When I was 12 or 13 years old, on occasion I used to ride the long way home from Casebrook Intermediate to Pāpānui via St Bede’s College. I would stop and gaze through the fences at the pristine school grounds, the grand buildings and the sharp red and black uniforms. I couldn’t have articulated this then, but I think I wanted to go that college because it represented authority, achievement, and tradition.
So I attended St Bede’s College between 1989 and 1993. I was one of the then five percent non-Catholics that were enrolled each year and I managed to go to the college because of my parents’ monthly visits to the Rector arguing my case. I was a late enrollment and subsequently sat my entrance exam on the first day of term.
I was a good student. I passed all of my external exams with some success, I was an excellent public speaker and debater for the college at the Bishop Lyons Shield, a reasonable actor in college plays and musicals and a passable rugby player. I was also very interested in Catholicism, attending Eucharists voluntarily in week days, going to our Feast Day Masses and singing in the schola during Latin Mass. I enjoyed Religious Education and admired many of the priests who taught us. I think I was taught by 18 priests in my years there, and whilst many were eccentric and some were a little unskilled as educators, the Marist priests and brothers were caring, appropriate and interesting men. I am glad I went to the college and I was taught some good foundational values as a student.
Which is why I am surprised by the actions, decisions and statements of Shane Kennedy and Antony Bell as parents of Jack Bell and Jordan Kennedy, and by Stephen Spencer as a school trustee, and Alex Meates and David Lindstrom as the rowing coaches. I am not surprised by their gross sense of entitlement and dislocation from wider public perception because that is one of the unfortunate realities of the world of wealth, influence and misogyny that private boys’ schools exist within. That is just status quo and whilst I object, it was my expectation that this would be the attitude. No, I am surprised that the Old Boys’ network (yes, it really is called the Old Boys’ network) has aired its laundry so publicly. This is absolutely contrary to every experience I have had of these groups of men for whom the college’s reputation and professional nepotism are key to their success in life. The concept of knifing a fellow Bedean in the back and climbing over his corpse is an entirely new direction from the collegial and closed circle of peers that I grew up with.
If I am surprised by the actions of these men, I am saddened by how far they have journeyed from the foundational values of St Bede and St Bede’s College. Bede is often referred to as the father of English history, writing his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731. It’s worth a read; it’s a combination of early English settlement history and the outrageously entertaining deaths of saints. As a significant academic and monk, it is probably to be expected that his name has become attached to schools. St Bede’s College was founded in 1910 and its values are under Six Pillars: Special Character; Community; Academic; Culture; Sport; and Boarding. Throughout the pillars are references to respect, social justice, faith, pride, good teamwork and (my personal favourites) accountable and responsible.
Shane Kennedy, Antony Bell, Stephen Spencer, Alex Meates and David Lindstrom clearly missed this memo because the values they’ve imparted to their two boys under their alternate twin pillars of Money and Power are diametrically opposed: egocentricism, the tyranny of the rich, self-worship, and individualism. I fear to think what kind of young men Jack and Jordan may grow to be in this protected and dysfunctional environment; I hope they never get into a position of having power over people, but suspect they will.
In a way, the war of words and values between St Bede’s College and these men is a microcosm of the struggle for the soul of the Catholic Church. My personal experience of Catholicism is more in keeping with the spirit of the actions and statements of Pope Francis I, the humility of the men who taught me, and the long and venerable tradition of social justice, serious theological thought and contemplative action. The Catholicism represented by the five men above is a corrupt church of wealth, power, entitlement marked by its inability to take responsibility for its own sins. Internationally, this Catholicism has damaged and murdered countless children and women, destroyed families and profited whilst knee deep in blood. It’s not a faith; it’s a church of the one percent.
Rector Justin Boyle is a straight shooter; he made the right decision and has shown real courage in fronting it in the media and to his board. His board have themselves done well to stand behind his actions. St Bede’s and its students are better off without the terrible example of these five men but the question we are left with is whether this is a sign of the institution, rather than the failings of a few.