top of page
Champagnat_thumb (1) (1).jpg
  • Writer's picturemaristbrothers

Part 2 - 100 years young: Celebrating the incredible life of centenarian Marist Brother Vincent Shekleton

Updated: Jun 18

 

This is Part 2 of Br Vincent's story. Discover how his unwavering dedication to the Marist charism transcended boundaries and touched countless lives. Read Part 1.


A profound Thai outing


Br Vincent has always embodied the Marian spirit of saying "Yes" - no adventure or place has been off limits for him. Thus, when a teaching opportunity in the refugee camps of Thailand opened up, he jumped at it.


"The Church was seeking people to teach refugees who had fled Vietnam and other countries and were currently housed at the refugee camps in Thailand, and I had some free time, so I thought, 'Why not go!'" he says.


And so, in 1987, Br Vincent joined a small school in the Phanat Nikhom refugee camp, where he taught English and educated the refugees about life in Australia, their potential destination once approved by the Australian Embassy.



Br Vincent in China, 1993.
Br Vincent has always embodied the Marian spirit of saying "Yes" - no adventure or place has been off limits for him.

Based approximately 200 kilometres east of the Vietnamese refugee border camps, Phanat Nikhom served as a critical processing centre for displaced individuals from the region. Established in 1980, this transit camp housed refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, who had been transferred from other temporary shelters throughout Thailand. They would then complete the necessary paperwork and undergo health screenings, before being cleared for departure to their ultimate destinations like Australia.


"The refugees would be given notice of their departure date and flown to Australia for free since they had no money. But they were anxious about how life would unfold in a foreign land." Br Vincent's lessons gave a wonderful introduction to the Australian life, providing the embattled refugees a glimmer of hope.


Br Vincent with his Bachelor of Education certificate from Griffith University, 1992.

He spent three years teaching in the camp, and it was one of the more meaningful but emotionally painful postings for Br Vincent. "The refugees were treated quite badly, their fates unpredictable, dependent on the whims of the governments involved," he says. After a moment's pause, he adds, "Some days, I would wake up to find some refugees had hung themselves on learning that they could not accompany their families to Australia. That was hard to witness."


"The refugees were treated quite badly, their fates unpredictable, dependent on the whims of the governments involved."

It is a memory that continues to haunt Br Vincent.


The Chinese connection


If there is a country that holds a special place in Br Vincent's heart after the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, it has to be China.


He was in China from 1989 to 1990 and then again from 1992 to 1993. Though the language barrier seemed daunting at first, he found the Chinese people to be incredibly welcoming and helpful.


"China was a beautiful experience," he says. "Getting around was easy, even though I didn't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. Many locals knew some English. Anytime I wasn't sure where I was going, I would simply pull out a map. Within seconds, a crowd would form, eagerly taking turns examining it and pointing me towards my destination. The people were so kind and generous with their time," recounts Br Vincent.


Br Vincent with his students in Yunan, China in 1993.
"The Chinese people were so kind and generous with their time."

He taught at the Sichuan International Studies University in Chongqing, persisting despite the tension surrounding the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent crackdown. Following the 1989 events, Chinese authorities targeted religious groups and enforced stricter communist control. Nevertheless, Br Vincent continued teaching, while being discreet about his Brother status. "I instructed everyone to address me simply as Vincent Shekleton, not Brother Vincent. Most complied, except for an occasional email addressing me Brother!” he adds.


In this tense circumstance, Br Vincent endeared himself to his students by even adopting a Chinese name. "A local contact had given me the name Shi Le Tein – taken from my surname Shekleton. When my name was written on the board the students had such a good laugh! From then on, I was Shi Le Tien for them.”


Br Vincent with a couple of Chinese policemen.

What struck Br Vincent most about China was his students' incredible work ethic. “They were always so well-behaved and focused on their studies. There were a lot of people, and not many jobs, so the kids knew they had to work hard to get ahead in life,” he says. 


While teaching and his students constituted the focal point of his tenure in China, Br Vincent also developed a deep appreciation for the country's cuisine. "The food was fantastic! Initially, I couldn't eat spicy food, but then I fell in love with the flavours. Today I put chili even on my ice cream!" he says, laughing uproariously.


The food was fantastic! Initially, I couldn't eat spicy food, but then I fell in love with the flavours. Today I put chili even on my ice cream!"

Br Vincent enjoying a good Chinese meal with friends from China.

The connections he made there, especially with the students, still endure. "I have a group of Chinese friends, including former students here in Australia, who visit me every month, bringing incredible homemade Chinese food like congee, and oysters," he adds.


After China, Br Vincent went back to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, spending the bulk of the 1990s and early 2000s there. Eventually he returned to Australia and worked in Queensland till 2007, wrapping up a truly rewarding career that spanned continents and cultures, and touched countless lives.


Some snippets from Br Vincent's time in China, 1989 - 1993.


Love is the only answer


Joining the brotherhood at only 15 (juniorate), receiving the habit at 19 (novitiate), and spending 81 years as a Marist Brother, did Br Vincent ever regret his decision?


"This has been my life, and I have loved it since I have known it. This is the path I chose to walk. I was fortunate to travel to so many countries, meet different people, and experience diverse cultures. What can be more beautiful than this?"

A fleeting shadow of contemplation flits across his face as Br Vincent shakes his head and answers, “Never. Not once. This has been my life, and I have loved it since I have known it. This is the path I chose to walk. I was fortunate to travel to so many countries, meet different people, and experience diverse cultures. What can be more beautiful than this?"


So, what, then, is the secret to living such a long and joyful life? "Love," he says without hesitation. "It really is that simple. Love people, seek out those who need that love, be there and take care of each other. When I look at the news, all I see is anger and pain, and what all those people truly need is love. It's not complicated at all."


Br Vincent in PNG, 1995.

It is a landmark year, for not only do we celebrate Br Vincent turning 100, but also the 25th anniversary of the canonisation of St Marcellin Champagnat. Which specific facets of our Founder's life and legacy have inspired Br Vincent over the decades? "His emphasis on family spirit, on building a true community and being there for one another in good times and bad. From my first stint in Lismore where I learned from other Brothers to my last days in service, family spirit - as Marcellin taught his first disciples - has always been my guiding light,” he says.


"Love people, seek out those who need that love, be there and take care of each other. When I look at the news, all I see is anger and pain, and what all those people truly need is love. It's not complicated at all.”
With Br Jeffrey Crowe, former Provincial of SOTS.

Throughout his vocation, Br Vincent embodied the very essence of Marist characteristics. Simplicity and humility continue to be the hallmarks of his being - never seeking the spotlight but allowing his warm presence to positively impact all he encounters. No matter where he went, Br Vincent fostered a family spirit through his unwavering kindness and compassion; and his profound Marian devotion clearly underpinned his approach as an educator, bringing joy, love and fulfillment to the hundreds of students he taught.    


Br Vincent remains a living testament to the Marist spirit - an epitome of service, commitment, and kindness. And as he turns 100, the SOTS family wishes him love, happiness, and health.


May his story continue to inspire all those who cross his path. 


Glimpses of a truly beautiful and inspiring life.




-Pic credit - SOTS Archives

-Written by Gayatri Nair

185 views1 comment

1 Comment


Unknown member
Jul 07

What a remarkable life of this Marist - making every effort to live as Marcellin Champagnat lived. Dedication of all works to Jesus helping others. Amazing.

Like
bottom of page