About Tony Continued...
What happened between the first and last meetings?In our first meeting, Tony had said: "...So now I can become a Jesuit priest." From early boyhood, Tony had a golden dream of becoming a Jesuit priest. But in that particular year, 1944, his dream was not welcome in our family. Economic realities were more pressing than golden dreams. World War II was raging. Food was rationed. Housing was scarce. India, then a part of the British Empire, was fighting alongside the allies on many fronts. The Japanese had breached the eastern border of India and had a foothold on Indian soil. The country was insecure and uncertain, and, for my middle-aged parents, Tony was their only security, the one who would look after them in their later years. My father worked for the Indian Railways, and if his eldest son chose not to enter university after he graduated from school, an apprenticeship in the Railways could be arranged. The apprenticeship would lead to a secure job. That was my family's grand economic plan for Tony.
Tony was born on the 4th of September 1931 in Santa Cruz, a suburb of Bombay, India. Our parents, Frank and Louisa (nee Castelino), were natives of Goa, a Portuguese colony on the south-west coast of India. They belonged to a long line of Catholic families, going back 400 years, renowned for their religious fervour.
That firebrand Jesuit, Francis Xavier, arrived in Goa around 1542, and gave great impetus to the spread of Christianity. But the process of converting the locals had started earlier. Portuguese priests and friars arrived shortly after Portuguese forces captured Goa from the local Indian rajah in 1510. Their missionary zeal (according to some historians) consisted of both persuasion and persecution. They supplemented the soft-sell of debate with the hard-sell of conversion by fire and sword. It is not known by which method my forefathers were converted, but they certainly put the fear of hell and the prospect of heaven deep into the minds of their descendants. Throughout their lives, our parents remained unquestioningly devoted to the church and faithful to all its teachings.
Job opportunitie were severely limited in Portuguese Goa, so young Goans usually drifted to nearby Bombay in British India. Being hardworking, educated, Christian and English-speaking, the Goans were often favoured by the ruling British for employment, particularly in the railways, and the department of post and telegraphs. My father joined the railways. My mother stayed home to run the household and to give her children their early domestic religious education.
Education and vocation
Tony's early education was at St Stanislaus High School, run by the Jesuits, in the parish of St Peter's, located in Bandra, a northern suburb of Bombay. His excelled academically and was exceptionally skilled in human relations. Popular with both staff and students, Tony was the idol of the school. Our parents expected him to enter university, graduate and excel in whatever profession he chose. Their expectations of a brilliant future for Tony were firmly engraved in their minds and so they paid little attention to his frequent hints that he wanted to become a priest. They passed it off as boyish fervour, instilled by the Jesuits, those great motivators, who ran St Stanislaus school.
Besides, my parents knew that Tony also had a romantic side. When he was quite young, he told a cousin of ours that someday he would marry her and that he would take all the stars in the sky and make her a wedding dress. She never failed to remind him jokingly of his promise, even years after he had joined the Jesuits and she was married with children.
One day, after another of Tony's polite reminders, my mother said to him: "If you leave us and go to the Jesuits, who will look after us when we grow old?" Tony replied: "Mum, I am going to pray to God that he will give you another son to look after you, and if my prayers are answered, will you allow me to join the Jesuits?"
My mother, then 40 plus, readily agreed, knowing that her chances of getting pregnant were remote. I believe it was a mother's desperate way of hanging on to her son for as long as she could. Well... some months later, she fell pregnant! And from what I am told, Tony never brought up the subject of joining the Jesuits till he saw newborn me. In fact he did not enquire about my mother's or my condition when he barged into the maternity room. His first words were: "My prayers have been answered. God has given you a boy, so now I can become a Jesuit priest!"
The promise redeemedTime passed, and the subject of his wanting to join the Society of Jesus was occasionally raised, but my parents still did not give it very serious consideration. Then, in 1947, some months into his final year at school, Tony attended a careers counselling course. He came home and wanted to discuss his future seriously with our parents. That dreaded subject about the Jesuits was revisited and this time they knew he was very serious indeed. So my mother said she would be happy for him to join the church, but not the Jesuits. She had heard, quite correctly, that novices were not allowed home for the first three years and that family visits to the seminary were restricted to three per year. She could not come to terms with such restrictions, so she suggested he enter the seminary of the secular order instead of the Jesuits. He replied that if that was her wish, he would rather join my father in the Indian Railways as a trainee, but that he would be terribly unhappy with this choice of career.
Tony also reminded Mum of her promise, and eventually both my parents could see there was no point in trying to dissuade him. His determination to follow his vocation had finally won out and on the 1st of July 1947, Tony joined the Society of Jesus as a novice in a seminary called Vinayalaya in the suburb of Andheri, Bombay. He would serve as Rector of this same institution from 1968 to 1972.
Years later, ironically, it was my sister Grace who stayed behind to look after my parents, allowing me to pursue a career in Europe and finally in Australia. Tony, I must emphasize, was always near at hand whenever his family needed him. He travelled overseas only when necessary.Second to love for his family and the Society of Jesus, was Tony's patriotism. He loved India and could not be persuaded to accept any other country as his home.
The brothers deMello
Tony and I were different in both body and spirit.
I had a great flair for football, hockey and athletics. Tony, by his own words, had "two left feet."
While Tony drank deep at the fountain of faith, I merely gargled! He was an ardent believer—I was a doubter. In school the penny catechism was drilled into me and I still remember its definition of faith: "Faith is a supernatural gift of God." Well, that gift of God came to Tony by the truckload, but to me it came in a matchbox! As much as Tony was religious by natural inclination, I was indifferent by natural inclination. Faith never found a spark in me—faith never ignited. Yet, with all these differences, the common bond of brotherhood never faded.
Our family was steeped in religious culture. As a Catholic boy, demands were made on me. I was expected to understand Latin at mass, sing lustily at benediction, confess weekly, walk the stations of the cross, recite the rosary, chant the litany, observe nine first Fridays, make novenas, gain indulgences ... and so on. This whole accumulation of religious practices was too much, and I reacted negatively. I challenged the church's authority, refused to believe in mysteries, found prayer books boring and repetitive. I preferred to speak directly with my maker in words of my choosing rather than use formula prayers.
In later years Tony would encourage discussion rather than rebellion by urging me to express what I really felt about religion.
During my early years, Tony was a paragon of virtue, and I was a little brat. I remember how Tony would always take my side whenever a squabble developed between my sisters and me, but he knew when to draw the line on certain things. In the course of one such skirmish, I once fought with my sister and called her a "bloody fool." Tony took offence at my language, put me over his knee and spanked me, telling me never to use bad language again. I began to fear him, and my earliest images of him were of a stern disciplinarian.
When Tony entered the seminary, he was a saturated catholic—saturated with orthodoxy, loyalty, and the desire to defend to the death any doctrine. In one of our rare visits to the Novitiate, one of my sisters got into an argument with Tony over some religious point. Tony turned on her with cold fury, and proceeded to expound the church's teaching. "Mother church is right, and you are wrong. You should not question. The pope is infallible." Without saying so explicitly, he warned her that her attitude could lead her into hell.
The role model
Tony struck awe into the family with his rigid attitudes to right and wrong. Unconsciously, we began almost to venerate him. Tony, however, changed a few years later—I think it was after he returned from Spain. I personally experienced the transformation which I explain later on. He seemed to have dropped the rigidity and appeared to be much more flexible in his views on church dogma and discipline. Of course, my parents held him up as a role model for me. While I found this distasteful, it never gave rise to jealousy or envy. In fact I remember accepting his virtues as normal. After all he was the eldest child and these virtues were expected of him.
Right through my school years, other priests would constantly point out my famous brother and ask why I was so different academically. Some priests, I guessed, were rather envious of Tony's progress in the Society and would be spiteful whenever they found the occasion. The Jesuits, I imagine, have their pecking order as others do in the outside world! I was very proud of Tony, but it never occurred to me that I should emulate his achievements. Whenever we met, Tony was always very careful to play down his progress in the Society and place great importance on my athletic achievements, never admonishing me for my "under achievement" in studies or lack of religious fervour.
Tony and the Society of Jesus
Some men are born natural athletes. Tony was born natural priest. The Society of Jesus was home. He was the hand and the Society was his glove. I think what appealed to Tony about the Jesuits was the discipline. Tony found strength in the orderliness which discipline fostered. The Jesuit discipline of going wherever commanded, the Jesuit principle of sharing everything with others, the Jesuit principle of equality for all human beings appealed to him. He revelled in rigid attitudes. He found joy in dogma and strength in doctrine.
In 1952 Tony was sent to Spain to study Philosophy for three years during which time some personal evolution took place. He gained a charisma that made him a leader of men. A group of Spanish Jesuits who followed him to India were astounded that an Indian could speak Spanish like a native. Even after decades, the Spaniards still spoke English with an accent. Tony certainly had the gift of tongues. He was also fluent in Marathi, Hindi (both dialects of India ) and, of course, English.
The mellow deMello
The liberal Tony deMello whom the world knows today was a transformation from the rigid Tony deMello who entered the Society of Jesus.
The first breeze of change came about when I was in deep trouble at school... My main preoccupation at school was rule-bending. If there were a hundred ways of avoiding study, I knew a hundred and ten! I elevated truancy into a fine art! My antics went on regardless of several warnings from my teachers and numerous notes from the school principal. Every one of these warnings and notes was treated with the severity it deserved and I was either grounded or had my weekly allowance suspended. Punishment had no effect whatsoever on me. Then at the end of a particular year, my final report card stated I had to repeat the class. This was the last straw for my parents, who were getting on in years. So much for the son who was to look after them in their old age! They could not fathom how one son had turned out to be a gem, the other a pain.
After a heated confrontation with me, my parents decided they would march me in front of Tony and let him decide what was to be done. I had not had much contact with Tony after he had gone to Spain and my memory of him was still one of a strict disciplinarian, so I was not looking forward to the meeting.
Tony was then at deNobili College, Poona, about 120 miles from Bombay, where he studied Theology from 1958 to 1962. Every minute of the train journey was a minute of anticipating hell. I was going to meet the devil at 12 o'clock, and the minutes were ticking by.
At the college Tony received us in the parlour. My parents unfolded the sordid story to him, brandishing the report card, along with the numerous notes of complaint from my teachers. Tony listened with a serious face, more serious than the picture of Pope Piux XII on the wall. I imagined Tony stoking the brimstone and charging the thunderbolt to punish me. I would have to beg forgiveness on my knees.
When my parents finished their narrative, Tony said: "Come on Bill. Let's go for a little walk." Eyes downcast, shoulders stooped, legs rubbery, I followed Tony into the garden. I knew he wouldn't hit me, but I feared his tongue lashing would hurt more. We sat down on a bench and Tony asked me what my problem was. I, of course, used an easy excuse and told him I found it hard to study at home with the distraction of two sisters, now grown up and working, entertaining their friends at precisely the time when I needed to study! I carefully avoided the subject of my truancy and he did not pursue it. I added that it would be better if I were sent to boarding school.
From holy terror to gentle heroTony listened intently, and what he said next took me completely by surprise. Instead of the tongue lashing I believed I deserved, Tony put his arm around me and said that he understood what I was going through—that life was difficult for me. In any case, he was deeply concerned about my lack of interest in what was very important if I wanted to succeed in life. His tone of voice and the way he handled the situation left me very emotional indeed.
I wept with relief and love for this man who understood so much about me. That day he became my HERO.
Incidentally, after this meeting my performance at school matched my prowess on the sports field.
As the years went on, Tony and I drew closer. Believer and doubter formed a strange combination, but Tony made it work. The grace of God, (or something!) guided him. From being blood brothers we were becoming brothers in spirit also.
The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote:
God wants his temple built of love,
but men bring stones.
I think Tony had come to the understanding that even faith and dogma were mere stones if there was no love of fellow human beings.
To the end Tony was loyal to the church and to his beloved Society of Jesus. He had received the inspiration to make the catholic church the CATHOLIC church -- all embracing to all people, Christian, non-Christian and doubters like me. Tony made me realize that in God's great acres there's a paddock marked "For Agnostics" where I am welcome and loved. And there are paddocks for persons of all persuasions, where each is welcome and loved. Tony was never happier than when he was mingling with Christians and Hindus, Buddhists and Moslems, Agnostics and Atheists. Yes, Tony deMello was everyone's brother, and mine in particular.
Tony's body was flown home, and he was buried at the entrance of his old parish church of St Peter's, Bandra, Bombay. Sadly, much to my displeasure, the plaque marking his grave has been removed. That would not bother Tony in the least. He has left his mortal remains and moved on to assume the spiritual stature for which he was destined.
We human beings are remembered for our deeds, good and bad. Mark Anthony at Julius Caesar's funeral said:
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
Mark Antony would have had to make an exception for my brother, since what lives on long after his burial, are his wonderful works, his generosity, his compassion, his humour and, most of all, his love for others.
To the many followers of my brother's teachings, I owe my thanks. Your interest in Tony's life has prompted me to write this short biography. I hope the incidents of his personal life will help you understand Tony even better.
My sincere thanks also go to Daphne and Dom Gonzalvez, who gave so much of their precious time helping me fine tune this biography.
If you enjoy my brothers work and wisdom please purchase one or both books advertised on this site. All proceeds after tax will be donated to charity in Tony's name.