him as we Brothers did, he was Jim.
TOUR OF DUTY
I draw your attention to the booklet that lists Jim's 16 different community appointments. In a document of the late 1970's where he was asked to set out the subjects he had taught, we read in his own hand the following list in order"
Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Education, History, Latin, French (junior school) and Religion.
Jim would have taught all these subjects in the boarding school, St Bernard's Katoomba, from 1954-1965, a period for which he always retained fond memories as many of his former pupils kept in touch with him. He is also particularly well-remembered from his years at Ashfield and at Benilde Bankstown, as a 'driving' teacher, especially in Maths as he filled blackboards and demanded answers from his sometimes not so interested students.
BROTHER 'MARK,' (BROTHER JAMES) AS TEACHER
Some former students of De La Salle, Ashfield, recently informed of the death of the teacher whom they had known as Brother Mark, wrote to pay tribute to him. Here are three such tributes:
Brother Mark taught me maths and he was both a maths genius and a very good teacher he was always fair and his penalties on most occasions matched the 'crime'.
I still remember him setting us an essay to write as an assessment task. My topic was the fight between Newton and Liebnitz over who actually discovered differential calculus. It caused an uproar amongst us because it was so leftfield, but it instilled in me an interest in the history of maths. I have used it many times over the past 50 years. Talk about a lifelong legacy!
Brother Mark was my Maths teacher from Year 9 to Year 12 but more than that, he was the inspiration behind me becoming a maths teacher. I would go to Fisher Library to study on the weekends. He was always there and if he saw me or one of the other students he would come over and say that from my homework questions I did not fully understand this or that concept. He would then give up his own study time to go through it again. I hope some of my students think I am a good teacher as I have tried to model myself as a teacher on him. My regret is that I never told him what effect he had on me. We talk a lot about making a difference in the world.: Brother Mark did that for me.
Similar sentiments have come particularly from his students at Katoomba. A letter of November 2001 says:
"Last Monday, some ex-students took me out to dinnerOne was probably the most brilliant boy I have ever taught after leaving school he bombed out of university and for a while led a hectic life he is now a bus driver and happy. Another is a professor of Psychology at Sydney university another runs a small computing company the last is a successful businessman from Hong Kong."
Later, he was to find his teaching of Maths to the students at the Castle Hill Polding College and Catholic College of Education a much more congenial task as the students were older and the classes smaller. But Jim had difficulties adjusting to living at the Castle Hill community where most Brothers were involved in the Teacher's college. He found this community difficult because it was a noisy house with individual small rooms along a long corridor with insufficient space to download the books which he was accustomed to have available. At one stage, he returned to live in Bankstown travelling to Castle Hill when required but ultimately, these extra pressures were damaging his health.
Around 1987, Jim's extraordinarily busy life began to catch up with him. Following difficulties with insomnia over a number of years, he had difficulties when some of the rooms to which he was assigned in different communities did not give him enough space for his books. Already he realised that class teaching was now becoming a burden but even his expression of this in a letter to the Brother Visitor says something about the man himself:
I no longer have any aptitude for young people. I hinder their learning or turn them against my subject.
By July 2001, Brother James was judged by a psychologist to be suffering a major depression with a recommendation 'that an essential aspect of treating and managing his depression would be, if possible, to provide an alternative in which to live." Arrangements were made for him to live alone at Harris Park so that by November he was writing,
Life here is quiet, as I like it, plenty of time for praying, reading, thinking and doing some mathematics I get out a bit shopping, seeing the odd flick taken out to a wonderful concert and to the cricket at the SCG.
After these six months he asked to return to a community. By 2010, having lived in different communities around Sydney, James went to live in a "granny flat" in Kensington with two Brothers, dependent on the Provincial community in Roma Avenue. Surrounded again by his books, it was a peaceful time for Jim. In 2011 he joined the Karlaminda community until his decline in health in 2017 led to his transfer to the Saint Joseph's Nursing Home. For a period, he was able to return to the Karlaminda community for special occasions until this became too difficult. We are grateful to the Saint Joseph's nursing staff for their attention and care to Jim in his last years when he could no longer read or watch DVDs.
BROTHER JAMES MAHON, THE SCHOLAR.
As Brother James was engaged for almost forty years teaching classes full time, it is astonishing to review his life as a scholar. The absence of any form of government assistance to Catholic schools until the l970's, meant that most Brothers had to do their university studies after a day's teaching in school but eventually the need particularly for science teachers led the Brothers to select some Brothers for full-time studies at universities. After his three years of successfully teaching large primary classes at Bathurst, Jim was given the opportunity for his university studies at Sydney, living in the Surry Hills community.
Following a successful Bachelor's degree 1951-1953, Jim undertook part-time a successful Master's degree in history with what proved to be 12 years later in 1965, an important seminal thesis on the history of the Australian Labor party. I have had the privilege since joining the Karlaminda community in 2013, to welcome an occasional professor or history student who wished to discuss some aspect of Jim's Labor Party thesis with him.
It seems that once Jim had found his feet in academic study all done part-time initially as he taught his classes every day he found his satisfaction in pursuing whatever interested him. As this is not the occasion to speak of these achievements in depth, allow me simply to offer you the following remarkable sequence of someone who was by definition a polymath:
B.A. Sydney 1953
M.A. Sydney 1965
M.Literature Univ. NewEngland 1966-67 Special Distinction
M.Ed (UNSW) 1976 Ist. Class Honours
Ph.D (UNSW) 1982 !st. Class Honours
M.A. New England 1985 M.A. Mathematics 1st class
Ph.D New England 1987 Mathematics 1st Class Honours
It is its own tribute to Jim, the scholar, that the only time he enjoyed full-time studies was from 1951-1953. All these other achievements were the result of time found after his teaching in schools or teacher's college. One of the examiners of Jim's doctoral thesis in 1981 writes:
"This is a fine piece of careful scholarship based on a prodigious research effortThe thesis is obviously the result of an enormous amount of workIts use of over sixty NSW newspapers deserves special commendation."
A second examiner writes as follows:
"This is a work of substance with a number of particular strengths The major propositions are closely argued, a wide range of sources is brought to bear, especially newspaper data, arguments are conceived with a laudable perspective, and the work illumines the total operation of N.S.W. schools at the time."
Because of this extraordinary work in NSW Catholic country schools, the thesis was 270,000 words in length, nine times the usual limit of 300,000 words. With Brother Colman Molloy, I spent some weeks in 1981 with Jim helping him to reduce its length but eventually it was accepted well above the usual limit because of the exceptional research. Jim - often on his little motor bike - visited every major NSW country town that opened a Catholic school and traced its development through local newspapers. The bibliography of a recent publication by different authors on the history of Catholic education cites three important articles written by Jim out of this doctoral thesis for historical journals.
Jim, the Mathematician
Just as important as his historical interests was Jim's interest in mathematics, particularly in what were called Tibonacci numbers. I recall during my work with Jim around 1981 to shorten his doctoral thesis, that he told me he was now impatient to study mathematics, especially Tibonacci numbers with Professor Horodam at New England university as there was a doctoral thesis there that was so obvious that someone would beat him to it. Well, Jim did beat everyone, studied with Professor Horodam and was subsequently asked to present at an international meeting in Athens. When Jim chose not to do this, he asked Professor Horodam to present in his name. In 1988, when Jim travelled to Europe to research the Brothers' Rome archives with reference to the Australian foundation of the Brothers, he did present a paper in a Tibonacci conference in Pisa and later attended a conference in San Francisco during his return to Australia. Jim did important research work in our Roman archives on the history of the Brothers in Australia. He later went on to Germany to see his nephew and then to England and Ireland.
Brother Jim Mahon, the Brother
Most Brothers who lived with Jim remember him as a quiet shy man who participated in all the aspects of community life, assuming personal responsibilities, always present for community prayer and meetings until late in life when deafness prevented him from being able to follow community prayers.
He deeply appreciated his mother's Irish heritage. He was interested in Ireland and would willingly accompany anyone who showed interest to visit the graves of the "Irish Heroes" in the Waverley cemetery. He loved holidaying at Mollynook with his brother Denis and his sister-in-law Judy, and his nieces, Cathy and Wendy, all three with us today.
Jim loved film, especially traditional 'westerns,' where good and evil were easily distinguished. Any attempt to criticise the traditional westerns, as in the film 'Blazing Saddles" was regarded as blasphemy! In his retirement years, as reading and hearing became more difficult, Jim began watching his favourite DVDs, eventually amassing a considerable collection enjoyed also by the community. Visitors to Saint Joseph's were usually charged to bring the next ten or twenty DVDs Jim required, as his nieces present can testify. As his personal library showed, he was deeply interested in history, literature and his radio was tuned to FM classical. Among his very many books were Plato and Aristotle, Augustine's Life and City of God, historical books on the Elizabethan period in England, the life of Saint Thomas More, Newman's writings and two complete shelves of mathematical books. He had collections of poetry, Wordsworth's Prelude and Yeats' complete poems. If you wished to discuss any of these books, Jim soon showed you that he had read them.
May our dear Brother Jim rest in the peace his faithful life and achievements so richly deserve.
Click HERE to view the Funeral Booklet.