Tribute to a Catholic journalist
Only in exceptional circumstances should an editorial serve as a tribute to one who has died. The death of Southern Cross columnist Noel Bruyns on December 6 at the age of 48 is one such such occasion.
Mr Bruyns wrote for The Southern Cross the one newspaper he cared about more than any other over a period of 30 years, starting with a youth column while still a pupil at the now defunct Christian Brothers’ St Columba’s school in Cape Town.
He died in Thailand, a country he emigrated to earlier this year to escape what he called “the rat race”.
He had visited the country a few years ago, and immediately felt spiritually at home there. Even though his time “home” was cut short by his untimely death from a heart attack, his brothers Alan and Peter, his family and friends will be comforted by the idea that he died in a place where he felt fully native.
Contrary to news reports, Mr Bruyns never lapsed from Catholicism to become a Buddhist. Over dinner with the editor of this newspaper a few days before departing, he explained how he was embracing Buddhist practices and philosophies in his life; not replacing, but complementing his deep Catholic faith.
This faith was a central thread in his life, along with and often associated with his profession as a journalist.
The author Graham Greene would insist that he was not a “Catholic author”, but “an author who happened to be a Catholic”. Mr Bruyns made no such distinction he proudly described himself as a Catholic journalist.
As a young man, Mr Bruyns studied for the priesthood at the Schoenstatt seminary in Munster, Germany. A year before his scheduled ordination, he left the seminary to become a journalist instead. But even within that vocation he would always return to his roots: the Catholic Church.
In the late 1980s, during the culmination of the struggle against apartheid, Mr Bruyns served as media officer of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In 1992 he became business manager of The Southern Cross, a position he held until 1995. After finishing a guidebook to writing for religious publication, in 1998 he came up with the idea for an Internet column in The Southern Cross, which he wittily called “CyberChurch”, and a year later for a youth page, “The Youth Centre”. Throughout the years, he missed not a single issue deadline.
For many years, he also served as Southern African chairman for UCIP, the international union of Catholic journalists.
Noel Bruyns was a champion of the Catholic (and indeed Christian) media. He enriched it not only by written contribution, but by sharing ideas and offering unfailing support.
Mr Bruyns was a keen ecumenist, drawing lessons from different denominations and faiths, which would enrich his own Catholic spirituality.
For many years he was a correspondent for the Geneva-based news agency of the World Council of Churches, Ecumenical News Information.
In the secular media, he served as bureau chief for SA Associated Newspapers in Windhoek, and worked for the Cape Times, South, Daily Dispatch and The Star, and freelanced for a wide variety of publications, locally and internationally.
In many ways Noel was a complicated person; but he was easy to like, always armed with a laugh and encouragement. He was a selflessly generous person when it came to sharing his talent, knowledge and friendship.
A stroke a few years ago did not slow him down. Only his fatal heart attack could do so. His legacy, however, will be felt by many for a long, long time.