Brother still on the ball after 60 years

Br Dunstan Henry, 60 years teaching and coaching rugby. Note all the college rugby photos on the wall.

Last year Marist Brother Dunstan Henry’s 7A rugby team became the first Sacred Heart College team to put 80 points on a King’s College team.

Br Dunstan Henry, 60 years teaching and coaching rugby. Note all the college rugby photos on the wall.

Br Dunstan Henry, 60 years teaching and coaching rugby. Note all the college rugby photos on the wall.

Making that more special is that Br Dunstan has been teaching and coaching rugby for almost 60 years.
“Last year I had a most amazing team,” the Auckland teacher told NZ Catholic. “We scored 604 points for and 13 against. We were unbeaten the whole season, and it’s the first time I can ever remember any Sacred Heart
College team beating Kings College by 80 points.”
The final score was 86-0. It was also Br Dunstan’s birthday, and at the end of the game the captain of his team said: “Brother, we find it hard to do [say] this, but we scored one point for every year of your life.”
Oddly enough, although he has taught boys who became All Blacks, he has not coached any. That could still change, however.
The halfback in last year’s 7A team, he said, then a year 9 (form 3) lad, was superb. “If the halfback is not an All Black [eventually], there’s something wrong with the system.”
He keeps himself in pretty good nick, Br Dunstan said, helped by the coaching, and by his background of having been a physical training instructor in the Air Force.
When he left school in the 1940s he followed his father in going to work for the Post Office. He graduated from line staff to the mailroom and, after leaving there, joined the Navy.
From his Sacred Heart College classroom, he pointed to the harbour in the direction of his old training ground, Motuihe Island. “And when we finished there we went to HMS Philomenel at Devonport and did gunnery training on the HMS Bellona.”
Deafened by the Navy
He was in Wellington with the Navy when Prince Charles was born.
“Because of my gunnery rating … we fired a 41-gun salute, and when I woke up the next morning my right ear was absolutely dead. Stone deaf since.”
When he left the Navy, Br Dunstan said, they gave him a “hurt certificate” because they took responsibility for the damage to his hearing.
“When the Navy axed me, I went straight into the Air Force as a physical training instructor and had several years there.”
Part of his role was providing survival training for pilots, so he got to know the bush well and used to go deerstalking when he was in the Wairarapa and Christchurch.
However, despite the satisfactions of his Air Force work, he always had an idea in the back of his mind, he said, that he should be a Marist Brother.
Becoming a Marist would have seemed unlikely when he was a boy, as he came from an Anglican background.
He grew up in Napier and Hastings, one of two boys and two girls. In Napier the family lived next to the Marist Brothers school.
“My dad thought, it’s no good having a primary school on the door step and not using it, so dad took us up to see Br Austen, and we were the first non-Catholics admitted to the school.
“On the way home from school we would have been used to yelling and arguing with the Proddy Dogs, and mum had to remind us that, strictly speaking, we were Proddy Dogs.
“But admiring the brothers, like most of us did, we used to behave like Catholics.”
So years later, while in the Air Force, Dunstan Henry spoke to Fr Feehly about the stirrings of a vocation to religious life, and he put him in touch with the Marist Brothers.
He was 25 when he was professed, in 1955. He spent two years at Claremont,
in Timaru, a period when the brothers rebuilt the chapel. “And we made the blocks.”
Because of a shortage of teachers, he and another brother spent a year teaching in Timaru and then returned to the scholasticate, in Auckland.
In Auckland he sat and passed the exams for a trained teachers certificate, and had his first posting as a qualified teacher to St Joseph’s, Masterton.
Br Dunstan is a bit hazy on dates. But Masterton was followed by St Bernard’s, Lower Hutt and Xavier College, Christchurch.
Xavier College, like Sacred Heart Girls College, he said, was near the cathedral and so, some years later, those two schools would combine to form Catholic Cathedral College.
In Christchurch, Br Dunstan began work on his degree which he would later finish in Auckland, majoring in history. He also taught geography, French and accounting.
In one of his several assignments at Xavier College, he coached the First XV. “And the biggest secondary school was Burnside High School, and we were the first team ever to beat them.”
One year Xavier had an excellent team, with five of the boys later representing Canterbury. Except that Br Dunstan didn’t find that out until years later.
After the 2010 earthquake, one of the Xavier guys he knew shouted him a trip to Christchurch. “One of the people we met was one of the players who had been in the winning team [from so many years earlier], and he told me he and four others from that team had made the Canterbury team eventually.”
From this year he no longer teaches French, as Sacred Heart College has changed to Spanish. “And now I’ve got ‘global studies’; this is in year 10.
“Now global studies is pure history and pure geography, so that at the end of the year [the boys], when they are putting in their NCEA subjects, know what they are choosing.”
In his 40s he was sent to a “second novitiate” in Switzerland, which he described as a spiritual refresher course.
Teaching assignments followed at Marcellin College, Auckland; Masterton again; Xavier College; St Paul’s, Auckland.
One week after a transfer to Hamilton, Br Pastorus asked him if he would go to the Marist Brothers High School in Suva.
He was there two years, Br Dunstan said, and he loved it.
“The Marist Brothers ran it, and there were only two or three lay teachers.
“A lot of influential people have come through. One of my students was Frank Bainimarama, and he sends me messages from time to time.”
There had been a lot of condemnation of what Frank Bainimarama did, Br Dunstan said, “but until you have lived in Fiji and know about the racial situation, you don’t sit in condemnation of the man who was born there”.
From Fiji, he returned to Marcellin College for a year, then went back to Xavier College. He had been at Sacred Heart College ever since, apart from one year in Tonga.
In Tonga, he said, the girls are superb. “They are dignified, work hard and want to learn in school, but the boys don’t, so it was not the same experience.
“Mind you, the climate in Tonga is the best in the world, because they have the trade winds and no humidity.”
Br Dunstan said he is not someone who could sit around all day and read a book. However, he has lost two classes in the past two years.
“This year, for example, they have given me year 8 social studies, and I didn’t want to hang around doing nothing.
“I have got a home room, and there’s a year 9 and year 10 religious education, and then there’s two options of Global Studies. And I am hoping for more.”
He told his Brother Provincial that if time hangs too much, he could always do some welfare work.
And, of course, he will still be coaching rugby this year.

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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Fergus Hodgson says

    Thank you for writing this article. I was privileged to play in the 1996 7A team under Brother Dunstan, and I still have fond memories of his coaching, along with the coaching of other Marist brothers at Sacred Heart College. The brothers did exemplary work, particularly by instilling camaraderie and discipline in the sporting domain.

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