1935 – 2018
Words of Remembrance for Brother Stephen Creagh, FSC
Delivered by Brother Jerome Cox, FSC
Mass of Christian Burial
Christian Brothers Center, Our Lady of the Star Chapel, Narragansett, RI
June 13, 201
One hundred years ago, Auburndale, Queens County, was a forgotten part of New York City. Gradually, it developed into a fine neighborhood. It was there that Edward and Frances Creagh raised their two daughters, Carol and Jean, and their son Ronald. Was it a gentle hickory stick of parenting and parochial schooling that brought Ronny Creagh to the eighth grade at St. Kevin’s, mannered and scholarly? He was rightly prideful when he received acceptance for Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. For the next four years, by bus and train, he traveled into Brooklyn. Gradually, he developed a strong attraction toward the life of the Christian Brothers, many of whom where his teachers and moderators. While at Loughlin, Ronny Creagh joined the track team and came to realize it requires effort and persistence to raise the bar not only in high jumping but also in life.
After graduation, for Ronny, it was up the Hudson River to Barrytown, NY, for the postulancy and novitiate. He exited as Brother Columban Stephen. Formation continued in the scholasticate in DC, not far from the Catholic University of America. This time when he moved on, it was with a BA in physics, and another name, the Giraffe. His height and bearing making it a natural.
In his first assignment at St. Raphael Academy, Pawtucket, RI, Steve was under a Principal\Director who gave little leeway but was very astute, seeing in Steve a very promising talent and suggesting to superiors that Steve would benefit from a bigger city, a bigger school. He found himself back in his boyhood county at Mater Christi High School where he continued his science and math teaching. In three summers he achieved an MS in Natural Science from the prestigious RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).
The Districts of New York and Long Island-New England had in recent years taken Eastern Africa as their mission field, and Brothers were needed. Armed with his master’s degree and responsive to an impulse of faith, Steve volunteered and was assigned to the recently independent country of Tanzania. Picture Steve being driven from Nairobi Airport across the border with 19,000 plus feet of Mount Kilimanjaro looming ahead. In late August, the rains were over. What he viewed for the first time and for the next seven years was the snow covered top of the highest peak on the continent. It wasn’t long before he called it simply The Mountain, his mountain. I suspect from first sighting, he promised himself a climb and he did that from time to time. Steve loved to say that on that volcanic rim, he was the highest person on the continent.
The high school was called Umbwe handed over to the Brothers by the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Spiritians. Students came from a small but industrious ethnic group, the Wachagga. The boys were hungry for education, and Steve provided it. Seven periods a day weren’t enough to tire Steve. He looked for ways to enrich the life of a boarding school. For starters he began a science club with an eye on those on the soccer pitch. Friday night became outdoor movie night where a screen was set up to catch what his sixteen millimeter projector reeled. Not only was it enjoyment for the boys, but also for the neighbors who poured out of their coffee and banana ‘shambas’ for the treat. Many a weekend he would take groups of students to the world famous Serengeti Plains where they viewed the animal heritage of their country. The school had a tennis court for two or four at a time. But what about the rest? Steve really raised the bar when he and all concerned built a swimming pool. They were thrilled when the ribbon was cut on inauguration day. Class by class took their first dip.
Steve would have been content to remain at Umbwe pouring out his knowledge, compassion, and love, but he found himself in a one man community and needed more association. He crossed the border into Kenya and entered the employ of the Catholic Diocese of Kenya. Quickly they realized they had found a gem. He was the representative for the diocese at a government school, adding religion to an already heavy curriculum. Later he became the vocation director, recruiting young men for the priesthood. He also had the title of communication director. He befriended the Kiltegan Fathers and also the Maryknoll and Mercy Sisters. However, he yearned for his own school. That came when he was asked to lead Rongai Secondary. He was the Headmaster, and I was thankful to be his deputy. His leadership was modeled on the ‘self-reliance’ of Tanzania and the ‘let’s pull together’ of Kenya. In a short time, with boldness and passion, he shaped the ten acres into a fine compound: classrooms, dormitories, and playing fields. Half the land was saved for the growing of vegetables, the rearing of pigs, the layers of eggs, and the zero grazing of cows. Lessons were over by three when all students were involved in community service.
To raise money for the school, Steve decided to grow sunflowers and sell their seeds. However, the weaver and quelea birds weren’t factored in. They perched contentedly in nearby thorn trees, eating a large percentage of the seeds when the crop matured. A few bags were gifted to the seed company.
Photography, a great love of Steve’s, came to the fore at Rongai. After the manual work was completed, those inclined came to the dark room where Steve patiently taught the rudiments of developing and printing. Some opened their own shows during holiday time. The highly motivated student was spotted and regularly encouraged to continue higher education. Some at home; others overseas, all with Steve’s assistance.
It was at this time that the beginnings of health issues surfaced. One was a tricky and painful back. Medical treatment helped but, typical of Steve, he jerry rigged a pulley system in his bedroom using a brick for a counter weight, giving some relief. Melanoma was a second problem with a doctor suggesting chemotherapy. Steve tried it once and swore never again. The illness plagued him for decades, but you would never know it as he had a strong infusion of patience at confirmation.
Steve had two more assignments as headmaster. In Kenya it was at St. Mary’s and later a secondary school in South Africa. A total of twenty one years of educational leadership in three different countries. Brother Brendan Foley frequently says, “Steve could run a great school out of his back pocket”.
A man with the Midas touch. If there had been a double major in his undergraduate days for sure he would have selected English. He was a voracious reader; sometimes a novel a day. He gave himself English periods to teach and seemed to like to explicate one of Cat Steven’s songs. On many a chalk board Steve printed, “Morning has broken like the first morning. Blackbird has spoken like the first bird”. And then the rest of the stanza.
Could Steve have been a detective? I think so. Two ‘citizen’s arrests’ qualified him, one in the middle of Nairobi when he eyed his thieving cook. He stalked his man until he saw a policeman, collared James, and handed him over. Steve the forger: with a deft hand he could change an obvious eight to any number you want and then initial it, just like the civil servants. I have documents as exhibits. How about Steve the flim flam man? Going through customs can be hazardous. Steve’s rule was, keep a novel under your arm. When the agent starts looking too deeply into the ‘carry on’, interrupt and suggest he might enjoy a read after work. Invariably the bag is quickly zippered.
Though far from family and loved ones for much of his life, Steve held them close at heart with his aerograms and writings and sending of photos. And then the invitations were accepted. His mother came first with her sister Agnes. Word spread quickly of the visit and next arrived Carol and her husband, John. Their two boys, Paul and Bruce, followed. And hard on their heels was Steve’s sister Jean as well as his dear friends, Jim and Ellen Caulfield. That Steve could show them his community, school, friends and give them the tour of their lifetime made for great happiness.
In 2007 Steve called it a day after forty plus years of overseas ministry. He came here to Christian Brothers Center developing the quiet arts. On and off the property he found subjects to photograph. He personalized his note cards calling them Creagh Creations, the front cover always one of his photos. Writing intensified also. In Africa he had the temerity to write a booklet entitled, “A Short Guide to Rabbit Keeping in East Africa”. Imagine! But now his writing became more fraternal and personal. First there was “a History of the De La Salle Brothers in East Africa: 1958-1997”, and then his personal journal of his African days, a truly wonderful read. He called it “An African Season”. Still he had time for outreach, assisting with ‘Meals on Wheels’, helping in the local library, and driving the elderly to appointments. As Steve’s health continued to deteriorate, his visits to doctors were more frequent. Then the time came for the constant care that De La Salle Hall offers.
Some months ago Brother Kevin sorted out Steve’s room. I requested a look at his poetry collection. There were those of Hopkins, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and one written by the late Brother Daniel Burke, FSC, a former president of La Salle University. It’s entitled ‘Apostle and Disciples’, poems and illustrations of Gospel scenes. Steve liked it very much but found it wanting. The Emmaus story was missing. Writing in the style of Brother Daniel, Steve submitted to the author the following:
We had been walking an hour or more
so deep in sorrow that time had no measure
We had placed all our hope in Jesus.
But no betrayed and executed,
He has left us with nothing more than
Some women’s stories of his missing body.
Then a stranger came in the gloaming
and revealed to us the Messianic message
of the scriptures,
at table, in the breaking of the bread
we saw Him
and our hearts burned within us.
Brother Columban Stephen, FSC
Thank you, Steve, for being Brother, friend, and sharing your joy of Christian living.
St. John Baptist De La Salle, pray for us. Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever!
Please Pray for the Repose of the Soul of Brother Stephen Creagh, FSC
Born Ronald Philip Creagh in Bronx, NY, on April 2, 1935
Entered the Barrytown, NY, Novitiate on February 14, 1953
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Columban Stephen, on May 14, 1953
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Barrytown, NY, on September 1, 1960
Died at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft, NJ, on June 8, 2018
Monday, June 11, 2018
Viewing from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
De La Salle Hall
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Viewing from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Christian Brothers Center Community (Blue Room)
635 Ocean Road
Narragansett, RI 02882-1314
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30 am
Burial in Brothers’ cemetery; Lunch following
Christian Brothers Center (Our Lady of the Star Chapel)
The District of Eastern North America remembers Brother Stephen with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute. Through their prayers, communities and individuals entrust Brother Stephen to God’s loving care.
Brother Stephen passed away peacefully during the late evening at De La Salle Hall after a week in hospice care. May he rest in peace.
St. Raphael Academy: teacher
Mater Christi High School: teacher
Umbwe Secondary School: teacher
Menengai High School: teacher
Rongai Secondary School: headmaster; teacher
Njoro High School: teacher
La Salle Secondary School: headmaster; teacher
Catholic Diocese of Nakuru: communication director
St. Mary’s Boys Secondary School: headmaster; teacher
Rongai Secondary School: teacher
La Salle Center: director
Christian Brothers Center: director
The Prout School: teacher
Dwars’ River, S. AFRICA
St. Brendan’s School: teacher
Ansfree, S. AFRICA
La Salle College: headmaster; teacher
Christ the Teacher Institute for Education: lecturer
De La Salle Scholasticate: director of finance
Staten Island, NY
St. Peter’s Boys High School: teacher
North Kingstown, RI
Blessed Scalabrini Residence: director
St. Mary’s Boys Secondary School: teacher
Christian Brothers Center: resident
Christian Brothers Community: resident
Christian Brothers Center: resident
De La Salle Hall: resident