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Around the Kitchen Table

By Donald Ward


Remembering a special friend


Rev. Mario D’Souza, CSB, began religious life as a Jesuit. While a novice in the Irish Province, he once told me, he stayed at a retreat house on the coast. The journey from Dublin had been tiring, and he and his confrères retired early in preparation for the rigours to come.
“Gentlemen,” the novice master had told them, “the Lord has given me your wills for two years, that I might crush them and mould them to his own.”

Sleep eluded Mario. He turned on the light — a bare bulb in the ceiling — and began reading a P.G. Wodehouse novel. Eventually he decided to turn out the light anyway, reasoning that lying motionless in the dark might bring some of the benefits of slumber. But the light would not turn off. He flicked the switch a dozen times, but all the bulb did was sputter and fade, then return to full power. He returned to bed and stuck his head under the pillow.

It wasn’t long before he noticed that the light seemed to be growing brighter. He peered out from under the pillow just in time to watch the whole fixture crash to the floor. At the same time, the power failed.

“At least now I might get some sleep,” he thought.

It was not to be, for a merry blaze sprang up where the light fixture had landed on the rug. Mario leapt out of bed. He couldn’t stamp it out because he was barefoot, and he didn’t want to smother it with his blanket. He needed water, and something to carry it in. The washroom was down the hall. The flames were spreading. On an impulse, he reached under the bed, and his fingers closed around the curved handle of a chamber pot. Vessel in hand, he burst out of the room.

By one of those inexplicable meetings of fate and whimsy whereby the great God seasons our humours, there happened to be both a full moon and a clear sky that night — two events that might coincide once a decade in Ireland — so Mario was not entirely in the dark. Even so, he slammed doors, crashed into walls, and dropped the chamber pot.

With the vessel full, he burst out the washroom door, spilling water as he went, and made his way back to the fire. Looking up, he saw a black-robed apparition bearing down on him, skirts flying, cadaverous visage white in the moonlight. The young novice did what any rational person would have done: he shrieked and emptied the chamber pot in the apparition’s face.

The apparition, who turned out to be the general superior of the Irish Province, later took comfort in the fact that it was only water, but at the time he was not to know. He had come to investigate the noises coming from the hallway and found himself apparently doused with cold urine. He slipped on the wet floor, collided with Mario in a lunatic pirouette, and the pair of them collapsed in the hallway.

The moonlight soon revealed a half-dozen novices who had gathered at the sounds of the contest. The superior, now looking like a drenched buzzard, rose with what dignity he could and demanded an explanation. Mario provided one, and only then did anyone think to investigate the fire, which by that time had burned itself out. The priest pointed to the sink in Mario’s room and asked, not unreasonably, why he had not simply filled the chamber pot there.

This may have been a deciding factor in Mario’s religious formation. He soon left the Jesuits.

Originally from Karachi, the D’Souza family came to Canada after Mario’s father passed away and it became clear that Christians would soon not be welcome in Pakistan. His mother and brother settled in Calgary, and Mario worked in the chancery office there until he joined the Congregation of St. Basil. He did his novitiate in Saskatoon under Rev. James Hanrahan, CSB, then president of St. Thomas More College. This was where we met him.

For most of that year, Mario came for supper every weekend, and we would share conversation and wine and pots of curry and rice and dhal, and every day I would see him coffee at St. Thomas More College. He became a dear friend. My daughters Caitlin and Brigid, then three and five, were smitten. When the Basilians moved Mario to Toronto to pursue a theology degree in preparation for ordination, he was sorely missed, though I often travelled to Calgary in the summer to visit him at the local Basilian house, where he stayed while visiting his family.

When Mario was ordained in 1991, we all went to Calgary for the celebration. Colleen and I read at the mass while Brigid and Caitlin watched from the pews. They both wept with emotion. That was 26 years ago.

Mario died in Toronto on Sept. 26, after a brief illness. As I write, I have known about it for two hours. The enormity of the tragedy hasn’t hit me yet. I will go to mass in the morning and pray for his soul.

Beloved Basilian, rest in peace.