DE LA SALLE BROTHERS LIFESTYLE

My older brother told me how the DLS at St Joseph’s Birkfield had a wine cellar and enjoyed fine wines. How he knew that he never explained! I always thought they lived grim lives of penance, wearing sackcloth and ashes in their spare time, with the odd bit of self-flagellation thrown in. But seems I am wrong. I guess I got them confused with the Trappists. Here another St Joseph’s Old Boy from my era vividly describes the reality. It’s a side of the De La Salle Brothers we rarely hear about:

‘The Black Monks and fine wine. Oh, I believe that one! You’ll recall that the furthest of the wooden dining halls from the school block had its entrance next to original building and, to be precise, right next to the large window of the Black Monk’s dining room. In the morning, one could see such a wide variety of cereals on display that it made your head spin. At best we got bog standard Corn Flakes but usually there was a vat of grey porridge. Actually, since you mention everyone remembering where they were when they got the news, it was while we were waiting to go into exactly that same dining hall for supper one evening that we first heard of the death of JFK. Good food and fine wine was not the only extravagance for the Brethren. It was all reminiscent of the exotic lifestyle embraced by the pigs in ‘Animal Farm’. In the writing I did during my post grad studies, I note that a number of the Black Monks (I say half of them, but I could not know that) belonged to Ipswich Golf Club and owned four or five sets of clubs. In time, the community acquired a Morris 1100 and a Ford Transit minibus. The Transit van made its debut on the light commercial vehicle market in 1965, so I think these vehicles probably came to Birkfield after you left. The vehicles were almost exclusively for use by the de la Salle bods who went off to the golf course in them and had first formers in tow to be slave caddies, or so I wrote but I have to confess that I don’t recall that now. I saw them using a hired MG Midget to play with during one half term, though, and the community owned five shotguns. There were two .410 guns and three twelve bores, as recorded in my writing, two of the twelve bores being expensive West German guns. There was a sort of ill-tempered and decrepit ‘Father Jack’ character called Brother Celsius who was retired and spent his time waving a walking stick round his head in permanently unsuppressed rage. I can’t remember much else about him apart from the fact that he had to be given a wide berth because of that flailing cane. The perception was that he constantly demanded to be taken on long rides in the Morris 1100 through the Suffolk countryside and I think his wish was always granted. These twats, you need to remind yourself, made a big thing of this vow of poverty, chastity and obedience that they all signed up to when they took the Pope’s shilling and became Black Monks.’

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