Don Edwards Literary Memorial

August 19, 2007

A Bonny Requium

LeRoy, you recently mentioned my posted piece on the thin thread between the time of Jesus and Peter and the current pontiff. You said you thought Brother Boniface, our class religion instructor among many other things, would have been proud of me in spite of his orthodoxy. I came across this tribute I wrote for him shortly after his passing. I thought I might post it.

Brother Boniface George. Brother Boniface. Brother George Kohles. “Bonny.”

In December of 1997, Valerie and I decided to visit our youngest daughter, Leslie, in California for Christmas. Leslie invited us, because, as she said, “I have a place of my own. I’m proud of it. Come see it.”

One day, the three of us decided to go to Napa for the day. I, of course, had gone to the Mont LaSalle Junior Novitiate. Graduated in 1952 from the most massive class in its history…fourteen. I became a Novice. Took vows. Went to St. Mary’s as a student brother. Left the Brothers. Married. Had babies.

I really had no intention of going to the Mont this day, but as an afterthought…..who knows? I drove up Redwood Road and parked in front of the Chapel.

I first met Brother George “Boniface” Kohles when I went to the Mont in the middle of my second sophomore semester of high school. I was recruited from Christian Brothers School in Sacramento by Brother Ed Behen, the silver tongued vocational director of the district. I have always suspected that I made his quota that year and he owes me one. As I remember, Ed made it sound like a country club. It wasn’t.

Brother Boniface was one of the five Mont La Salle resident faculty: Michael, the Director, Vincent, the Sub-director, Paul, Gerard and Boniface. They taught everything….language, literature, science, math, music, history, (library science, for crying out loud)….typing, athletics, games, values, “the rule,”…even the occasional movies had much scrutiny. I remember two “real” movies we went to: in Napa, the film about Cardinal Mindzenti (“The Prisoner” with Alex Guinness) and, in our senior “trip” to Lake Tahoe, we saw “An American in Paris.” Talk about a luxury trip. I had to share a motel bed with Jack Kannevan and Paul Bayne, for God’s sake. Or was it Benny Munoz. Maybe all four of us. I think all the little people had to quadruple up.

Boniface taught French…and the textbook had English/French puns in it, much appreciated by a congenital paronomasiac. I had had some Spanish, but really no language skills. I learned enough Italian in another life to be dangerous, but…..French was difficult. It’s hard to think of Brother George without thinking that he was much more than any of us gave him credit. He always had this smile. He always found some infraction of the rule of silence, which I broke with alacrity. He was polite. He cleaned my clock in paddle ball. I never played golf with him, I never had a chance, but I’ll bet he was a decent golfer until arthritis took over. And the other things: fluent in French, the instigator, trainer, leader of Gregorian music, personal promoter of the Monks of Solemnes. I hope they gave him a royalty…he deserved it. I kept bugging him over the years to get me a Liber, the liturgical song book we used at sung masses, but they were scarce then (Benny Munoz got me one recently…where he got it is as mysterious as the book itself). Brother Boniface was impressed during one discussion many years later, to know that Justine Ward, who was very influential in liturgical music, was my aunt. I wonder how many of us recognized his horizons.

I should not leave out religion. He was our moralist, dogmatist, faithest and all around fundamental religionist instructor. He never deviated from strict, formal interpretation of our religious training. It never occurred to me to question things like the Virgin Birth, the mathematical eccentricities of the ‘three in one’ Holy Trinity doctrine or the excesses of the Catholic Church itself for that matter. And when I could, many years later, I chose not to. I loved Bonny and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

He always encouraged me; I took him for granted.

Brother Boniface was my vow sponsor. Over the years I would, from time to time, visit the Mont and see him. He met Valerie at the famous “reunion” and my three daughters at various intervals. This time, stopping at the Mont on an afternoon, I went over to the “Ancients” area on a whim. I never got caught, if the truth be known, drinking some of the leftover wine when I cleaned up as a Junior.

Mirabile Dictu! Brother George was in residence and available. He came down and gave all three of us a big embrace…he was sort of amazed that we were there…no notice…, gave us a tour of what was the Juniorate. I had forgotten the stain glass windows in the chapel that Michael Quinn had somehow managed to con someone out of when we were there. We went through what had been the Novitiate quarters. I saw my old room. Now it is a modest mansion…two rooms. He introduced me to Brother Conrad, who was not in good health. Conrad was the fourth grade teacher at CBS when I was there.

…and he showed us his room and office. He had been making rosaries from “Jacob’s Tears” bushes that he had been cultivating at the Mont. When I was a Novice, George Archaris and I made rosaries…I still have mine, as a matter of fact. Brother Boniface gave me one of his, and wondered aloud if I might want to make some too. “Maybe not right now,” I said. We walked around the Mont. We took pictures. Back in his office, he casually asked me if I could see myself on his bulletin board. I looked. There were pictures of many people, friends, family, monks….Leslie said, “Dad, look at that.” There was a black and white photo of me playing checkers/chess with Gordon Matley, at some time (probably in my Junior year). I didn’t recognize myself. I’m sure I was never that young. Leslie did. “Bonny” had remembered me over many years. I was dumbstruck, to tell the truth. Flattered and humbled. Another embrace and goodbye.

I wonder how many people had been influenced by Brother George. When I learned that he had died I was surprised. Last I had seen him, he seemed in great health, vigorous, hopeful and cheerful as always. The “La Salle Newsletter” mentioned, as a footnote, almost an afterthought, his passing.

I am grateful and enriched having had the great fortune of his friendship and guidance. In ways hard to measure, he helped shape my life. It was a grace that I chanced to see him once again before he left.

Requiescat in Pace, Bonny.

Don Edwards….Brother Stephen Noel, 1952.

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 5:06 pm

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