The BOT and Old Boys’ Association, gifted the College with a number of artworks completed for the Centennial. Six significant figures in our College history were chosen to encapsulate our values and the Bedean spirit.
Their pen portraits follow:
Father Charles Graham
The first is the first Rector Father Graham, who established the College twice – firstly in Ferry Road in 1911; but then significantly under the grim shadow of World War I faced the challenge of not only finding a suitable site for a residential College, but also to fund its construction and then to entice enough students to make the enterprise sustainable – no mean feat!
At various times the strain of this responsibility took its toll as he battled exhaustion both physically and mentally.
Recently discovered archive material made clear the difficult and sad circumstances in which Father Graham left St Bede’s College, which are shrouded in mystery, and as a result his significant contribution has at times not had the whole-hearted accolade he has richly deserved.
An unnamed Old Boy gave a firsthand view of him in the first Bedean magazine, published in 1923 – the year of his departure, and prophetically placed him in the College’s history writing:
“And we, who owe so much to him, will ever treasure in our hearts the memory of him who was in our youth the recipient of our confidence, the arbiter of our destiny, the source and inspiration of our ambition, and those of us are indeed fortunate who have caught something of his spirit, something of his outlook upon life and something of his high Christian principles. Let St Bede’s be his monument.”
Father Bill Spillane
The second icon panel features Father Spillane and many Old Boys who are fathers of present students experienced this man’s wise counsel as a priest, teacher, coach and friend.
Generations of Bedeans benefitted from his kindness and instinctively understood that he was at the very heart and soul of the College, its daily routines, its history and special traditions. He was a constant factor over his four tenures on the staff, an advisor to the Rector, a link to the Old Boys and a confidante to numerous students. As one of the men from the 50 year reunion said, “he was the true epitome of the best of the Marist order”. He had a larger than life personality without being at the forefront of St Bede’s. His focus was on service and quiet leadership.
It was therefore fitting that an Old Boy, Mike Crean (1960-1965), should write an obituary in the Christchurch Press that so accurately captured the character of this good man:
“Father Bill Spillane was the humblest of men, yet modest and mighty alike share affectionate memories of him. In nearly half a century ‘Spill’ became the face of St Bede’s College. He will always be known as a principal teacher of form two classes. Generations of boys who attended St Bede’s at this level …still regard him as a wise and patient figure …. His gentle, humble style is best shown in a talk he gave to his rugby team when it was down 8 – 5 at half time. He walked calmly onto the field and said, ‘Well boys, if you want to lose this match, just go on playing the way you have been’. And he calmly walked off again.”
Father Cormac Hoben
The third iconic Bedean is Father Hoben, a student here from 1920-22, and an excellent teacher, coach and mentor here from 1942-45.
His premature and sudden passing (he was only in his 40s) on the eve of the 1945 July snow storm was a great shock to the Bedean community. It was Sunday and he had conducted the evening devotions and preached a stirring devotional sermon! He then took study and at the end of the evening spoke to the boys saying to them:
“Gentlemen, I want you to become the best possible version of the person God made you to be”.
Fr. Bern Ryan staff 1950 -1960
Priest, teacher, mentor and friend
When Bern Ryan finished his term as Superior General of the Society of Mary in 1985 he opted to take study leave in Australia and from this starting point embarked on another life as a missionary to the Aboriginal communities in northern New South Wales, a job described by someone as extremely difficult…’like nailing jelly to a tree.’
For Bedean old boys of the 1950s this commitment came as no surprise – rather to them it was further witness to this good man’s commitment to humanity and reinforced their conviction that Barney Ryan was one of the most enlightened priest-teachers to have taught at the College.
He joined the staff in 1950 and for 11 years gave himself to the College as a teacher, sports coach, mentor and spiritual guide. In each sphere he had an extraordinary impact on the boys under his care but also on others, catholic and non- catholic. Speaking at the time of his departure Fr. Leo Evatt said, “I could have held up no better example of what can be done with and for the boys than the work of Father Ryan”.
A former pupil, John Gordon, said of his teaching. “It was not an easy task getting 6H interested in novels, drama and poetry but our teacher had a generous disposition and accommodated ignorance and inadequacies…a great teacher takes his students with him and Fr. Ryan had the ability to do that.”
As an athletics coach he was well qualified and his coaching work extended beyond St Bede’s. One aspiring coach, who admitted to being highly suspicious of Catholics, said that encounter with Barney Ryan “changed all of that within a few minutes… [he] was ultimately the biggest influence on my involvement and enjoyment of athletics … other [Bedean priest coaches] came later and completed the task of lifting the scales from my eyes.”
Barney Ryan taught at St Patrick’s College Silverstream until 1971 and then in 1977 became the first English speaker to become Superior General of the Society of Mary. In his typically humble way he responded to this honour saying “In New Zealand there will be laughter in many communities when they hear of my election. If you really knew me you would not have elected me.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth and for eight years he guided over 2000 Marist religious focusing on developing the Marist mission in South America and the Philippines where he hoped to ‘make a difference’. In this endeavour he was successful and then moved on to spearhead a programme that helped religious and lay teachers reflect and go forward together.
In 1989 his conscience was pricked by an Australia- based New Zealander who he over-heard denigrating aboriginals. He determined that the next phase of his life would be spent helping, as he said, ‘In a small way’. Commenting on this mission he said
“I was invited to Bowraville in 1989 after the murders of three young Aboriginal children. The deaths put the community under terrible pressure and I worked within the community to support the families”
Years later Fr. Ryan united with the Sisters of Mercy in Grafton. Here he makes school, community and home visits on behalf of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. He said: “I help families in time of grief with counselling, support young children through their schooling years and help build spirituality in the Aboriginal community.”
In recent years he has made several visits to the College. His men of the 1950’s invariably turn out in numbers to renew their friendship and in his own modest and understated manner he responds, ever-humble and ever considerate of others. Writing in the centennial history David McCarthy said,
“In 100 years of college history he remains one of the most inspirational of the Marist priests, although he has never lost a sense of sympathy for those most in need. Those qualities are matched not just with words but with the hard yards of application. Fide et Opere is a phrase that lives wherever Fr. Bernard Ryan walks. Of such stuff are great men made.”
Robin Corcoran 1941 – 1946
Family, Faith & Friends
Anthony Robin Corcoran attended the College from 1941, when he caught the 7.30 train from Kaiapoi as an 11 year old, through to 1946 when he left to work in his father’s law firm. These six years as a student seem paltry when compared to the length of his service to the College as an old boy, parent, board member and friend.
Remarkably this association began in 1946 shortly after he left school. The Rector of the time, Fr. John Mannix, summoned him to a meeting and during the course of the conversation suggested that it would be a good idea to consider joining the Old Boy’s Association. Recalling this discussion Robin said, “…really it was more of an order than a request – but that is the way things happened in those days.”
Whatever John Mannix’s motives his choice was inspired for his protégée was to give sterling service to the Association for the rest of life. He was President on two occasions and thoroughly deserved his Life Membership. In recent years he returned to serve on the committee, ‘helping out’ to ensure the Association got through a difficult phase. In October 2008, shortly before his death, he attended the annual Old Boys mass but was too unwell to attend the dinner. He passed away in November of that year after a brief illness and the size of the congregation at his Requiem Mass reflected the many strands of his busy and diverse life.
In 1996 he was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit. This thoroughly deserved distinction was made primarily for his work in Maori land law but also for his service to the Catholic Church and harness racing.
His understanding of Maori land law was unequalled in the South Island. For over 50 years he handled complicated and at times acrimonious issues of land tenure for local Maori. A legal colleague wryly remarked that Robin Corcoran had “a real understanding of Maori land law long before it became fashionable.”
An enthusiasm for harness racing translated into a lengthy stint as a committee member on the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club, Harness Racing NZ and to Addington Raceway. He was treasurer of the Metropolitan Trotting Club for 11 years; vice –chairman of Harness racing NZ and a director and eventually Chairman of Addington Raceway. In this latter role he was heavily involved with the Westpac Centre development and went on to chair the joint venture entity NCC.
A fellow board member said that, “Robin Corcoran’s ability to forge relationships and gift for relating to people gave him a standing that NCC felt he had to be chairman.”
Not surprisingly his abilities were keenly sought after by the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch and his work with his parish, St Bede’s College and the former Sacred Heart College led to him becoming financial and legal adviser to the Diocese.
In addition to his work for the Old Boys’ Association he also gave freely of his time to assist the College as it moved to develop a governance structure, serving on the Advisory Board that would be a predecessor to the Board of Trustees. His legal mind and his good sense were especially valuable at the time of integration and he was an invaluable voice during the bedding in of the integration agreement.
He was a trustee of the St Bede’s College Foundation for a number of years and played a prominent role in the Jubilee celebrations for the 50th, 75th and 90th events working assiduously to ensure the success of each occasion.
Despite these commitments to community organisations he was devoted to his family. His son Anthony and daughter Clare said, “He was a busy man, but always put family and faith first. Home was a happy place, with many visitors and frequent parties.”
In 2001 he proposed the toast to the College at the 90th Jubilee dinner. Concluding his address he said that “St Bede’s is my school and everything I believe in or do can be summed up in these words from the College hymn:
Our motto wise is faith and works
Our masters Mary’s sons
May we serve Christ love Mary pure
Whilst life so swiftly runs.
Gary Lennon 1953 – 1957/ 1975 -2005
Pupil Teacher, Coach & Leader
The Bedean magazines from 1975 until 2005 are a mirror of Gary Lennon’s teaching career at the College. Photographs of him appear regularly, sometimes in the diary of the years events, sometimes in the collage of the middle pages and almost always in the sporting section.
These visual images cover the arrival of a young and energetic man who threw himself into all aspects of school life, they cover the middle years when he moved into senior management and they assume a more serious look. Finally the photographs show him as a senior statesman, a man who has earned the respect, admiration and love of countless boys and the staff with whom he served.
Gary Patrick Lennon’s dedicated service to the College as a teacher for 31 years and before that for 5 years as a pupil mirror in some ways those old understated heroes of British schools but the comparison breaks down in and around the values lived by Gary Lennon and those portrayed in books.
In every sense and when all else is carefully weighed it was GPL’s humility, hard work, concern for others and commitment to his faith that anchored his service to St Bede’s and as a result countless numbers of boys remember him with respect and affection.
His academic record as a student between 1953 and 1957 was, in his own words, ‘good but not distinguished’. However a review of his final year shows that he was one of the school leaders being an officer in the cadet corps, a prefect, a member of the 2nd cricket XI and also the 3rd XV. On leaving he went to the University of Canterbury where he completed a Master’s degree in history, a subject which was to be a life-long passion. He then went to train as a teacher, graduating with distinction before taking his first posting at Hawarden District High School.
After 11 years in North Canterbury he was encouraged by the far-sighted Rector of the time, Des Darby, to apply for a job at St Bede’s and within three years he was appointed head of the history department. With his capacity for organisation and by dint of plenty of hard work other leadership roles fell to him. By 1977 he was the senior dean, in 1982 the senior master and from 1988 to 2005 he was Deputy Principal and for a brief period acting Rector.
For many years he was Master of Discipline and as such earned something of a reputation as a tough task-master. However as time moved along reliance on the cane diminished and other methods of discipline were introduced. He developed and drove the Bedean Disciplinary System (BDS), introduced early birds’ and kept a close eye on those who were keen to challenge rules. It is alleged thathe was the last teacher to cane and if hearsay is to be believed the cane used for this act was auctioned at a function and purchased by the father of th last miscreant.
In addition to these roles he was an outstanding 1st XV coach shaping championship winning teams, organising the rugby programme, setting up and managing overseas tours as well as coaching and selecting representative teams. He coached various cricket teams including the 1st XI and was an inspiring leader of Regnault House – lifting its performance and by reflection those of the other houses. It is said that the decision to change the names of the houses was, in some ways, an attack on the Regnault dynasty which he inspired and maintained.
At the time of retirement three of his teaching colleagues combined to write a tribute to him in the Bedean. For teachers the critical accolade of peers is the toughest of tests. One suspects that GPL would have permitted himself a wry smile at their glowing words
“…he asked more of himself than others, he led by example, working sometimes 7 days a week, starting with the ‘early birds’ detention class always called a spade a spade, never shirked his responsibilities. Neither did he confine himself to a few chosen areas. He was invariably a leader in the College fund raisers, studied music in spite of a moderate singing talent so he could pass on its riches to senior boys and always there was Shakespeare, his to relish and his students to memorise”.
Wrtiing in the centennial history David McCarthy summarised the Lennon contribution saying,
“Gary Lennon made his mark at St Bede’s with special qualities of drive, dedication, honesty of purpose and above all a burning desire that ‘his boys’ would leave its portals with the same unfaded memories that had been his.”