Wednesday 28 September 2016

What lies beneath: St Mary's High School

St Mary's High School, Rajasthan by Jim O'Farrell, Watercolour on Aquarelle Arches hot pressed paper courtesy Christian Brothers

Niall MacMonagle

Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30

St Mary's High School, Rajasthan by Jim O'Farrell.
St Mary's High School, Rajasthan by Jim O'Farrell.

When Jim O'Farrell retired he planned to paint "Limerick streetscapes and Ireland's west coast", full-time. But a priest friend, Fr Pat Hogan, invited O'Farrell to Calcutta and so began his "Indian odyssey".

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Commissioned to paint all 23 CB schools in India, to celebrate the Brothers' being there 125 years was a challenge he was reluctant to accept, until a Brother asked him; "When was the last time you did something for the first time?"

Five years, many train journeys later, O'Farrell's watercolours are now on permanent display in St Joseph's College, Kolkata.

"I tried to capture the light and vibrancy." This painting took "three days, sitting under the hot sun, trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay!"

Dry heat meant O'Farrell worked quickly under sunshades: this zigzagged church roof, the shadowed stonework with columned windows, the tall trees, the cricketers, the blue sky are all awash with brightness.

St Mary's has been run by the Brothers since 1929 but the story really begins in Callan, Co Kilkenny where Edmund Ignatius Rice was born in 1762. A wealthy Catholic, Rice married at 25, his wife was killed in a riding accident and in 1802 he founded an order that educated the poor.

"We shouldn't forget the sacrifice of many good men who went all over the world. Yes, some of his followers let down the side but in India I witnessed great dedication and was stuck by the passionate conviction that education makes a real difference," says O'Farrell

Though "Catholicism is very much a minority religion", the Brothers cater for all religions and none. Feast days, of all faiths, are honoured with joy and delight. There are only five Irish Christian Brothers in India today, the youngest being 78 but there are 90 Indian Brothers.

O'Farrell now spends four months each year in India teaching English and art to young children who live on the streets. He's there now.

"We read 'The Daffodils', they painted scenes from the poem and even did a rap version." Far from Wordsworth's Lake District, kids can be heard rapping and dan dan dancing with the daff daff daff o dils.

Sunday Indo Living

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