CONTRIBUTION BY TONY WHALLEY 1942/1952
I was educated at St. Joseph ’s from September 1942 until July 1952. I have very fond memories of my time there and find it a little difficult to reconcile with many of the horror stories put forward by some of the contributors. My only regret is that I was always almost a year younger than most of my classmates, resulting in my taking the GCE exam at the age of fifteen. Fortunately I was allowed to repeat the exams the following year where I did somewhat better. As was pointed out by someone, there was not much guidance on the subjects that we could take, and we were permitted to make our own decisions. Although I was quite good at History, Geography and General Science, I could not see what use those subjects would be if I was going to become an engineer. Had I taken them instead of Latin, Physics and Chemistry I would have probably ended up with 6 subjects instead of my eventual four. At the time we had nobody to advise us and I ended up going to Technical College instead of University.
As it turned out, I did very well there, thanks to my liberal arts education at St. Joseph ’s. For the first time in my life I actually began to get 100% in exams. Looking back over my career, I can honestly say that I owe much to the Irish Christian Brothers and Mr. Priestly, the Elocution Master. I am still working at the age of 72, if you can call it working when you get to do what you enjoy doing, get paid handsomely as well, and also get to pontificate to the young engineers coming up the ladder.
I credit Brothers Murray and Ring for my Catholic Faith and devotion to Our Blessed Mother, remember the Hail Marys, on the hour every hour? The Angelus, complete with bell ringing. Thanks to Mr. Priestly I now train the lectors at our local Parish Church, St. Brigid’s in Pacific Beach, San Diego California …..Red Leather..Yellow Leather, the best speaking exercise ever invented.
Going to the college during wartime was quite an experience. Few of us had proper uniforms and when we did manage to get them, they were very dark blue, almost navy blue with a strange red colour for the flashings. It seemed that I had Brother Ring for my Form master for ever. He started with me in Prep and every time that I got promoted, so did he. He was a very nervous fellow and often would quite literally pull his hair out. Until I read his obituary recently, kindly forwarded to me by Paul Barnes from Dublin, I had not realized how young he was when he came to the College. Some of those who regard the Brothers as uneducated country bumpkins would do well to read their obituaries. Brother Ring, ’Jessie’ as we called him, was one of the youngest people to receive a BSc in the modern era, achieving it at the age of nineteen. Brother Murray, a very gentle man, was one of the holiest men that I ever met and I understand that he later became a priest. Brother Murray hated to use the strap, but did so when necessary. Dennis Crompton once took a photo of him with strap poised, and we gave it to him with a present at the end of the year. I never remember our Religious Lessons as being full of ‘don’t do this or don’t do that’. With Brother Ring and Brother Murray it was all about learning about what we believed compared to what other religions believed, great stories about Lourdes and Fatima and so on. Brother Phelan, ’Joe Tub’ persuaded me that I was good at Math, and sure enough I was. I never had any trouble with him touching me or anyone else as far as I know.
Brother Browner taught me English, a very useful tool for an engineer, a discipline that is very often lacking, the ability to express one’s self lucidly. I was only ever strapped once by him, for lending somebody my homework, at the first stroke I was able to turn my hand sideways and down, just as the strap made contact. In his follow through Brother Browner’s knuckles crashed into the desk top below, drawing blood. He immediately asked me if I had done that deliberately and of course I answered in the negative. He thereupon told me to sit down. Brother O’Carroll, ‘Joe Bung’, was somewhat of a martinet and insisted that we memorized our history lessons, whether we understood what it was all about or not. I did not appreciate it at the time, but nowadays, being blessed with a reasonable memory, I am able to spout volumes of history to amazed and gullible American friends. The nearest that I ever came to noticing anything unusual going on was Brother Butler, a gruff man who made us feel uncomfortable around him and always careful never to be left alone with him.
The worst Brother that I can remember was Brother Sheehan, a very large fellow who seemed to enjoy meting out punishment. He never bothered me but would pick on the larger boys in the class. One day he pulled Lew Hurley out for some infraction and was preparing to punish him, when Lew reached back and delivered a very strong kick to Brother Sheehan’s Shin. The colour drained out of Sheehan’s face, then rose back up. “Open the door Miller” he said to Michael Miller, who was sitting beside it, then he reached out like a lightening bolt grabbing Hurley by the lapels and lifting him up, threw him bodily into the hallway. “Close the door Miller” he said. In these days of political correctness poor old Brother Sheehan would be thrown to the wolves. At the time, we all knew that the regime at St. Joseph ’s was much more strict than at other schools, and we took a kind of perverse pride in that. I don’t know whether corporal punishment ever did us any good or caused any lasting harm to some, but I found myself reluctant to impose it on my three children in later years and they turned out alright without it.
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