A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Death of a Marist

Br Daniel (John) Connell SM

Born: 8 October 1945

Professed: 4 January 1973

Died: 26  August 2022

John Stuart Connell, known to many of us as Brother Dan and, by some of the students at Hato Paora as ‘Father BroDan’, died suddenly aged 76. John was born in Whangarei at the end of World War II. In his early years he loved to go to a Waipu mixed farm for holidays and to work.  There he contracted Brucellosis and spent time in a plaster cast in hospital in his teens. In his youth, he was a keen cyclist and entered into competitive cycling, winning a cup or two. Once he cycled 400k to Wellington!

After school in Whangarei, John worked in the Whangarei Base Hospital as a porter. He owned a tiny Fiat. Mischeviously, he once drove it into the corridor of the hospital!

John joined the Territorial Army. This influenced aspects of his character: discipline; toughness; practicality; companionship; not too concerned for the finer points. John became Catholic and decided to try the Marists. He would have celebrated his 50th Jubilee as Brother Dan next year. 

Dan had a special rapport with those in need and who needed extra understanding and support. He did this without fuss. He lived this at the colleges where he was appointed: Pompallier (1975-1976), St Patrick’s Silverstream (1976 – 1982) and Hāto Paora, Feilding (1982-1995). Dan’s was the quiet word, the yarn and laugh, taking boys to the farm to work or encouraging them to engage in sport. The Blue and White of 1982 states he involved boys in projects, including the conversion of two relocatable classrooms into a wool-shed that would be the pride of any farmer. As one past pupil says, “he was not interested in the politics or discipline of an issue. He was simply a friend.”

Dan was something of a hard man to fathom, sui generis, - one of a kind, and he was sui iuris - a law unto himself; plain, unadorned and determinedly unconventional. He could not understand why one grew flowers in the garden rather than vegetables. Dan was a good man, a kind man, a deep thinker, a holy man.

A parishioner of the Petone parish, where Dan worshipped, summed him up as a person of service who really cared for you. This flowed naturally into a love of things and persons Māori.  Dan had a deep, realistic respect for Māori. A past pupil of Hāto Paora was in the police and coping with suicides and worse. Dan called him in: “Come and have a cuppa.”  He gave him some holy water to bless the sites of various tragedies.

Dan once said that he had made a startling discovery while on the staff at Hato Paora. "The distractions", he said, "are the work." It often happened that hurrying on your way to complete some task he would be waylaid by a student wanting help to find his football boots or open the laundry so he could retrieve his clothes. That, Dan said, was the work, responding to the needs of the person in front of you at the time.

Dan would never miss a bargain. He would load up his trailer to go to what others might call the ‘dump’. To Dan it was ‘Harrod’s’, and he would come home with more than he  took. Among the treasures, good saucepan sets and lamp shades. Dan would clean them up and find a use for them. He thus helped many people by supplying for their physical needs and as well as offering practical advice. And always without fanfare.

You would not have often seen Dan kneeling in the chapel; head bowed in prayer. But Dan was a man of prayer. One time Dan was viewing, with a confrere, a television series about the Celts. In one episode, one old Irishmen said to another old Irishman, "and how do you find yourself?" He replied, "staggering between the immensities." This saying made an impression on Dan – it became his reply to the confrere’s asking how he was. In his unorthodox, no-frills way, he was a man deeply immersed in the mystery of life, who “staggered daily between the immensities.”

Dan loved the Society of Mary; he loved being a Brother; he was humble, self-effacing, trustworthy; the connections and friendships he made with people were lasting. Dan loved St Kesters in the Malborough Sounds. He would be seen at the end of the wharf, one time staying right through till 10:30pm. He was patiently trolling back and forth to catch the elusive cod.  That was where Dan met God and found peace with Creation. 

E hoa, e te tangata kaihao, haere ki te moana ki te Rangi, kei reira kia tutaki ai ki ngā kaihao, ko Pita mā, rātou nā Hēhu i aroha. 

Dear friend, you the fisherman, travel safely to the sea of Heaven.  Meet there with Peter and the other fishermen..  those whom Jesus loves...Haere atu rā...

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