On October 26th, 2001, when all was going so well for him, Dan had a motorbike accident in Timor Leste. Dan entered the long dark night of his life. Ten long years unable to move; unable to communicate; unable to eat - just unable. But no life is wasted: life is a gift. For the carers, walking into Dan’s room was really walking into the mystery of God.
Dan was born on the 20th of February, 1947. His father, Kevin, was well known to many brothers as the traveling salesman for Pellegrini’s. His mother, Yvonne, was also very well known to many of us. To have a meal at Courtneys when Yvonne and Kevin were alive was to taste food at its finest! Dan certainly inherited his Mum’s cooking skills, but, when Dan cooked a meal, every pot and pan in the kitchen had to be washed up! Dan has 2 sisters, Gabrielle and Elizabeth and a brother Denis, who are all here today. It is a loving and close-knit family. Elizabeth and Des’s children, Genevieve, Daniel and Mary, and Denis and Rosemary’s children, Justin and Vanessa all loved Dan as a favourite uncle. When all of the family gathered at the brothers' house in Surf St Tugun for holidays, they were times to remember! As the children grew, Dan was both Uncle and Mentor. He always made a point of taking them out for the day when he was on holidays. Dan really loved his family gatherings whenever he was able to get together with them. We offer you, Dan’s family, our prayers, sympathy and support today.
Dan was fiercely loyal to his old school, Gregory Terrace. He was an outstanding sportsman, representing Terrace on the first XV and Rowing Eight. Dan developed deep and lasting friendships with his classmates. It must have been an extraordinary class: there are a large number of classmates here, average age 65, to join us in celebrating Dan’s life.
I’d like to reflect on three occasions I lived with Dan. I believe they are a good summary of the stages of Dan’s life in the brothers: school man; adult educator and leader.
I first lived in community with Dan at Abergowrie in north Queensland in the 70’s. It was a place made for Dan Courtney. A full day of teaching; after school sport coaching or other activity; night study and dormitory supervision. Dan was finally free for personal pursuits around 9.30pm. Physically, Gowrie was a demanding mission but Dan relished the opportunity to walk as brother with young men who, through various circumstances, came to Gowrie to board and further their education.
I can still remember when Bro. Thad Landener came to Gowrie for the official visitation and used his usual probing questions to gauge how the community put into practice the various prayer sessions governed by the rules at that time. Dan, put on the spot in the interview and wanting to uphold the tradition in place under Tony White before us, that Gowrie always packed a tight scrum, finally looked Thad in the eye and blurted out: ‘What did the others say?’ Thad thought the reply was priceless!
Dan and I were next together in the mid 80’s in Logan City. This was a new and exciting venture for all of us there. It was the beginning for us of moving to those extremely marginalized in our society and it was to challenge us to our limits. Mick Devlin was establishing Youth and Family Services, a community organization still strong and vibrant today. Others of us were putting together what is now known as the Flexi-Learning Centre Network. Dan and his great friend and colleague Sr Colleen O Brien were venturing into adult education: working with parents, families and adults through the parish networks.
We also had young men and women volunteering to live in community with us and sharing the ministries. It was new, challenging and absorbing: living and working with a wide variety of people who shared our dreams and aspirations. For Dan moving into adult education designing creative faith experiences for needy adults was an exhilarating experience and he took to it like a duck to water.
Our final time together was as members of the Province Leadership Team in the early 90’s. In many ways these were tough times for us with many challenges to forge and many challenges to face. As a team, I think we worked well together, acknowledging and sharing our individual wisdoms. Dan was an avid ‘information gatherer’ and many times as we came towards decision making, he would frustrate us by trying to postpone the decision, since he believed that somewhere out there in the universe there was a scrap of information on this topic that he hadn’t gathered yet!!
But it was a good time of praying, working and playing together. I still recall with joy our yearly fishing trips and our farewell journey together to Uluru at the end of our time. I still have a wonderful photo of Dan sitting at a table in the middle of the starkness of Sturt’s Stoney Desert having a cup of tea! Dan’s daily ‘cuppa’ rituals were a legend.
In his latter times on the Team, Dan found a new dream taking root and beginning to grow within him. This was the dream of a CB mission to East Timor and it led him to decline election to the new Leadership Team.
After much preparation, Dan arrived in Timor Leste in 1999 and spent the next two years networking and meeting with groups of people in order to find a worthwhile project and also funding the work. He found the most needy people not in the capital Dili but in the hill country and it was there that our ministry was born and flourished first under Dan and later under Bill Tynan. During this beginning time, Dan truly fell in love with the people and the country of Timor Leste and was greatly loved in return as deep and lasting friendships were formed.
Then came that fateful day: October 26th, 2001, when Dan entered the long dark night of his life. Ten long years unable to move; unable to communicate; unable to eat - just unable. So many people rallied to support Dan at this time: the Sisters and nursing staff at Canossa; Dan’s family coming to be beside him whenever they could; many friends just dropping in; his faithful friend Sr Colleen a constant support; and, above all, Bro Len Marshall who made Dan’s care his major ministry. Day after day, month after month, year after year Len was by his side with tender and loving care. We, brothers, family, and friends, pay tribute to you, Len, and thank you for your dedication to Dan.
I’m grateful for the following insights from Colleen into what the caring meant for her. Some thought that this period of Dan’s life was wasted. But no life is wasted: life is a gift. For the carers, walking into Dan’s room was really walking into the mystery of God. The great call was a call to Faith and Compassion, and the more they visited Dan, the more they grew into those areas. That was Dan’s gift to the carers: somehow, in some strange way, this didn’t just happen to Dan: it happened for me the carer too. It called and challenged me to grow in faith and compassion and to experience in a strange but real way the mystery we call God.
And then, finally, at a quarter to nine last Sunday morning, Dan’s restless, searching spirit broke free and began that new journey of the spirit. Today we gather to celebrate that ‘breaking free’.
I’d like to finish with one of Dan’s favourite poems - indeed it is very appropriate today. It is Mary Oliver’s poem, ‘When Death Comes’.
|When Death Comes|
|When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps his purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox; when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering; what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,||
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
Today we gather to celebrate the life of Dan, who didn’t simply visit this world for a time, but who really took the world into his arms;
Today we gather to farewell a friend.