The Old Paradian Peter Scott, in his recent research of digitized editions of Catholic weekly newspaper The Advocate, has uncovered a heart-rending story of the all-too-short life of Fr. Brian Condren, a student of Parade College East Melbourne more than 100 years ago.
Peter’s online exploration uncovered a number of tributes paid to Fr. Condren – amongst them an appreciation by an unnamed school companion who wrote:
“From the moment I met him (Fr. Condren) there sprang up between us a friendship which only time cemented, but death, alas! has severed for ever.
“As a boy he was of a genial, kind, and loving disposition. He was courteous, urbane, and generous to all. Never did an unkind or uncharitable or angry word cross his lips, and his one care was to be kind and considerate of the feelings of others.”
Brian Condren, the youngest son of Thomas (a native of Kilkenny) and Mary (nee Landy) Condren, was born in Abbotsford in 1892. He was one of three Condren boys, together with John and Nicholas, and was only seven when his father died at the age of 60.
Young Brian received his early education at the Good Shepherd Convent School and the Christian Brothers’ School in Abbotsford and was for many years an altar-boy at St. Joseph’s, Collingwood.
At the tender aged of 12, Brian set sail for Ireland and entered the Christian Brothers’ Academy in Carlow, where he continued his studies for about three years. There, Brian undertook his classical education and there too he learned the Irish language and songs, which he later sang to his companions in Australia. In Ireland he made many friends, with whom he used to correspond on his return to the Great South Land.
In 1906, with his people, Brian bid “adieu to Innisfail,” and returned to Australia. On his return, he continued his studies at the Christian Brothers’ College, Victoria Parade. Five years later, he completed his senior matriculation having excelled in English language, literature and British history – during which time he also contributed out on the paddock as a valued member of Parade’s all-conquering 1st XVIII outfit of 1910.
To quote his old schoolmate: “As is well known, he was a great favourite with all his school companions, for, whether in Ireland or Australia, Brian was always of a bright and cheerful disposition”.
Brian’s one real ambition in life was to become a priest, which prompted him to join the Diocesan Seminary. In March 1912, he entered St. Columba’s Missionary College, Springwood, founded by the late Cardinal Moran. Here he studied for two years, completing his philosophy in December 1913.
The following March, Brian entered St. Patrick’s College, Manly, where he undertook studies in theology in the company of fellow aspiring priests Fennessy, Martin and Hayes. There he remained until the following September when, in their company, he proceeded to the Propaganda College in Rome, to complete his course of studies.
Brian was then promoted to the priesthood on the Feast of St. Lawrence, August 10, 1917, by his Eminence Cardinal Pompili.
Now immersed in his sacred office, Fr. Condren volunteered, with Fr. Hayes, to remain an extra year in Rome to study further – until early July 1918 when the two priests commenced their homeward trip to Australia.
According to one newspaper correspondent, Fr. Condren was anxious to visit Ireland to renew old acquaintances with his former school companions and many friends; but owing, perhaps, to strict war regulations and passports, this desire. had to be abandoned.
But Fr. Condren would never see Ireland or Australia again. To quote the correspondent: “Stricken down with a treacherous fever, he (Fr. Condren) breathed forth his innocent, priestly soul into the hands of his Creator at Port Said on August 6th, having been attended and prepared for death by his loving and faithful companion, Fr. Hayes”.
The Advocate of Saturday, August 17, 1918, reported the following:
THE LATE REV. FR. BRIAN CONDREN.
A cable message has been, received by Very Rev. J. Barry, Adm., announcing the death of Rev. Fr. Brian Condren at Port Said on 6th inst. Fr. Condren, who had just completed his theological studies at the Propaganda College, Rome, was returning to take up duty in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Deceased, who was a son of Mrs. Dowling (Mary Condren remarried), of the Retreat Hotel, Abbotsford, was a great favourite with his fellow students. He was 26 years of age.
Referring to the sad death of this young priest, an exchange says:—
Rev. Romerald Hayes, son of Mr. T. P; Hayes, of Kyneton, who was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on August 10th last year, is now on his way to Australia. The steamer by which he is travelling has been detained, at Port Said owing to the prevalence of fever on board. Rev. Fr. Brian Condren, who was a college companion of Fr. Hayes, and who was returning to Australia by the same vessel, caught the fever and died at Port Said on Tuesday last. The two young priests were close personal friends, and were ordained on the same day. They were two of eight young students who went to Rome four years ago to continue their studies for the priesthood. The other six, returned to Australia last year after ordination, but Frs. Hayes and Condren remained to further pursue their studies at the Propaganda College.
He (Fr. Condren) was of a kindly, genial nature, and was beloved by all with whom he came in contact. He leaves a loving and tender mother and two brothers, the eldest of whom is at the front, to mourn their sad loss.
The Rev. E.J. O’Donnell, DD, writing for The Advocate, offered the following account of Br. Condren’s passing and subsequent burial in Port Said.
It was at Port Said (and perhaps that accounts in part for my dislike for the place) that a note of real tragedy was struck. One of my companions, a bright and gifted Australian, who, after completing his studies, was returning to his native land to be united once more to his people and friends, contracted fever and died after a few days’ illness.
Words would fail me were I to attempt to describe the void that this separation caused. After travelling so long in the Intimacy of frank friendship, after enjoying so often his sparkling company and conversation, we, his comrades, had now the dolorous task of singing a Solemn Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul, and of burying him in a strange land. Words, too, seemed cold and useless when we think of the grief of the mother and friends who eagerly awaited his homecoming.
But there is one drop of comfort in their great ocean of sorrow—that, although laid to rest in a foreign land, he still had an Australian burial. Gallant troopers of the Light Horse thoughtfully offered their services in this time of need, so that none but Australian bands should have any part in this last sad ceremony.
On the morning of Tuesday, August 13, 1918, a Solemn Office and Requiem High Mass for Fr. Condren was celebrated at St. Joseph’s Church, Collingwood, in the presence of a large congregation, including the deceased clergyman’s mother and other relatives.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, together with a number of priests, paid their respects. Parade College was represented by Br. Keniry and Abbotsford school by Br. O’Driscoll, with members of both Past Pupils’ Associations also present.
Fr. Fennessy officiated as celebrant, with Fr. Adrian Martin acting as deacon. At the request of the Archbishop, Fr. Keating said a few words for the young priest and all felt keen sympathy for the bereaved mother.
A tragic postscript to the life of a good man cut cruelly short involved Fr. Condren’s brother Nicholas, who in February 1923 married Kathleen Barry.
Less than a year later, on the afternoon of January 30, 1924, Kathleen died after giving birth to their son in Kyneton.
That little boy was given the name Brian, in memory of Nicholas’ beloved brother.