ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE  MEMORIES  – 1954 to 1957

I am indebted to HERB, an American retired Law Enforcement officer, who was a boarder from 1954 to 1957.  I wish I had his memory and eye for detail!

The priest Herb refers to would have been Father Jolly. I was an altar boy, too, but at St Mark’s on Chantry Estate from around 1959 – 60.  Previously we went to the chapel at St J’s from 1958 or 1959 and Jolly was definitely the priest and he’d held that post for some time.

Good morning, Pat.  Central Standard Time 8:50 A.M.  Your blog has rekindled many memories and your invitation to relate the good, bad, ugly, school life at St. Jo’s has brought to mind many thoughts about that place.   Ref anonymity?  Use what ever information from me that you deem useful.  If I omit things intentionally, I’ll let you know.  Otherwise, help yourself.   A little info on how I ended up at St. Jos:  When my stepfather was transferred to Mildenhall from the US there was no room on the base for dependent housing.  The US Air Force was shuffling troops around and housing became jammed with people coming and going.  As a result, we lived in an apartment in Newmarket.  I was unable to attend American school on the base because of overcrowding so I was enrolled in Newmarket Secondary Modern School.  An anxious 13-year-old American kid without baseball???  Unthinkable.  And, football?  Looked like the yet popular game of soccer.   My mother said “no big deal, we all speak English”.  Of course, I could not understand but a few words, phrases, and the slang drove me nuts.  My math was terrible and counting money in the pre-decimalization age added to my misery.   After a short period of time we moved to Burwell and I was sent to St. Joseph’s College Birkfield in Ipswich. 

Your blog has opened my mind to several situations I nearly forgot about.  I’ve also learned (from your blog) that the de la salle brothers have last (sir) names.  I had no idea, I thought they chose a saint’s name to honor much the same manner as most orders of nuns do.  So, I’m at a loss to positively identify these so- called men.  The brothers I recall were Brother Damian (the headmaster), a small slight man named Brother de la salle, Brother Peter, and Brother Lawrence (sp).  Brother Peter taught French, English, and lots of sports interactions.  I admired him for his leg speed.  He would pull his cassock up to his knees and run as fast as the wind.  Amazing speed and all the whilst dribbling a football.     It seemed that most of the boys grew up around a football and could do all sorts of maneuvers with it.   It was foreign to me and when I made attempts to master it I tripped and fell down a lot.  Rugby, on the other hand, was a lot of fun.  I was small but maintained good upper body strength and found rewards playing hooker in the scrum.   My only other sporting forte was cross country running.  I ran everywhere and loved it.  The school placed a lot of value on sports.  The brothers were feared and, as I mentioned, corporal punishment was the way everything was disciplined, and there was plenty of it. 

Brother Peter caught me in class on more than one occasion that required my attention to be “adjusted:”  On this particular occasion I was lifting my desk top, so as to not be seen, and whispering to the boy next to me. Brother Peter saw the no talking violation and “invited” me to the head of the class for ‘three of the very best’.   He held my head by holding it with his left hand and gave me three very hard blows to my left side of my face.  I’m sure he was aware of my high tolerance to pain and really “teed off” on me.  My ears rang for a week that would envy the bells at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  My face swelled up to the point they would not allow me to go to town that Saturday, I even had a pink testimonial but still not allowed to leave the college.  One of the lady cooks prepared a cold, wet cloth to press on my face to reduce the swelling.  It was not the only time I was slapped in the face but this one time was the very worst.  One other point that Brother Peter concerned me was he was in charge of the showers.  As you left the showers he would inspect you for cleanliness.  Hands out, arms outstretched, turn them over, exam fingernails, asked several of the boys if the cleaned “down there.”  It was notable that he told the boys who were not circumcised to pull their foreskin back for “further inspection.”  And, he had that sort of gaze during the entire showering time.  I did not trust him but he never bothered me except for punishment. 

Brother Lawrence taught math and English.  He was also our dormitory overseer.  He had a room just off the side of the boys.  Our class rooms were on the ground floor on what I believe is/was called wing 55.  I’m not real sure of the name but can point it out on google earth.  The dorm was on the second floor and our class had half the space on first floor.  There were three rows of eleven beds, with wall lockers on one wall and sinks of the other, windows to the southeast (I think).  We each had daily chores that had to be completed before heading to the chapel for mass, then off to breakfast.  For breakfast we all had oat meal or some sort of porridge dispensed from a large metal pitcher, tea, and toast.  On Sunday we were allowed eggs scrambled.  I don’t recall anything special about the other meals.  Brother Peter was our meal monitor and was seated at one end of the room on an elevated table and chair.  He was served eggs, toast, tea, and bacon at every breakfast.  And, he made no effort to hide it.  The boys were seated at large tables with 4-5 boys on each side facing one another. 

 Brother Laurence would often times leave the dorm 15-20 minutes after lights out.  I assumed he was going to prayers or who knows what he was up to.  I noted that on about half the nights one of three different boys would shortly follow after him.  I had suspicions but as long as I was left alone i figured it none of my bushiness.  Brother Laurence was equally “into” punishment and his favorite target was the backside with the use of a slipper or tennis shoe.  I was amazed how large his feet were.  On one of his absences a few of the boys got into a pillow fight after lights out.  The swinging of pillows was eventually totally out of control and, I venture to say, that every single boy was involved.  On comes the lights and guess who?  The entire dorm was a mess, pillows broke open, scattered all over, beds tipped over and awry, and several boys pleading that they were not involved.  Too bad, Brother Lawrence announced that everyone was to queue up for three of the very best on the back side.  I thought that I might avoid a hard beating if I found my way to end of the line in hopes that he would be tired after wailing 33 boys rears.  Not a clever idea as it turned out as he was still going strong and worked himself into a rage.  It almost seemed he was enjoying the mass punishment. 

We had a priest that said mass, heard confessions, taught catechism, and selected his favorite alter boys.   It was rumored that the alter boys nick a bit of wine from time to time, so naturally, I wanted to be selected.  It never happened.  American boarders were seldom selected for the really desired chores and activities.  I was warned to avoid the priest if at all possible.  I don’t recall his name.  Not much help there but your description in your blog could easily fit

There were 8-10 American boys but none were my age so I was able to stay separated.  The only difference was the American boys were allowed to wear long trousers regardless of their age.  The rest of the younger boys wore shorts and long socks.  Everyone wore gray uniforms, trousers, white shirt, and ties representing their house.  More on the houses later.  The blazers were matching gray to the trousers except in the warmer terms when we were allowed to wear a light weight blazer, red and blue striped, with the school emblem sewed on the pocket.  With the motto Labore Et Tentacitate on the emblem.  I recall when the houses were formed.  I have no idea the logic behind the selection process but all the boys were assigned to one of four houses.  I only recall two house names, Sherwin and Canberra (sp).  I was assigned to Sherwin and our colors were blue and white.  Canberra was green and black.  We wore ties that were our house colors.  The houses were basically the sports team (or work group) you were assigned.  The brothers encouraged fierce competition among the houses.  Again, I played rugby for Sherwin house.  I had plans to play hooker on the school team and travel to matches with other schools, however we moved back to the states before I had a chance.  I’m quite sure I would have been selected to the team and able to wear the red and white colors. 

I made friends easily and had a friend from Pakistan who had a brother at Oak Hill.  He was quite a good runner and, on a few occasions, we would sneak off and run to Oak Hill to see his brother.   I was aware of Oak Hill because I knew a couple of American boys who were there and was able to visit them.  Small wonder we never got caught doing that.   

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1 thought on “ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE  MEMORIES  – 1954 to 1957

  1. Houses were Becket , More, Campion & Sherwin . All Catholic saints. I was a promising athlete and loved competing but after the abuse started I accidentally gashed my knee and used it as an excuse to never run for the glory of that school again. Those tournaments at Holbrook RHS etc. would have to do without me. Not least because it p’d off my sportsy abuser. I still enjoy running.

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