Creos Roman: may he rest in peace

Creos Roman: may he rest in peace

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP was the principal celebrant at the Funeral Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, for Creos Mary Roman, who died in January. Creos, born Craig Cameron, was a reformed drug addict and anarchist who underwent a conversion experience, served for several years as Assistant Sacristan at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, and later worked for drug addicts and the destitute in houses of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Melbourne and Calcutta.

This is taken from Bishop Fisher's homily.

When I attended Creos to administer the Last Rites and celebrate Mass for him last week, he was holding his mother's hand very much like the baby and little boy he was 51 years ago. Craig, as he then was, enjoyed a happy childhood in rural New Zealand. I'm told that after his father left and his mother, sister and he moved into Council housing, he would try to help with the housework and at age six sat inside the kitchen cupboards cleaning them, wearing a T-shirt already too small for him and ultimately handed down to his Teddy.

The boy grew up. During his high school years Creos worked in a butcher's shop and a cabinet maker's. He left home around 16 and flirted for a time with other religions. In Auckland he got into the punk scene, protest marches and drugs. One day while his mother was chopping kindling for the range, an apparition appeared before her decked out in chains in all directions, safety pins though nose and ears, a leather studded collar, knee-high boots and a zigzag haircut.

The vision of Creos no doubt also startled the other natives of that town, as he continued to do after he emigrated to Australia in his late teens, and indeed sometimes when he worked in this very cathedral. He lost contact with his family for nearly three decades but by God's grace was restored to them before his death. He lived first in Sydney, then settled in more sedate Melbourne.

Reform of life

Though ashamed of his substance abuse and lifestyle, he remained passionate about justice for the marginalised and worked with youth, the disabled, the sick and reforming drug addicts. Contact with the Missionaries of Charity in Fitzroy and Wagga Wagga and the experience of World Youth Day in Rome eventually brought him to full-cream Catholic faith and reform of life, and he found more positive ways of channelling his energies.

In this he was very much like Jean Valjean in the famous novel turned stage musical recently turned film, Les Misé rables, who comes to see a higher plan for his life. While the tats, piercings and goatee remained, a large cross was added to the chains, and gradually over time the amount of metal declined. He received spiritual direction, engaged in various devotions and took active steps to learn more about his faith. He became one of the 'characters' of Catholic Melbourne.

He served faithfully and efficiently as assistant sacristan in this cathedral of St Patrick for nearly three years. He joined the Dominican laity. He established the Immaculate Heart Community for people struggling with substance dependence or other demons. From this time he was styled "brother" and he continued to grow in piety and virtue.

Creos was unforgettable. Several present here today have shared stories of their first vision of him and their subsequent interactions. He had that sense of always-being-rightness that in the saints we call holy zeal, a stubbornness that in the saints we call single-minded devotion and, occasionally, that hard-to-get-along-with-ness that in priests and religious we call personal charism.

He loved his years as a familiar of the Missionaries of Charity, and especially the time spent as a volunteer in India, even though he struggled with the heat, humidity and health. He would write us colourful accounts of goats, rats and elephants he met, of wonderful sisters and volunteers caring for the dying, and of adventures with immigration officials, street people and others. He made many friends there, as in Australia, for Creos had a great capacity for friendship and a certain innocence that only divine grace can restore to one with a history like his. He had a great sense of humour and enjoyed convivial life, even as he gave away all that he had and focused on serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta.

The story of Craig Cameron become Br Creos Mary Roman is the story of the healing power of divine grace. It can come as jolt of lightning and turn lives completely around as it did to St Paul whose conversion we fittingly celebrate today. It can come as a more gradual, slow-acting medicine. But either way its miraculous effects can be astonishing as they were in this dear man.

Mother Teresa once said that "At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are going to be judged on love not how much we have done, but how much love we put into the doing." May Creos Mary Roman be judged by God "very meritorious" once more, for he was one who put great love into all he did.

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