This year is the 25th anniversary of Sean’s death and on Wednesday 31st January I found myself sitting once again in the main school hall at Salesian College, Farnborough in a sea of boys in blue blazers for a memorial mass in Sean’s memory.
The service was led by Fr Gerry Briody SDB, the Salesian Provincial in Great Britain and as well as the students and staff there were over 50 guests made up of friends and family of Sean - many of whom have made huge contributions to the SDCF over the years.
My mum was there along with my son, who is now 19, and sadly never met my brother.
Huge photos of Sean’s smiling face flicked across a large whiteboard as we listened to one of his school friends, Mark Chatterton, a retired chief superintendent from Hampshire Police and now a trustee of the Sean Devereux Fund, speak warmly about his memories of Sean.
In his homily, Fr Briody described Sean’s life and what he stood for. The 31st of January is the feast day of St John Bosco, the Italian priest who founded the Roman Catholic Salesian order to help poor children during the industrial revolution and it is no coincidence that Sean’s memorial mass was held on this date. The Salesians see Sean as living out the ideals of Saint John Bosco and in many ways view him as a role model for the boys and girls who attend their schools.
Fr Briody also mentioned that each pupil had been given the small booklet – “Sean Devereux – the beat goes on”- a collection of memories, reflections and tributes from family, friends and colleagues of Sean, published by The Salesians to commemorate this 25th anniversary.
I am surprised, and then again not surprised, by this outpouring of respect and love for Sean 25 years after his death. If you had met Sean, you would understand…
When he died we set up the Sean Devereux Children’s Fund as a way of trying to hang on to something positive in a situation where you felt so hopeless and we managed to get it off the ground by harnessing the energy of the public outcry over his death.
At its inception, I remember writing something for UNICEF about the fact that shortly before Sean was shot he had been talking about leaving his current role in Africa and coming back as “something else” and that it was our hope that the fund would be that “something else.”
Well, here we are 25 years later, the Sean Devereux fund is still going strong, thanks mainly to the total dedication of my mother, who has driven it for the past 20 years with the help of a group of dedicated trustees, past and present, and the support of many friends, family and supporters.
The path has not been easy at all - there have been ups and downs, high points and low points, but it has made a difference to hundreds, if not thousands of poverty-stricken kids and their families in different parts of Africa.
The scholarship program is underway and fundraising events are planned for the year. A few days after the memorial mass the PTA at Salesian college in Farnborough held a quiz, with the proceeds going to the Sean Devereux fund. It was a great evening, with over 300 people turning up, brilliantly orchestrated by Nick Crean, deputy head of Salesian Farnborough, and his team of industrious sixth formers, who spent the evening counting scores.
On Sunday 8th July the annual walk for Sean is going ahead in The Sean Devereux Park in Yateley - no doubt many familiar faces will be there again.
It is with gratitude that I write this.
The SDCF would never have happened without the help, support and donations of the trustees, our many friends, family and supporters; including the Salesians, Farnborough Hill and the local community in Yateley.
The Sean Devereux Children’s fund is your fund and with the help of a lot of people, it is Sean’s legacy.
Thank you very much.