For more than a century, Old Boys have been giving back to the College that gave them so much. For men such as Fr Bernard Hennessy (1957) and Fr Tom Stevens (1995), returning to Hunters Hill is more than mere nostalgia – it is an opportunity to interact with students and advance the lives of a new generation of Joe-Boys.
In Bernard’s case, visiting Joeys is a reminder of the important role the Brothers played in his journey from boy to man. Hailing from Gunnedah, Fr Bernard was most recently parish priest of St Patrick’s in Gundagai and for many years the army chaplain at Kapooka in Wagga. Now retired, he says what he loves about Joeys is that the values he learnt as a youth are evident in the students he meets today. “Nothing has changed in that the boys are so friendly and considerate. When I’m here, I feel like I’m among it again, like it’s 1953.”
Fr Bernard’s name is forever etched in the sporting folklore of the College. A top sprinter, he was the first boy from any GPS school to hold the under-17 “treble”, winning the 100-, 220- and 440-yard races in the 1957 athletics meet. He was also a lightning-fast back in the First XV, starring in the famous 1956 premiership decider with King’s, when 20,000 jammed into The Park. The College magazine records that he helped set up the match-winning try, but it’s the friendships he made – both with his Joeys teammates and the opposition – that he feels were the genuine legacies of that triumph.
Power and pace: At the 1957 AAGPS athletics meet, Fr Bernard Hennessy breaks the 440 yards record, and (next slide) winning the under-17 220 yards final in a time of 22.7 seconds.
“It was an epic game,” he says. “There was a wonderful fellow, Phil Croxon, the five-eighth from King’s, and we kept in touch. He only passed away last year and I was privileged to officiate at his farewell. So many lovely bonds were formed.”
Fr Bernard’s path to becoming a priest was circuitous. Although the seeds of his religious vocation were planted at Joeys, it wasn’t until seven years after he left College that the calling of the priesthood became too strong to resist. At first, he denied it. “I had my own agenda and I was enjoying life. I can remember how hard it was. I was going with a lovely girl and it was hard to break up.”
Ultimately, the chance to serve God proved too compelling. “I had to be true to myself.”
Like Fr Bernard, Fr Tom says the examples the Brothers set living their faith through charitable works – the practical application of the Marist charism – had a lasting effect on his spirituality. At 30, after practising as a maritime lawyer in Sydney and Singapore, he joined the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush and is now parish priest at St Patrick’s in Mortlake.
He is also impressed by how well today’s students interact with the outside world. He says the transition to a dual day and boarding school that happened just after he left College in 1995 has helped transform Joeys into a more open and outward-looking place.
“The boys’ social skills are a lot better than ours were, particularly in relation to women, because there is a lot more engagement with the outside world,” he says. “Back then it was more of a bubble, and it worked at the time, but now there are so many new and difficult challenges for young people.”
“At Joeys there’s an obligation to better yourself and in doing so make
a contribution to society.”
Fr Tom Stevens (1995)
Fond memories: Fr Tom Stevens (circled) with Joeys rugby referees in 1995 and (next slide right) as a member of the College’s second debating team with Mr Julian Miller (1948).
In his role as parish priest, Fr Tom presides over many weddings, funerals and baptisms. Joeys’ vibrant Old Boy network means he is often asked by schoolmates to conduct these milestone ceremonies. “It’s a great privilege when you’ve known someone from childhood. There’s also that great aspect of Joeys – the friendly, knock-about side, where because you’ve known me as a kid, you don’t have to treat the priest as too holy.”
In fact, when he was training at the seminary, Joeys mates would postpone their weddings until he was ordained – although some would request he take longer! “When I was finally coming to ordination, a few mates were saying: can you please fail a couple of subjects so I can put my wedding off a few years,” Fr Tom laughs.
On a more serious note, he is always happy to offer pastoral care and advice to old Joe-Boys as they negotiate life’s ups and downs. “What I find is blokes and sometimes their partners will have a chat with me, and we talk about how you can keep relationships going and deal with modern pressures from a spiritual point of view.”
Although it has been decades since both Fr Bernard and Fr Tom sported a Joeys blazer, cerise and blue continues to run deep in their veins. Their love of the College is grounded in personal experience and life-affirming memories, but it is to the future they both look. “There is a consistent theme at Joeys that I see carrying on,” Fr Tom says. “There’s a sense of there being an obligation to better yourself and in doing so to make a contribution to society. It’s great to be a part of.”
Fr Bernard agrees. “I think the Joeys spirit will live on. The College unites us all, just like it did when I was here.”