ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE memories 1970s – 1980s

I just received this comprehensive memoir about school life at St Jo’s. It was typewritten, with no origins address, unsigned and was posted to my old address where I haven’t lived for many years. The current owner photographed the pages and emailed them to me, so the only way I can show them is as photographs, I’m afraid.

PAGE ONE OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY
PAGE TWO OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY
PAGE THREE OF LETTER FROM ST J’S OLD BOY

There’s nothing controversial or confidential in the contents and so I feel it is safe and appropriate to share.

My thanks to ‘Anonymous’ for his observations. Do send me an e-mail another time and I assure you your name and address will remain confidential.

I found Anon’s recollections of Kearney interesting. I didn’t know about his early retirement to Greece and his subsequent death in his 50s. I believe Anon is the second Old Boy to say Kearney wasn’t a good chemistry teacher; he also says Kearney wasn’t actually interested in the subject. This makes it all the more remarkable that he has a current chemistry memorial prize named after him by today’s St Joseph’s College.

I recall Kearney getting us to drink heavily diluted acid, which was, of course, perfectly safe. I’d forgotten that he also got pupils to dip their hands in similarly diluted acid. Anon says he put ‘the fear into you without actually doing anything.’

At the time, I regarded such behaviour as clearly ‘sadistic’. Today his actions would also be recognised as abusive.

It’s the limits of his sadism that interest me. Was his classroom sadism, as confirmed by various Old Boys as well as myself, the full extent of his disorder? Was he a normal person outside the classroom?  Not in my experience. I believe sadists can’t actually ‘switch off’ from their disorder, although they can control it in most – but not all – circumstances.  But I wait for other accounts before elaborating. This makes a unique Kearney defender very angry and impatient with me. She remembers Kearney as a kind and good teacher and he seems to have made a strong and positive impression on her. She regards complaints about him as ‘hearsay’ and unfair as he’s no longer here to defend himself.  In response, I’ve told her the same was said about Jimmy Savile directly after his death. I’ve also told her repeatedly, it’s for me as a survivor to evaluate and decide my best strategy on my PTSD recollections of Kearney, not for her to dictate it or tell me to ‘forget it and get on with my life’.

Anon also doesn’t believe Kearney engaged in systematic physical abuse. He certainly did in the 1960s, using a Bunsen burner tube to whack kids with. It was not so much the actually whacking, but his sadistic glee that I remember thinking at the time was entirely inappropriate.  I shall never forget that leering grin on his face as he would excitedly yank the rubber tube off a burner – although he never whacked me with it. And also his smiling with delight at a boy’s fear as he applied a blackboard duster to his knuckles. And there is, in the 1970s or 80s, the testimonial of the Old Boy who was punched in the face by Kearney, resulting in him having to apologise to his parents and –  hopefully – the boy himself. I can’t believe this was a ‘one off’ and – in any event – that is a serious criminal assault for which he should have been prosecuted, even in those times.

Anon believes the aberrant behaviour he describes at St Jo’s was typical of private schools in the late 20th century  and St Jo’s shouldn’t be singled out.  It’s true that there were others – other De La Salle schools, Benedictine schools, and Sherborne prep school.  And doubtless many more.  The fact that it was ‘normal’ doesn’t make it acceptable and I believe abusive teachers should be fully exposed. Thus there’s a testimony on this site – concerning an incident in the 1980s, I think – where another lay teacher from St Jo’s had a cat o’nine whip he used on a boy. That’s a specialist sadistic device.

Please do share your recollections of St Jo’s on my site. They can be positive or negative – it all helps to produce a rounded picture of the times and the school before its ‘new management’.

For instance, no one ever mentions Mr George, my history teacher from my 60s era.(Not to be confused with the later rugby teacher) I’m curious to know if he moved onto another school.

I’m planning to write a chapter about the De La Salles for the forthcoming  ‘The Unturned Stones of IICSA’ book which looks at the shortfalls of the inquiry. The book is introduced by Richard Scorer who wrote ‘Betrayed’ about RC CSA in the UK.  So any relevant thoughts, positive or negative, would be invaluable, especially if I can quote them, anonymously if necessary.