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A good move

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When Brother Desmond O’Grady cfc was considering his future after the closure of a small Christian Brothers community in southern Adelaide, it was one of the hardest moments of his life.

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Accustomed to living with his fellow Brothers for more than 60 years and being relatively independent despite some health issues, the then 81-year-old reluctantly took up the option of moving into Southern Cross Care’s Fullarton Residential Care home.

Three and a half years later, Br Des believes it’s “one of the best decisions” he has ever made.

With much of his ministry spent in adult learning, Br Des has relished the opportunity to pursue this interest by sourcing and distributing theological writings and gospel reflections to interested residents.

He participates in weekly Mass in the nursing home chapel as a reader and sometimes shares reflections but he prefers to be known as ‘Des’ rather than ‘Brother’ amongst the residents.

In a Southern Cross home, he explained, “the twin values are dignity and respect”.

“I feel what I do here is real ministry with people, treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

Br Des said one of his “great learnings” from living at Fullarton was that “each of us has a unique story” which we are continuing to live out.

With the bus to the city stopping outside the home, Br Des said he travelled to the city occasionally and he also enjoyed keeping in contact with his fellow Brothers as much as possible.

A new expandable desk for his computer has enabled him to stand while he works in his room and morning sessions in the home’s gym has given him greater mobility.

Br Des has a special connection to Southern Cross Care, his father Frank being a key player in the development of the first aged care facility established by the Knights of the Southern Cross.

His mother lived on the Fullarton site, as did the mother of deceased Archbishop Leonard Faulkner.

The O’Grady family grew up with the Faulkners and Moylans in Prospect. Four of the O’Grady children embarked on religious vocations – his older brother Bernard O’Grady OP, spent 44 years in the Solomon Islands and is a retired bishop currently living in Sydney. His sister Maureen (deceased) was a Mercy Sister, and his other sister Helen (also deceased) joined the Mercy novitiate but left to marry. His brother Peter, his wife Joan and their adult children continue to provide much-appreciated support, as do his cousins.

Des joined the Christian Brothers juniorate at the age of 14 and a half, an early start but it was followed by other formation steps. He then taught in Victoria and WA before a “gradual immersion” into adult learning.

In his early 30s he was invited to study theology in Rome in a course designed for Brothers of all Congregations, an experience he described as a “disaster” because the English language section of the course had collapsed while he was travelling over on the ship and classes were given in French and Italian, of which Des had no knowledge! However, one bonus was being in Rome during the Second Vatican Council and he made the most of any opportunities to attend press conferences in English.

A later venture abroad – a two-year sabbatical at the Institute of Pastoral Studies in Chicago – was much more memorable and he has remained friends with a number of the Australians he met there.

Back in Adelaide he lived with the Brothers at Thebarton, the city and Rostrevor where he worked with a parents’ group to help develop their faith and he became involved in the non-violence movement. He spent ten years on the Brothers’ leadership team in Perth before suffering two mini strokes.

As Br Des wanders through the nursing home greeting residents with a warm smile and calling staff members by their first name, it’s clear that his presence is greatly valued.

He points to cards displayed next to the door of each room, which give a little background about the person and what’s important to them. The initiative has enhanced the way staff and residents interact, particularly where dementia is involved.

“That was Des’ idea,” said Southern Cross Care’s Matt Carcich. “It’s been so well received we’re looking at doing it in all our homes now.”

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