Tribute to Mgr Paul Nadal
Last week the much-loved Mgr Paul Nadal of Durban died at the age of 88. Here SYDNEY DUVAL, his friend of more than 60 years, pays tribute to the priest.
When Archbishop Denis Hurley died on February 13, 2004, I wrote in The Southern Cross that one of the great trees that gave shade, protection and life to the Church had fallen. I must now write that another great tree has fallen — a flamboyant planted and nurtured in Durban to give memorable witness to the faith as a thinker, formator and bridge builder.
Mgr Paul Nadal, who died of Covid-19 on January 21, is that second tree that served as a signpost to the Church community seeking a deeper experience of faith and discipleship, of service and commitment, of fellowship and enlightenment, of a fulfilling life that is holistic and challenging.
It can be said that he, too, has run the race with St Paul whom he explored and extolled in countless retreats at Mariannhill. He was the most senior priest in the archdiocese of Durban, having celebrated his 60th anniversary of priesthood on December 8, 2019.
Mgr Nadal’s priestly life crossed many terrains and situations. He accompanied Church communities on empowering journeys such as RENEW as a way of implementing the magnificent Pastoral Plan of 1989 to be communities serving humanity in the mind of Jesus Christ. Mgr Nadal was present that night in Cape Town’s Good Hope Centre on June 24, 1992 when some 10,000 local Catholics illuminated that vast structure, where Mother Teresa had once called us to do something beautiful for God, with their candles, their music and their faith to launch RENEW and its Small Faith-sharing Groups.
He ran six Comrades marathons, cycled the Cape Argus Tour and walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage several times to raise funds for charity and cherished projects, such as the Denis Hurley Centre — where the terrace garden was named after him on 20 September 2017. Raymond Perrier, director of the centre, noted that Paul valued the centre as living out the modern church that he had committed his life to promoting. Together with Paddy Kearney they formed a passionate and enterprising trio ready to reach out to local people in various forms of distress. At the time I had written of the centre: “A valiant, compassionate heart of Durban beats here and in the surrounding streets.”
After serving at Oakford, St Philomena’s and St Paul’s, Greyville, where Mgr Nadal had served as parish priest, he served as vicar-general to Archbishop Hurley from 1983-94, followed by 13 years as a lecturer at St Joseph’s Theological Institute in Cedara, near Pietermaritzburg.
Mgr Nadal also served as national secretary of the Catechetical Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and as national chaplain to the universities (1968-75). This was followed by ground-breaking work as director of the Khanyisa Pastoral and Catechetical Institute at Mariannhill (1976-83). Here he also co-authored the catechetical series “The People of God” with Sr Theodula Müller CPS.
Sr Eobarda Ries FNS recalls her encounter with Mgr Nadal during her time at Khanyisa: “Paul was an enthusiastic leader whose strength was to create an atmosphere of trust. Everybody in the group felt accepted and personally recognised. He was exceptional in organising and keeping the group together in an even-handed way. His lessons were very good — I was able to apply what he taught in my hospital ministry. I valued his humanity and for allowing us to have individual freedom.”
In 2006 Mgr Nadal was appointed Durban’s episcopal vicar for Formation which included his running the “Follow Me” programme for the laity, as a follow-up to RENEW. Along the way he had collected degrees at various universities and academic institutions such as Lumen Vitae International Catechetical and Pastoral Institute in Brussels and the University of Natal. He was also sent to Newark, New Jersey, to prepare for RENEW with Sr Donna Ciangio OP and Mgr Thomas Keissler, a co-founder of the process aimed at spiritual renewal and evangelisation.
Personally, I knew Paul as a man of spontaneous agape who combined intellectual pursuits with a zest for social life and celebration. He warmed to former Southern Cross editor Michael Shackleton for his skills as raconteur and jokester. Michael said: “I had known Paul since student days, as a priest and in later days. I was always struck by his tremendous interest in others. When we met he wanted to know everything about me and my family. He stayed like that always – this interest in others. He was loyal in friendship and always ready help out with generosity and a good sense of humour.”
My own friendship with Paul began at St John Vianney Seminary in 1958 where he took a reassuring interest in my wellbeing, while also masterminding the biggest prank ever seen at the seminary. This involved my classmate Rodney Abdo and I, under Paul’s direction, fooling biblical scholar Fr Kevin O’Sullivan OFM into believing we were Americans wanting to join “the African mission” through the seminary. I describe this episode in the section I wrote for Dr Joy Brain’s book “St John Vianney Seminary – 50 Years of Priestly Training”.
We continued to connect for 63 years after we had taken different roads — he to the priesthood and I into journalism. Along the way I began to realise that several crucial elements formed the scaffolding to Paul’s life, ministry and studies. He thrilled to the quest for creative understanding of theories and systems that shaped the world and intellectual thinking — to find the right words for expressing this understanding. He feasted on a good dispute and arguing issues. The accumulated insights of his formidable intellect served him well when he did his doctoral thesis on transcendence in Marxist philosophy from a Christian perspective.
What struck me in all the years of friendship with Paul was his affinity with the laity whom he embraced with the same concern as St John Henry Newman. Several laity from his schooldays at St Henry’s remained close and valued friends. Among them is Manrico Barbieri, who said: “Paul’s life has been an inspiration to all. He was a man for all seasons and persons, sprinkling his journey with gems of humour and so many examples of love of neighbour and personal behaviour — a teacher to be believed and followed, touching so many lives in his time.”
At Mariannhill once more, where I had worked to help keep UmAfrika newspaper going, Paul and I became members of the Pfanner Historical Commission which was launched on October 9, 2009; he as episcopal delegate and I as secretary. He accompanied a commission delegation led by the Instructor of the Cause, Bishop Stanley Dziuba of Umzimkulu, to meet members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
It was at the many sessions of the Pfanner Historical Commission, headed by historian Br Philippe Denis OP, that we experienced Paul’s cumulative knowledge of faith life. He was discerning in his approach to complex issues. He had sound judgment. He quickly got the heart of the matter — to the substance. He had appropriate quotes from the Bible: “By their fruits you will know them,” a favourite comment from Matthew.
Bishop Dziuba said: “In a special way, I express my gratitude for Mgr Nadal’s contribution to the Abbot Francis Pfanner beatification process as my episcopal delegate at the commission sessions. His contribution, advice and commitment to the work of the commission made an impact on the process. May the Merciful Lord invite him to his kingdom.”
The superior-general of the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries in Rome, Fr Thulani Mbuyisa CMM, commented: “What a huge loss for the Church in South Africa, for the archdiocese, for the Pfanner process, and indeed for all those who knew Mgr Paul personally. May God richly reward him for his service to the Church and society for so many years.”
Br Philippe noted: “He was a good man. One of the last ones who worked closely with Archbishop Denis Hurley. We shall miss him.”
Friendship with Paul comprised a variety of elements — the sacramental priest, the pastoral minister, the academic, the son with a boundless affection for his family, the man who was not afraid to share personal failings and vulnerability.
But there was another element that fused our friendship and this was the thrill of the open road on our bicycles which had begun for Paul when knee troubles forced him to give up running. He turned to cycling around Durban with good friends Ron and Joan Edwards and Manrico Barbieri. I joined them using a Zini that I kept at Paul’s cottage at Assumption parish. The name Zini recalled the glory days of Sunday afternoon racing at the Old Fort track in Durban in the 1950s.
This grouping included me when they discovered the sheer glory of cycling around the Cape Peninsula and the Winelands. The thrill of the open road. Pedalling and freewheeling. Hopkins and the grandeur of God shining between rows of vines in the foothills of the mighty Hottentots-Holland range. In later years it was just Paul and I venturing forth from the Salesian Institute, from Schoenstatt in Constantia, from St James Church presbytery.
Paul was last in Cape Town when he concelebrated mass for my 80th birthday at St James Church where he was delighted to hear Des Lindberg blow the shofar before proclaiming “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” from Godspell. He was even more delighted when Des and Dawn sang “Day By Day”, also from Godspell. Little did I know then that I would never see Dawn again as she died from Covid-19 on December 7.
I last saw Paul at his 60th jubilee of priesthood at St Joseph’s, Morningside, down the road from where I had grown up, in December 2019. The parish hall that Sunday resonated with the happy sounds of a pleasurable reunion for old parishioners and good friends who had shared a spirited social life in Durban from the 1950s through the 1970s, who had dined and danced at the 67, the Roma, Causerie, Caister and Top Hat.
A binding element in all of this was talk about the many things that were influenced by a common heritage that had first migrated from Mauritius in the early 1900s — this small island with its special piety of handbags crammed with holy water, holy cards, rosaries, novenas and eau de Cologne, and devotion to Pére Laval who became the island’s patron saint.
Paul had several affections that were close to him and defined his personality: his enduring affection for the Church and its work; for family and friends; for the Franciscans who taught us at St John Vianney; for the Denis Hurley Centre; for The Southern Cross; and for his Jack Russell terrier Bonnie. These are murmurs from the past that keep us connected, that promise a new spring.
I recall with vivid clarity that Sunday morning in January 1960 when I drove Paul to Montebello Mission to begin his priesthood by learning Zulu. He carried his suitcase down the steps, knocked on the door, entered and was consumed by his new life. All of this in one personality makes for an unforgettable cycling mate. Adieu Paul Nadal.