Yesterday we laid to rest a Salesian who truly lived his life for others big time…and he was not a priest. In fact, his being a ‘simple brother’ is what made the difference to all he did. As I participated in the funeral rites my mind went back to my encounters with this great man.
My first memories of Br. P.M. Thomas (or ‘Br. PM’ as he was fondly called) goes back to the earliest days I spent in Don Bosco Lonavla. He was the Principal of a really small school – just classes 8, 9, 10 and 11 – with a total strength of not more than 120 boys. He was a tough disciplinarian pushing all of us to greater heights and motivating us to achieve more. He had a wonderful gift of communicating his ideas forcefully and persuasively. In the four years he was at the head of our school there were many changes. For one our school moved to new premises, it opened a junior college and admitted girl students, and his pet subject – mathematics – became something that we feared less and learned to love. The latter was inculcated in his characteristic. It entered your head when you paid close attention and woe to you if you did not for out of nowhere your shin would feel the lasting impact of a well-delivered kick.
My next chance to meet Br. PM was during my practical training at Salesian Training Institute (novitiate). Here I encountered another facet of the person. He was Prefect of Studies and also professor of Psychology in Divyadaan. I was often amazed at his prime focus – an unrelenting desire to communicate values to the young novices and students of philosophy. He was keen that they should be ‘good Salesians’ and he spared no efforts to realize this goal. He was always ‘present’ be it in the chapel, the classroom or the football and hockey grounds. He brought intensity to all he did. There were no ‘bad novices’ just some who were not sufficiently motivated and he did his best to correct that error.
In the years after my ordination I often had opportunities to meet and discuss issues with Br. PM. The years did not dim his enthusiasm for life and his vocation. On the contrary, they just made him even more committed to his passion. He showed in myriads of ways his joy at being a consecrated person, his love for Don Bosco and the congregation, and his desire to encourage many others to follow religious life. And what was even more admirable was his love for people, in a special way the relatives of his brother Salesians. Whenever parents visited the community he was the first to greet them, to set them at ease and to make their stay comfortable. It did not matter that he did not speak their language. For him all that mattered was that they had generously offered their son to God and that made them special.
I was the beneficiary of Br. PM’s Salesian spirit. In 1996 he was the pioneer principal of Don Bosco School Nashik. The school began with a few students in very difficult circumstances but that did not prevent him from initiating some very beautiful practices. He would be there every morning to shake the hand of each child, he created a warm and loving camaraderie among the staff, he made sure that the poor students were never discriminated against and he never stopped speaking about God and inculcating the spirit of prayerfulness. Years later, it was so beautiful to be on the staff of the school which has become a living testimony to the greatness of Br. PM. Don Bosco School Nashik has to this day a sound tradition rooted in the spirit of Don Bosco which exudes joy and optimism, family spirit and striving for excellence.
Br. PM will never die in the memories of us - his ‘students’. We will always have to return to the ‘lessons he taught’ and ‘replenish our enthusiasm with his infectious zeal for the young and the poor’. Adieu Br. PM – Intercede with the Master for us who seek to follow your example of dedication, love and excellence.