CONTRIBUTION BY BRIAN SWEENEY 1941/1948
Reading over other contributions, I found myself examining my experiences there with a more critical eye than had been the case previously. What sort of an education did I get?
If the main purpose of a school is to prepare its students for life, then I have to feel that St. Joseph’s did that and, in my day, did it well. How well were we prepared academically? Were team work and competition encouraged? How well did we develop in terms of self-reliance and determination? Were we encouraged to accept responsibility? Was our education well rounded? Did we develop a good work ethic?
Academically, we were able to pass the necessary exams to get into the Sixth form and then on to universities all over the country. This was at a time when changes to government regulations had made it possible for students from working class families to go to university with no financial worries. In my case, my yearly grants were more than my father earned each year. My success in getting those grants was the result of good teaching. Woodhouse was an outstanding teacher who prepared us well for Scholarship papers and left many of us with a lasting love of English literature. O’Carroll exhorted us to “bottle our facts”. Not the best way to make History live but we did learn and we did pass. LeBrun was not the happiest camper on the staff but he certainly knew his French and his influence was probably a factor for those of us who developed a love affair with France and the French language. I went on to study French and later to teach it.
Looking at those who graduated in 1947-1948, I would have to say that they are clear evidence of the school’s success. Of the nine who were at Trinity College, Dublin when I was there: Derek Hogan, Tony Riding, Peter Holden, Johnny Moran, Jim Worden and Bill McGrahan, all had successful teaching careers, Peter Cavanagh and George Cudworth studied medicine, John Bilney did very well in advertising in Canada. George Carman went on to study Law at Balliol and the rest is history. Gordon Sinclair got a doctorate in Chemical Engineering and lectured at Manchester University. Doug Curson became an engineer who built runways all over the world for the Air Force and worked on the construction of the Channel Tunnel, David Henry with a Master’s in Nuclear Physics went on to a successful career with IBM in the USA. Ray Haworth became a Physics teacher after running pleasure cruises out of Montego Bay. John Frehe studied architecture at King’s College, Durham University. Frank McKenna became a Superintendent of Secondary Schools in the Catholic system here in Ontario. Ian Oyston, the class communist, ironically went on to found a mega rich real estate company with his brothers. Pat Nolan had a successful career in business. Peter Kenyon took the top scholarship award in Blackpool and was doing very well at Manchester University before his tragic death. I have lost track of McConville, Gildea and Relton but they were all headed for a bright future when I last heard. All in all, I’d say the academic preparation was very good.
Sports were certainly encouraged. Our Rugby team was rarely beaten. Johnny Moran went on to play for the Trinity First XV and played against and with some world-class international players. Carman was an outstanding scrum-half. Ray Haworth always claimed that he played much better if he bedded his current girl friend before the game. Paddy Nolan added ferocity to the second row. McGrahan and Wiseman were very effective wing forwards. Track and Field also flourished as did Cricket. The House system encouraged lively competition. Summer camps at Ambleside with the Catholic Boys Association provided exposure to climbing, boating, swimming and the pursuit of girls. Many of us enjoyed a very active social life with dancing at the Winter Gardens every Saturday night. It was there that I met my wife, Christine. We celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary last month and have four daughters and nine grandchildren to show for it. The Sixth Form Xmas parties were spectacular, although we were never able to go back to the same place twice. I believe it was Paddy Nolan who was swinging from the chandelier just before it crashed onto a table, in Jenkinsons on Talbot Square.
As individuals, a number of us enjoyed the hitch-hiking race to Glencoe for a cash prize and the cycling marathon to Exeter. Doug Curson and I hitched through France and Switzerland to Italy, while Tony Riding and Johnny Moran hitched all the way to Rome. We learned to get by on very little money. The next year, Moran, Riding and I went to North Africa and hitched from Tunis to Algiers. Alone and stranded for 24 hours, without a lift, on the Algerian frontier, I took the train without a ticket and was arrested. The British Consul read me the riot act and advised me to use my return ticket to Marseilles without delay. Tony and Johnny went on to Oran and returned home via Vienna. I still have Tony’s postcards from those two cities reminding me that I didn’t make it.
We were taught responsibility by being volunteered into the Prefects with responsibilities for order and decorum around the school. At the same time, we were given the freedom of the library for study purposes. This didn’t quite work out as planned. Chad Valley was opened up beneath the Library floor with entrances through the change rooms, the floor of the bookcase and through a trapdoor under the table. I can still picture Peter Cavanagh’s hair caught by the hastily closed trapdoor as Woodhouse swept into the room to see how the independent study was going. Francis Craig’s version of Near You as played on the American Forces Network from Munich became very popular on the piano. I still have the sheet music priced at two shillings. When a group of us tossed DDT sprays into the staff room and fled in all directions, we probably failed Responsibility 101. LeBrun took it personally and threatened to resign. Woodhouse came into our French class to tell us how lucky we were to have such a fine teacher. When he left Lebrun glowered at us with his mouth tightly closed and down at the corners. Cavanagh who was to his left and out of his line of vision proceeded to twitch and grimace, leaving the rest of us in stitches and Lebrun a very angry man.
If you consider the debates, the drama club with its production of As You Like It, and the school magazine which was edited by students and contained many excellent articles from both old boys and students, you would have to conclude that we had ample opportunity for self expression. My own contribution to the play was to sit on the stage and look interested. During rehearsal, I decided to study for the upcoming final exams. Woodhouse came up behind me, snatched up my copy of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and hurled it the length of the room while telling me to “get home out of this”. Clearly, my prospects for a career on the stage were badly damaged. The rest of the cast, however, went on to perform superbly well. All of these opportunities for personal growth didn’t just happen. Woodhouse was the architect of many of these activities. O’Leary also played a key role. Both of these men were form teachers for me over the years and while the religion didn’t take, in my case, their ethical values probably did, at a later stage in my life.
Much has been said about the use of the strap and yes it did sting but I don’t think that many of us were scarred for life. That was the way it was and we accepted it. The upside is that we did indeed learn our Latin and I’m sure many can still conjugate their verbs. Nor were we cowed into submission. When “Slug” Kilroy picked up the strap which had fallen from the Brother’s pocket, in the 4th Form, or the lower 5th, he shouted “Down with tyranny” and proceeded to cut it up. When the temporary Phys Ed. Teacher, Jones, I think, tried to teach us baseball while wielding a riding crop, he was told that he risked mob violence. The riding crop was never seen again. He went on to become the janitor who looked after the boilers.
During the twenty years that I spent as a high school principal in the Ontario system I found myself incorporating many aspects of the St. Joseph’s approach into my schools: a House System, a Prefect System, Enrichment classes for the gifted students and a home room program which stressed responsibility, leadership and problem solving, as well as an emphasis on Sports, Drama and Music. Needless to say, I was obliged to refrain from any type of corporal punishment although the temptation was frequently there.
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