Somewhere Under the Rainbow
Reflections on the history of the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community, by Colin N Sutton
Introduction, and Early Years in My Life
Hi, my name is Colin, I come out of an experience. I seem to have learnt most things from experience.
I do not write this story as a teaching except, perhaps to show how life has many lessons from which, we can learn to repeat or improve some of our life experiences, or to repent and hope not to make the same mistakes again. I am aware that it could not be a teaching as I was learning as I went. If I had waited to learn everything before starting anything, such as my walk in Disciples of Jesus, then I would still be waiting to start.
So this is my experience. Maybe I could even call it my apprenticeship where I hope and pray that the Lord Jesus has led me, and will always lead and teach me.
LET US BEGIN.
For some time now I have wanted to write some of the happenings of The Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community. The community began on 21-10-1979, but I would like to start this story before that date and, as this is my story, I will take a brief look at my life.
I was born 14-1-1934 in Sydney, but don’t remember much until we lived at Albuera Road, Epping, with my mother Phyllis and father Donald and older sister Dawn. We were what I suppose you would call a middle- class family, my father being a carpenter and mother staying at home, as was the case in those days.
1934 to 1950.
Well, I am not used to doing this sort of thing. While pondering my mind has been wandering over many forgotten years reminding me of moments and events that I presume have contributed to my present make- up.
My parents did not have a happy marriage and this may have had an influence on me and, in particular, my relationship with them. They separated when I was 16. This caused some conflict for me as to how I would relate to each of them and not take sides.
My grandparents, Frederick and Alice Dicken, and in particular my grandfather, played a significant formation role in my life. I was very fond of my grandfather and used to visit, spending more fatherly time with him than with my own father.
In later life I learnt that my father’s father was very hard on him, putting him down all the time, making him out to be a fool.
All my life I have had trouble calling my parents ‘mum` or ‘dad`, or mother or father. I cannot remember calling my father by those names and only recently, upon my mother’s request, did I refer to her as Mum. However my parents did the best they could and looked after me with a good home and schooling, etc.for which I am most grateful.
Dawn my sister was three years older and we were good friends; she died of leukemia 32 years ago, in 1967.
Leonie my younger sister lives in Sydney. I’m fond of her even though we don’t see much of each other.
School days were fine in primary. Things were so different in those days. We walked to school often, taking our shoes off. That is, if you had some as I did. Some kids didn’t.
High school was not so fine. I left Trinity Grammar in the first term of third year when I turned 15. I remember my first day. There was a general assembly where a boy accused of stealing was brought before the whole school, made to bend over and was given six cuts with a large cane by the headmaster, Mr. Hogg. This upset and frightened me. I was a poor student and received a few canings myself, I was glad to leave and don’t have those good, old school day memories that many talk about.
St Albans Anglican Church was where I had my first introduction to the Lord. It was there while attending Sunday school, I can remember sitting- out side in the church grounds on a sunny Sunday morning with a group of children, listening to the young teacher telling scripture stories. The image of Jesus I had was of a man in a white robe sitting on a hill gently talking to a group of which I was part. This has stayed with me over the years as it was more than likely my first memorable experience of Jesus. I stayed at St Alban’s for some years, ending up as a choirboy. Another thought about St Alban’s was that my parents never came, even when I was singing in the choir, not that this concerned me then- nor does it now.
It was later on, maybe when I was 12, that I started to spend time on my own, walking at night around the local streets, during the day in the bush…there was plenty of open space around, an orchard on one side, a dairy just behind, fields opposite, the bush down the bottom of our gravel street. There were times during these walks when I thought about God; it was pleasant and comforting.
As I mentioned school was an unpleasant time so I was pleased when the school told my parents that because I was not a good student it, would be advisable for me to leave for financial reasons and the possibility of my failure. My parents never visited the school, nor came to see any of my sports events I never thought much about this at the time.
There was one event that took place when I was about 12. I remember being called home from a friend’s place by my parents. When I arrived I was introduced to a couple of similar age to them. One of my parents, I can’t remember which one, told me that this strange man, whose name was Peter was my father, and not Donald. I don’t remember what happened next and have never found out any more. However, it does throw some light on a name my father Donald used to call me, a name that confused me “ the son of a shit carter”, it seemed that he was referring to himself. I am not aware of any effect this may have had on my life as I don’t have any problems with who I am or with my identity, so I can’t say “ Oh, poor me!” I can, however, say that later in life when I was getting to know the Lord, I found The Father a bit hard to relate to and, as we will see later on in my life, to realise that The Virgin Mary was my way to the Father.
Things went along pretty normally as far as I can remember and I don’t see that it would be of much interest to go into the other moments of school, friends, boyhood love, the Second World War, various adventures, etc.
As previously mentioned, I left school at 15 and went to work with my father in his boat shed in Lavender Bay. This did not last long (I’m not much good with my hands). Through a friend, I started work as an office boy in an import and export company, for the sum of ten shillings a week (about one dollar). It was here that I became interested in becoming a salesman and had my first glass of beer in a hotel, the Occidental Hotel in York Street. From that job I went to clerical work at another company where I started to study accountancy at Crows Nest Technical College.
I was about 16 when my parents separated. Our home was sold and I decided to live on my own and not with one of my parents. This was a difficult time: my finances were very limited; I had to pay board at various boarding houses; I had very little left over for food and I did, in fact, have some problems in acquiring food. The boarding houses were unpleasant places. Often, I had to share a room with a stranger, and I didn’t like that.
I was entering another phase of my life. I was about to grow up, fast. As I look back I feel blessed. I believe my parents did the best they could and I am thankful for that. It appears my mother was spoilt by her father, and my father did not really know what it was to have a father. Maybe he was not mature enough to get married and my mother was and is a difficult woman to live with and, so, he had little chance of succeeding.
Seven years in a young man’s life is more than a long time; it is in itself a whole lifetime. For me it was a journey where I lived on my own, in a world that centered on the need for somewhere to live and something to eat.
The mind is stretched as I try to recall these years, and contrary to believing them to be good or bad, I am more inclined to see them as a grounding for me to have an appreciation of and gratitude toward life, and in particular, my present life which I see as blessed by God.
After the family broke up I lived in various guesthouses and private homes, working as a clerk until the age of 18 when I was called up to do my National Service Training for six months in the RAAF at Richmond Air Base.
The Air Force was help for me as I was given clothes, a bed, food, and eight pounds per fortnight, which helped considerably in my living standards. Drinking, gambling and time with the boys were mingled with common life in the Air Force which included some training as a photographer.
When I left the Air Force, it was back to boarding and working as a clerk, while studying Accountancy for some years. I was growing up in a hurry, going to dances, doing a little too much drinking, but having more money than ever before in my pocket. Looking back on this time, I am amazed I didn’t get into some trouble. I think it was because I had two sisters that I have always respected the opposite sex, also I was very innocent, even say naive. However, I did frequent some sleazy places and often walked the streets of Sydney till the wee small hours of the morning.
One event that springs to mind was when I was holidaying at Coolangatta with a mate from the Air Force days. We were sharing a room. For some reason I blasphemed. My friend Paul Knight, who later on was the best man at our wedding, asked me not to do that as I was talking about his God. This was one of those memorable turning points in my life, one that I have never forgotten also one that has helped me to think more about Jesus, my Lord.
Jobs were changed a few times, as were the boarding houses. One home I lived in was the home of a workmate (Archer Brent}. It was here that some significant changes in the direction of my life took place. His mother was a faithful Catholic whom I both admired and had affection for. It was she who brought me that little step closer to the Catholic Church, where I would have the opportunity and grace to know and love the Lord.
It was via the friends of Archer that I met more Catholics and, most importantly, Val, my wife.
It is wonderful … incredible… how one event can change the whole direction of your life. Life is full of these events, many of which we don’t remember. One can go nuts trying to go back and say “what if? “. Because of knowing Paul Knight who corrected me for taking the Lord’s name in vain, I was able to learn a little about the Jesus he loved. And then I worked with Arch Brent, living in his home under the care and influence of his mother, and meeting his friends one of whom was having a party to celebrate the birth of his child. It was at this party that I met Val and we started going out.
Val was good friends with a family called the Chivers. She was actually going out with their son. This family was Catholic, their faith a cultural and central part of their life. They didn’t preach; it they lived it. Their faith made the home real, warm and hospitable. I found it comfortable to relate to them. They welcomed me to the home. Their normality was what helped. They played cards, gambled on the races (Joe, the father, was an SP bookmaker) and didn’t mind having a few drinks. Their home had an atmosphere that I had never seen before. It was filled with the aroma of a roast dinner cooking on Sunday afternoon, hot scones after Sunday Mass, and there were often people dropping in. Can one imagine the effect this had on a young man who had been living on his own for those early years? One who was hungry for that kind of family life, complete with good food, drink, gambling and warmth. Add all this to meeting Val and you had one very happy young man.
Val had experienced a similar situation, probably even more so as she did not have the same opportunities as a child that I had. Val had recently become a Catholic and, as we were going out and mixing with the Chivers and their friends, I started going occasionally to a Catholic ceremony. In particular, I remember going to a Redemptorist mission; I don’t remember any of the mission content. I just remember.
Life was good. I was very fond of Val and reasonably happy living in a boarding house at Neutral Bay. I was studying accountancy, in my third year, which I didn’t like. Working as assistant accountant and internal auditor, studying and having a wonderful time with Val led to a very busy time and I decided that accountancy wasn’t for me. I remember my joy and excitement when Val knitted me an attractive black jumper. I also was touched when she washed a few of my shirts. But what I remember most was an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which she placed in my room. This icon is in our home to this very day. Val’s gift of the icon was a significant event in my life. I knew little to nothing about Mary at that stage, but I see it as the beginning of a long and simple relationship with Our Lady, one that would make a significant impact on my life.
I don’t do justice to this impact, or Val’s faith in placing that icon in my room, but I see the hand of God in it and am thankful to Val for her example and direction in leading me to the Catholic Church.
Six months after we met, we were engaged, and were married within six months. This was a wonderful time as Val and I started to grow close together. We still are to this day. It was during this time that I commenced my instructions in the Catholic faith. This I did through an Irish priest whose name I don’t remember. He was quite laid back; we discussed the races and had a beer during these instructions, which made me feel at home. I remember that I didn’t tell Val about the instructions before I started, and I can’t remember much about them.
Fr. John Roach married us on 16-2-1957, at St Leonard’s Church, Naremburn. It was a beautiful wedding. I was most grateful to Val’s mother who, in spite of her lack of funds, gave us a lovely wedding breakfast.
I was very nervous as I realized that marriage was for life, and fully realized that when we were married, we would become one in the spirit, and that what God had joined no man could part. This was a powerful sacrament in my eyes … a miracle.
To this day, I still don’t know why Val, who was so beautiful (and still is!) would want to marry me.
Val is a wonderful woman, a loyal, loving wife and a devoted mother I love her very much. It saddens me that she doesn’t seem to be able to agree with me on this and tends to put herself down.
I admire her faith; her prayers are usually answered.
So began married life, the start of our family and my journey of faith in the Church, as well as a change in career. It was all happening. What a blessing our family has been! We seem to have only happy memories even though we were battling financially. It seemed that we would never be out of debt and the possibility of owning a home seemed remote. I worked 7 days a week for some years, a struggle which somehow bonded us and has made us forever grateful for the blessings of this day. I think it’s unfortunate that some parents don’t allow their children to go through this period of life with its ever-present financial insecurities.
Matthew, our first-born, came while we were living in a pleasant flat at Newport, our first little home from the day we were married. Michael was born soon after while we were living in a flat at Pymble. Val cried when we moved to this old, grotty flat, which, despite my painting efforts, was still a bit rough. Money was very short and at Christmas we were so broke we didn’t have a Christmas dinner nor, I believe, any presents. I promised Val that this would never happen again, and it hasn’t. Between Newport and Pymble we lived at Palm Beach [very nice] and Guildford. Peter was born at Yardley Ave, Waitara. What a complicated financial deal that home was! We actually had to borrow more than the purchase price in order to pay the legal costs. Paul and Megan were also born at Yardley Ave. We then bought a block of land and built a home in Edwards Rd, Wahroonga, where Emma was born. How wonderful it was in those years with our beautiful children as we watched them grow through the various stages of life.
When Matthew was born in ’57, I changed my career to sales when I joined National Cash Register, selling Adding Machines. I loved sales only leaving NCR to begin a partnership in a real estate business, primarily to increase my income. The partnership didn’t last long and I went into my own business at Pennant Hills. A serious credit squeeze forced me out of Real Estate for a few years. I went into business with a friend making and selling car polish. This company was sold and I returned to real estate where I stayed until working full-time for Disciples of Jesus in 1981.
Life went pretty much to plan while raising the family, the children attending Our Lady of the Rosary school until the boys went to St Leo’s, the girls to Loreto. As I mentioned before these, were great years. I could write another book about the lives and events of the children and the many blessings that came from the Lord. Our home of 28 years in Edwards Road was an incredible blessing that came from an extraordinary real estate sale, the commission from which paid for the block of ground in Edwards Rd. I find it a little difficult to remember some of the dates, but shortly after being received into the church in 1956 I began my walk of faith in the Church.
It is quite an experience for a convert … the traditions and culture of the church which a Catholic may take for granted are strange, mysterious and from another time and place. The vestments, altar, candles, bells, incense, genuflecting, making the sign of the cross and other various bodily movements are overpowering. Not to forget knowing when to sit, stand, kneel, bless yourself, make the right responses and, to top all this, it was all in Latin. Then of course the faith challenges come in the form of confession and the big or should I say massive one of Eucharist. These doctrines are all explained, even possibly understood, but actually BELIEVING … getting ones mind around it, was for me some-thing that took six years.
How can I describe this mountain I had to climb!
I don’t remember all that much of my instructions before being baptized in the Catholic Church. My first communion was Christmas Eve 1956. I was with Val. During the next six or so years we moved around from Newport, Palm Beach Guildford, Pymble and finally to Waitara and Our Lady Of The Rosary Church Waitara. While we did attend Mass on Sundays, it was at Our Lady Of The Rosary that we became closer to the church.
It’s a little hard to remember when but, at some stage during this time, I found coping with the awesomness of God the Father overpowering, but I could handle the humanity and gentleness of Mary. I have often wondered about the icon of our Lady that Val put in my room [which, by the way, is still in our home, and I have always had a smaller copy beside my bed], and the significance of what it represents concerning the power and divine plan of God.
There was a mission conducted by the Redemporists at Waitara during which the priests gave the strong word, which some today would call Fire and Brimstone. It must have strongly challenged my beliefs as I went to confession where I confessed that I didn’t think that I believed in God. In hindsight, it seemed a strange thing to do. The priest (Fr. Medlen) suggested I call to see him at the monastery, which I did. Walking into that hallowed building I was filled with a sense of expectancy. He received me in a large room with book lined-walls. Here, I thought, were all the answers. Surely with all this information and knowledge, I would receive the proof of God’s existence for which I was searching. This holy priest would answer all my questions, eliminate my doubts…
He remembered me and we sat down to talk about God. Doubts, he said, were something that most people, including himself experience, this meant something to me, he understood. I could now relate in a more normal and relaxed way. He went on to talk about faith, explaining that faith was a gift from God. This was good, what I needed.
I noticed the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the room, the same one that Val had placed in my room before we were married. He continued to explain about the gift of faith and suggested that I should ask God for it and urged that I pray for it as an intention while praying the Rosary. Val and I had been praying the Rosary in bed before going to sleep so I had prayed the Rosary but not for this intention. He went on further to explain the Rosary to me from a pamphlet about the Rosary. I was encouraged with this meeting. Through the gentleness and friendliness of Fr Medlen, I now felt a little more at home with God and the church. I see that this was an important time for me as the Catholic Church is something of a frightening experience for some and it certainly was for me. I still struggle with the severe side of the Church portrayed by some (certainly not all) priests, bishops and cardinals when presenting themselves or talking to us, the laity. I realize this needs more explanation, which I hope to cover later in this story.
Mary’s presence was becoming an influence in my life as she gently led me to the Lord Jesus; she was a signpost for me along a strange and unfamiliar path, where it seems the Lord patiently waited presenting conversion opportunities for me to grasp as I walked, ran, fell, rose and staggered on. The Lord would often turn up at the last moment with a helping hand through an encounter with Him or one of His friends, never letting me down. Once focused on Jesus, Mary seemed to step aside a little and let me begin my relationship with Jesus but remained always like a mother caring for her children. This is still the case. When I stray away from Jesus I seem prompted through thoughts of Mary to once again start praying to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. As in the scriptures I see Mary, quietly fulfilling her role, telling the world to do what her Son tells them.
So back to the mountain of the Eucharist. What an incredible step it is to come to grips with this sacrament, not simply to understand the church doctrine and teaching, but to believe it. This I found to be an enormous faith challenge, one that was to take six or seven years to work through, if, indeed, one ever works through it.
It seemed quite wonderful how Catholics believed that Jesus was present in the Eucharist. I seem to remember thinking, ‘wow`! This is extraordinary, Jesus is here at the consecration in the Mass. This means that every time mass is celebrated, which is every day of the week, Jesus is there in the Eucharist. Can Catholics really understand how mind-blowing this is to converts? This was all a part of the struggle about which I had talked with Fr. Medlen, though I don’t believe I spoke about Eucharist with him.
It was some six years later when reading Thomas Merton’s, Elected Silence where he wrote about his experience while in hospital and hearing the communion bell tinkling as Holy Communion was being brought down the hallway to him. He explained his joy and excitement at the coming of the blessed Jesus to him in his sick bed. In a wonderful way this spoke to me of faith. Here was something that was beyond my human understanding. It was a faith step, and Faith, as Fr. Medlen had said, is a gift from God. In a way beyond my understanding, this gift was given and I believed. As I read my words, I realize how inadequately I have described this time. How does one tell of a moment with the Lord. Who is going to believe it? Somehow, for me, it all came together when reading this book. All the bits and pieces I had heard over the years of my journey with the Church came rushing together and, in faith, I believed. It wasn’t quick and easy. I think it could have been but, as usual, I decided to go the long way, but praise God, He was faithful and patient. He is always faithful, even when we’re not, and so I limped on with a spring in my step.
Our time in Waitara Parish was a major period in our life, involving me in the Holy Name Society, The Legion of Mary, and Val and me with the school, Parents and Friends’, and Val in the 250 Club.We made good friends, many of whom we still have. It was here that I became a catechist a calling which I continued for eight years.
Parish life was very rich with a strong sense of community relationships. Having children at school would have greatly assisted getting to know other families and given all a common working agenda.
While at Waitara in the Legion of Mary, I was once again circulating under the influence of Mary.
I can’t remember if the following event took place before or after joining the Legion. I was sitting quietly in church waiting for Mass to start, not thinking of anything in particular, and having no religious thoughts when the most extraordinary thing happened. Something went around my shoulders, something warm and very comfortable. A beautiful peace too wonderful to describe came over me. The impression I had was that Mary had her arms around me or that it was her cloak wrapped over my shoulders. How can one describe a moment like this? How can another believe it? My faith took a giant leap forward. I have always remembered, and been thankful for, what I call a ‘visitation’. It was indeed a foundation step in my life. I don’t know the theological outlook on all this and, sadly, would most likely not share this with my protestant friends. Indeed, I would be sensitive as to where I shared it in Catholic circles.
A few more words about how my love for Mary grew in my heart. I saw Mary as a real person. With her, my faith was not asked to take on too much. It seemed that she waited with me, as a companion; I didn’t have to walk alone. This was a private, gentle time of preparation for each following step. There is always another step, and we keep taking them until we reach heaven. It has been the case for me that Mary has been present both before many of the major steps of my life and also when I am struggling with my faith. How disappointed I am with myself when I stay away and let the Lord down. It is usually during these periods that I turn back to Mary.Life, of course, has a very normal side, as did ours. Bringing up and enjoying our family gave us a full and wonderful life. While living at Waitara, I worked in Real Estate; we were active in the parish. It was during one of these activities that we met some seminarians from St. Columbans’ Seminary. They frequently came to our home, enjoyed our hospitality and played cards (our ministry). We made some good and wonderful friends many of whom we still have. One of these, Dominic Nolan (now Father Dominic), has become a very special family friend and a best mate for me. We still have good contact with the Columbans, which you will see as this story unfolds.Back to Edwards Road. The Real Estate career was surging along, as were the children. We were still active in the parish and the boys were starting school at St, Leo’s. As I previously mentioned, I had the great blessing of a residential subdivision sale that netted me almost a year’s salary. This enabled us to purchase the land in Edwards Rd. With great excitement we went about designing and building our family home in which we were to stay in for twenty-eight years. Next: A Miracle took place before or after joining the Legion. I was sitting quietly in church waiting for Mass to start, not thinking of anything in particular, and having no religious thoughts when the most extraordinary thing happened. Something went around my shoulders, something warm and very comfortable. A beautiful peace too wonderful to describe came over me. The impression I had was that Mary had her arms around me or that it was her cloak wrapped over my shoulders. How can one describe a moment like this? How can another believe it? My faith took a giant leap forward. I have always remembered, and been thankful for, what I call a ‘visitation’. It was indeed a foundation step in my life. I don’t know the theological outlook on all this and, sadly, would most likely not share this with my protestant friends. Indeed, I would be sensitive as to where I shared it in Catholic circles.
A few more words about how my love for Mary grew in my heart. I saw Mary as a real person. With her, my faith was not asked to take on too much. It seemed that she waited with me, as a companion; I didn’t have to walk alone. This was a private, gentle time of preparation for each following step. There is always another step, and we keep taking them until we reach heaven. It has been the case for me that Mary has been present both before many of the major steps of my life and also when I am struggling with my faith. How disappointed I am with myself when I stay away and let the Lord down. It is usually during these periods that I turn back to Mary.
Life, of course, has a very normal side, as did ours. Bringing up and enjoying our family gave us a full and wonderful life. While living at Waitara, I worked in Real Estate; we were active in the parish. It was during one of these activities that we met some seminarians from St. Columbans’ Seminary. They frequently came to our home, enjoyed our hospitality and played cards (our ministry). We made some good and wonderful friends many of whom we still have. One of these, Dominic Nolan (now Father Dominic), has become a very special family friend and a best mate for me. We still have good contact with the Columbans, which you will see as this story unfolds.
Back to Edwards Road. The Real Estate career was surging along, as were the children. We were still active in the parish and the boys were starting school at St, Leo’s. As I previously mentioned, I had the great blessing of a residential subdivision sale that netted me almost a year’s salary. This enabled us to purchase the land in Edwards Rd. With great excitement we went about designing and building our family home in which we were to stay in for twenty-eight years.
Next: A Miracle