It’s a testament to the spirit of our College that I’m still friends with classmates who have harassed me mercilessly for 18 years. The same guys who were so thoughtful as to give me a basket of breath freshener, mouth wash and assorted teeth cleaning goods for my 21st birthday. In fairness, they did also give me an expensive hip flask engraved with my name and birth date – it would have been slightly better if they had the correct day. Yes, these are the guys who I call my brothers.
St Pats certainly pervades my family. My uncles, Andrew, Peter and Paul Wierzbicki, attended the college in the 60s and 70s. My father in law, Mike Whitaker, attended the college in the 50s. At my wedding, Mike’s brother Frank was the priest, my best man Jason Carrington was an Old Boy, and I got to know my wife Clare when we shared the O’Shea Shield with St Mary’s. My sister Katie is also here this evening as partner of Chris Slade, a fellow old boy.
I attended the college from 1992-96, when the pace of change at the College was as great as it has ever been. I was in the first year group to never have a priest as rector, although I was privileged enough to have Father Peter Kiley as my 3rd form French teacher. He called the roll before every class and expected us to answer “Ici, Mon Pere” – literally “here my father”. I’m not quite sure what he made of the classical Samoan French pronunciation of many of my classmates, which was more like ‘isi mon pe’a’.
I was personally very privileged to see the college from many different perspectives – spiritual, academic, sporting, and cultural. In fact, my St Pats experience was summed up well by the College mission statement.
Education at Saint Patrick’s is based on Marist tradition and philosophy in which each student is treated as a unique individual who is enabled to grow spiritually, academically, culturally, emotionally, physically and socially in a nurturing Catholic environment.
Let me repeat: treated as a unique individual who is enabled to grow in a nurturing Catholic environment. This is a far cry from the stereotype of a strict Catholic education, complete with rapping of knuckles and hours spent on one’s knees, or from the ‘factory-like’ reputation that many of this country’s state boys’ schools bear.
Academically, this approach worked well for many of us – certainly the driven, bordering on obsessive types, like me. Guys like Lance Reynolds who did a 300 page statistics assignment in our final year – incidentally I don’t think Lance had a girlfriend until he left school . It is sometimes a challenge though to treat each student as an individual AND keep high standards for all. I do sometimes reflect on some of my friends who didn’t achieve their academic potential and wonder if a more factory-like approach would have served them better. I always come to the conclusion that nothing could compare to the leadership experience and personal growth that the college offered. I was a bit disappointed by my own final year academic results but the strength that I had gained through my St Pats experience ultimately led to tertiary results that I’m proud of. Having said that, I’m heartened that the College has continued to find new and better ways to drive students to achieve.
The spiritual aspect of College life was clearly ever-present. I hesitate to even mention the spiritual as a distinct perspective because it was inseparable from all others – it was simply part of everything we did and indeed everything we were. An incident from our Year 13 retreat illustrates this well. For some reason, Richard Kelly decided to hide from Peter ‘The Rock’ Wadsworth, and did so in Reece Poutawera, Sam Dempsey, and Sharney Wiringi’s wardrobe. Once inside, he discovered that the wardrobe could only be opened from the outside. The boys all showed compassion, freshening the space by spraying two cans of deodorant and stuffing orange peel under the door. Eventually we had to let Richard out. So what occupied Richard’s thoughts in his time alone? In his words, “I used the time to talk to God”.
Incidentally, Richard was also one of managers of the 1st XV that year. We had a couple of good years in 95-96. The teams featured future All Black Jerry Collins, future Manu Samoa players Kas Lealamanua and Malaga Leota and other guys who made NZ rep teams including Nic Fitisemanu, Reece Poutawera, Daniel Scanlan and Gerrard Fasavalu. We won a Grand Slam of our traditionals in 96, the third and last time that feat was achieved. 95 was the first year that the 1st XV attended the Western Heights pre-season tournament in Rotorua. I think some of our Northern opponents were a bit freaked by the sight of an entire team with shaven heads – the result of a first night bonding exercise. They were also confused by our other weird behaviours like rucking, wanting to play 40 rather than 30 minute halves, and talking to the visiting netball teams. At the end of the tournament, we celebrated by throwing our managers, Pete ‘The Rock’ Wadsworth and Michael ‘Drugs’ Anastasiadis, into the showers in their tracksuits. The Rock thought it was hilarious but Drugs looked unusually uncomfortable. It was only after he stripped off his tracksuit that we realized he had his full formal uniform, complete with blazer, underneath.
Of course, sport required a lot of training but some of my best training in character came at Multicultural Club. I remember joining the club and hearing stories of the hard man who’d led the group in 1990: Mike Savali. I only actually met Mike a couple of years ago and it turns out he’s a bit of a teddy bear. There was so much leadership and artistic talent in the group – from the guys who I looked up to when I first arrived like Joe Alaimoana and Lafaele Savali through to younger talents like Telu Vae’au and Fa’atonu Fili. In preparation for the annual Polyfest we’d have sleepovers in the hall or the gym – where we’d try and grab a gymnastics mat to avoid sleeping on the wooden floors. They were hard work, but lots of fun. We’d stay up until 4 in the morning and beyond, doing many of the things that islanders love best: sing and dance, play rugby and break it up with a late night feed of KFC.
The Polynesian presence in the school was very important for me personally–as a half-Samoan half-European it helped me to establish my own identity. But I’m also very proud of the role that the College played in integrating new immigrants from the Middle East into our society. There’s one guy, Bachir Assif, who I think about often. As a 6th former, I led Bachir’s group on 4th form camp. He was shy and could barely speak English but could speak just enough to tell me about some of the horrors of war that he’d witnessed in his native Lebanon. These days Bachir is a business owner, running Basho hair stylist in Hataitai. I don’t know much about hair styling, but I hear he’s pretty good…and I certainly admire his achievements.
I hope you can all tell that I’m very grateful for my St Pats experience and immensely proud to be part of this community. In my mind, all Old Boys and friends of St Patrick’s College Wellington can be proud of its tradition of achievement and genuine humanity. Many of the people who built this tradition are no longer with us. I personally think of special teachers like Rob Taylor and Brian O’Halloran and Fr Barney Doherty. I also think of the many old boys who have left us, who built our famed school spirit as students and spread our values to broader society as adults. I’ve been given the privilege of offering a toast in honour of these two groups. So I’d ask you all to stand and charge your classes:
TO DECEASED OLD BOYS AND STAFF AND THEIR LEGACY
Before I sit down, I want to briefly mention St Patrick’s College Foundation. The Foundation was launched late last year and is charged with reconnecting the wider College family back to today’s College and raising funds for capital works and an education endowment. Many of you will have read about the Foundation and the first capital project it is supporting: the rejuvenation of the quad and the theatre. We see this weekend as an early boost to the Foundation’s goals: reconnecting and raising funds. I managed to read a few pages of the Jubilee book this morning and was inspired by the efforts of Catholic families all around New Zealand in the 1880s to raise 20,000 pounds for the building of this great college. It’s very much in that spirit that we ask you to support the Foundation. There are more details about the work of the Foundation and how you can support it in your registration packs. We’ve also got a display in the College foyer if you’d like to come and have a look after Mass tomorrow.
Thank you and have a fantastic evening.