Br Peter Gomez
There is a quotation from Tagore which I love: “If at night you cry for the sun, perhaps your tears will blind you to the beauty of the stars.” The sun will inevitably rise but we can enjoy the stars while we wait for the dawn. Peter Gomez certainly enjoyed the stars — passionately! Of him it could be said that he strove “with the last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star.”
A man of the utmost integrity, he aspired to excellence as a Christian Brother and as an educator of youth. Having studied in St. Patrick's High School, Asansol, which was run by the Brothers, he embarked on a five-year apprenticeship in Kharagpur. Three years down the road in 1946 he felt called to join religious life. He approached the Provincial of the CBs and made known his desire. The novitiate was not functioning so the Provincial gave him the option of continuing with his studies or teaching in the Brothers' Goethals Memorial School in Kurseong. Peter chose to teach. After a year nothing seemed to be happening so Peter approached a Jesuit wondering if he could join the Society as a Brother. The priest must have informed the Brothers of Peter's dilemma and he was quickly ensconced in Mount Carmel as the sole novice under the tutelage of Brother Gabriel Packenham. Peter said that he enjoyed the peace and quiet and natural beauty of Kurseong but it must have been difficult for the ill-assorted pair. Gabriel had a fall and broke his hip. That didn't make the situation any more agreeable.
He taught in a number of our schools right across India, from Mount Abu to Kolkata. In each of them he was noted for the thoroughness of his class preparation and his effective way of imparting knowledge. Many found him a worthy confidant and held him in highest esteem. A number of his ex-pupils, notably UK-based George Ward, couldn't do enough to express their gratitude.
Peter was house bursar in a number of our houses. His efforts to balance the books were scrupulous to say the least. In fact he tended to vigorously root out small anomalies where he found them. He admitted that he had brought a lot of emotional baggage with him which he spent a lifetime trying to shed.
Behind his seriousness there was a puckish humour which became more apparent with age. He loved to needle Brothers by supporting England when they were playing India. He himself was an accomplished hockey player. Peter was Superior/Principal in St. Augustine's, Vasai and Our Lady of Salvation, Dadar, but he will be forever associated with Shillong where he spent 34 years at a stretch. When he retired from teaching there he spent his time caring for the poor in a practical manner. He arranged rations for poor families, sponsored largely by grateful ex-pupils. He liked to drop into homes for a cup of tea, something he would look askance at when he was younger. It must have broken his heart to leave Shillong and come to Goa. Unfortunately the Shillong residence was not user-friendly for old people with walking difficulties. Neither was the winter climate kind. Peter overcame that particular obstacle by spending much of the winter months with his devoted sister, Estelle.
Over the last months his health deteriorated. Gradually he became weaker and he lost his appetite for food. Brother Martin Fernandes attended to him assiduously, ably abetted by Socorinha and Shilpa. Dr. Carmen was always on hand to do whatever she could to make him comfortable. A few days ago his pulse dropped to 30. He was referred by SMRC to Goa Medical College where a pacemaker was inserted. During a restless night he spoke to the boys in Shillong, telling them to hurry to their class! He came home on Thursday. On Friday he was agitated and Dr. Carmen came to set him right. He seemed to be recovering but he became restless and breathless on Saturday morning. Dr. Carmen arranged an ambulance and Soccu accompanied him to SMRC. He breathed his last minutes after lying on a bed.
Peter was the oldest of our Indian Brothers. His going leaves a void. Peter's sincere wish would be that generous young men would join the Christian Brothers whom he loved and served so well. A very common expression of his was, “Everything is rip!” The rip has turned to R.I.P. But with Peter that is still “rip!!”
Our sympathies go in a special way to Peter's sister Estelle and her family. His brother, Father Columban ofm, pre-deceased him. Columban was a remarkable priest, totally different in character to Peter. He also had a passion for helping the poor as many a rickshaw puller in Agra will corroborate.
We were fortunate to have our Provincial, Brother Steve Fernandes and assistant Brother Joe Johnson, with us during these hectic days. Their assistance was invaluable. We are hugely indebted to Soccu, Dr. Carmen and Shilpa along with the other domestic staff in Shanti Nivas who so dedicatedly cared for Peter. No doubt Peter will intercede for us all. On behalf of the Khasi people whom Peter loved, I would like to say “Khublei shibun eh.” Many blessings on you all.
—Br Bap Finn via Stephen de Silva (1972)