ON THIS ROCK — 75 Years of St Peter’s College, Mountain Road by Matt Elliot, 2015 (Available from St Peter’s College, (09) 524-8108, email@example.com); $35, plus postage (if required). Reviewed by DANIEL J. STOLLENWERK.
To write an institution’s history at 75 years, instead of waiting for a century, means that many of the early protagonists are still alive, their stories still vivid.
And so on the occasion of the 75th jubilee of its founding, St Peter’s College, Auckland, commissioned celebrated author and 1987 old boy Matt Elliot to dig amidst its archives, rummage through the annual magazines, assemble a bibliography, and interview as many of those early students and staff as are still alive.
The result, as Matt Elliot himself declares in his introduction to this 350 page history, is not only a book of record, but also a “printed word documentary”, a collection of memories, quotations, stories, events, personal testimonies — in a word, oral tradition written down.
All those names printed on the front of St Peter’s College buildings — WR Smith, JB Lynch, PC Ryan, BE Ryan, LH Wilkes, FP O’Driscoll, VA Sullivan — are given their stories.
All those names still associated with the school — Br Paul Robertson, Peter Watt, Msgr Terry Leslie, Tom Weal, Brian Drumm, Bishop Denis Browne, Ray Tanner, Msgr Paul Farmer — tell the stories.
After an introductory chapter on the foundation of St Peter’s through a land donation by Isa Outhwaite, the history is divided into nine chapters named after nine principals, all Christian Brothers except the present ex-Marist Brother, Kieran Fouhy.
In the early days there was much talk of sport — and not the highest of academic standards. After WWII there arrived the Polish refugee children and the polio epidemic.
Many students recall the strap; some the snail racing. Mr Fouhy mentions an early staff petition to get rid of him, and one staff member is still honoured today as the only teacher to have his class interrupted by a strip dancer.
Old boy memories rightly praise the hard work and dedication of many teachers and principals, and the author tries to maintain a healthy nuance when recollections focus on human frailty and institutional sin. After all, like most New Zealand schools, in the early days St Peter’s practised a harsher form of discipline.
The last 50 pages contain an ensemble of lists and interviews, records and diaries: Head boys and duces, Christian Brothers who taught at the school and old boys who became Christian Brothers; old boy priests (49 in the first 45
years of the school; three in the last 30); an interview with Sam Hunt (he wasn’t really kicked out); and a delightful school boy diary from 1965.
On This Rock is a fitting tribute to the Christian Brothers’ dedication and the New Zealand Church’s historic commitment to Catholic education.
Dan Stollenwerk has been a teacher at St Peter’s College for 15 of the 75 years of the school’s existence.