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Reflecting on 75 years as a Marist Brother

Vocations

Brother Jordan Redden (baptised Christopher) celebrated 75 years as a Marist Brother this month with Mass in Sacred Heart College Memorial Chapel, the very place where his vocation took hold. 

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As a young boy from the Mid-North boarding at Sacred Heart College in 1940, Chris Redden spent his Saturdays playing tennis at Memorial Drive in the morning and swimming at Somerton beach in the afternoon.

Having a tennis court back on the farm at Whyte Yarcowie near Jamestown helped him make the prestigious ‘Drive’ team in his first year at the college but the most impressive thing for Chris was that he got to play with new tennis balls.

“The bad part is that while I was playing tennis, the other boarders were back at school learning Latin and French, so it didn’t do too much for that,” Br Jordan, 94, recalled.

After attending two small rural State schools, coming to Sacred Heart was a “pretty big deal” for him, especially after hearing so much about it from his two older brothers Leo and Jack.

It was thanks to them that Chris was able to stay on at Sacred Heart after his father reluctantly informed him he couldn’t afford the fees. Leo and Jack insisted that their younger brother continue boarding as they had, and used their own shearing money to ensure it happened.

Br Jordan (far right) with fellow students Bill and Martin Miller.

“I honestly believe that if I’d gone back home I wouldn’t have gone to Mittagong (the Marist juniorate in NSW),” Br Jordan said.

Valued friendships were formed with other boys like Brian Crowe, with whom he sneaked off to the shops to buy a threepence of fritz and gherkin, and Martin Miller whose father was a bookmaker and enjoyed treating the boys to pasties.

But it was the Brothers who made the biggest impression on him in their “big black soutanes”.

“They were very good company, just great guys,” Br Jordan said.

When the Vice Provincial came to the school to speak to students, he talked about the life of a Marist Brother and handed out bits of paper with a note asking if the student would like to see him.

Br Jordan is not quite sure why but he responded in the affirmative.

“It was definitely a trigger,” he said. But he almost didn’t act on it. The security of a government job and his mother’s experience of growing up in a country post office had prompted him to sit for the postal entrance exam in 1940. A year later he received a call up to the Glenelg Post Office, a very tempting offer and one that he considered carefully.

“I didn’t give them an answer immediately because I had a big decision to make. Nearly a month later they rang again and the Brothers said you better give them an answer.

“It was the biggest decision of my life…I went to the chapel and prayed…there’s a spot there that I go back to these days.

“I eventually came to what I’m sure was the right decision not to take the job, I reckon if I’d taken the job and had money in my pocket then I wouldn’t have made it to Mittagong.”

Br Redden said he had no idea of what the seminary involved or what it would be like but he was pleased to learn when he went home for Christmas that a classmate and cousin, Austin Redden, and two other Sacred Heart boys would be going there.

In fact, of his school class of 32 students, six would go on to pursue a religious vocation, one of them being the late Archbishop Leonard Faulkner.

As the 15-year-old Chris and his mates boarded the train in Adelaide, their biggest concern was who was going to buy the cigarettes.

As one of the Brothers accompanying them saw them smoking, Br Jordan said some of the boys threw their cigarettes out the window but he continued to smoke. The Brother calmly asked him, “having the last one before you get to Mittagong are you?”

“I liked the way he handled it,” Br Jordan said. “We travelled on and eventually at Bowral I lit my last cigarette. Between Bowral and Mittagong I threw half a packet of cigarettes out the window and that’s when I gave up smoking.”

Br Jordan described his time at Mittagong, 100km south of Sydney, as “rather wonderful” with a “huge amount of sport and lovely walks out to the river”, as well as doing work around the place and studying.

One of six children, he said it was difficult not being able to see his family for three and a half years, and particularly hard on his parents who had already seen their son Leo leave to fight in World War II. Flying with the RAAF, Leo completed 40 bombing operations and received the Distinguished Flying Cross before returning home and spending a day with his younger brother in Mittagong on the way.

His parents finally came to NSW for three days to see their son receive his habit and his religious name of Jordan (after Blessed Jordan of Saxony), of which he had no input. Later he was given the option of going back to his Christian name but he elected to stick with Jordan.

A year later when it came time for him to take his final vows – the last step in his profession – it was a sad day because his father had been killed earlier that year in a two-car collision at a train crossing.

“I think I was polishing the floors when I got a call to go to the office to be told that my father was dead,” Br Jordan said.

His father’s brother, Br Placidus Redden, was Marist provincial at the time and gave him permission to attend the funeral, for which he was very grateful.

“It was a bit of a breakthrough, going back a few years it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

After Mittagong, Br Jordan had a “wonderful” holiday back home and then moved to Camberwell in Melbourne where he completed teacher training and then commenced his long career of teaching, sports coaching and leadership positions in Marist schools around Australia, including his beloved Sacred Heart College where he now resides.

“I had a magic time here, at school and as a Brother, it’s very important to be back here,” he said.

While he worries that he no longer knows all the staff, he enjoys attending college events and celebrations, not to mention watching the First XVIII footy and First XI cricket. He has taken great pleasure, and a little pride, in seeing the Marist Cricket Carnival grow to comprise 47 schools after planting the seed as coach of the Sacred Heart First XI in 1973.

Other highlights of his life include attending the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, a year of ‘renewal’ in Switzerland, the canonisation of Marcellin Champagnat in Rome and his friendship with Marist benefactor Bert Newton. Newton, a former student of St Joseph’s East Brunswick, would not only give him free tickets to the theatre but also organise for the Brothers to be picked up and dropped off in a limousine.

There are also countless happy memories of his teaching days at Kilmore, Kyneton, Parkes and Broken Hill (where he was principal), taking teams to sporting carnivals and, in later life, driving the college bus and the ‘Jordan taxi’ for students.

“I’ve had a wonderful life as a Marist Brother, God help the people who have made it so,” he said.

His uncanny ability to retell in great detail stories of the people he has met and the places he has been is testament to his passion for mentoring young people, his love of sport and his joy of life.

This, combined with the respect and esteem with which current students and old scholars hold him, is living proof that he made the right decision as a 15-year-old boy praying in the chapel.

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