St John's College

Every great institution is more than a mere agglomeration of people and buildings. Every great institution has a soul. That soul is the quality that gives the institution its very identity. It is a certain je ne sais quoi: the indefinable and intangible essence that animates that institution and that distinguishes it from other institutions of its type. So it is with great schools – especially traditional boys’ schools. One aspect of a great school’s soul is to be found in its time-honoured traditions and idiosyncrasies; another is to be found in its ability to avoid getting ensnared by its own customs and rituals to the extent that it stagnates and lacks vitality. A great school needs to maintain its dynamism by balancing tradition with innovation, and by introducing new practices that will stand the test of time and that will eventually themselves become customs and traditions.

St John’s College is a school steeped in ancient tradition – some of which goes back more than a century to the years when the brethren of the Community of the Resurrection ‘for the love of God alone rendered service which made possible the survival and extension of our College’. They rescued this school from probable extinction and launched it on a path that enabled it to flourish and grow into a great educational institution. Still, however much we are indebted to the Community of the Resurrection, part of the secret of our success is our ability to adapt and to develop new approaches. One such innovation – and one that will hopefully in time become one of our great traditions – is the Long Walk Award, which was introduced a mere ten years ago when it was given to that year’s Head of School, Lorne Hallendorff.

The Long Walk Award recognises the quality of leadership demonstrated by the Head of School as being exceptional. It requires the recipient to have influenced those whom he has led beyond what is required in the execution of his expected duties. It rewards positive initiatives, genuine leadership (as opposed to mere management), and the embodiment of the College’s core values.

This begs the question: what are our core values? What is it that we, as an institution, stand for?

Our School Prayer, written by Fr James Okey Nash in 1907, highlights some of these core values, no less valid today than they were 111 years ago.

  • We endeavour to be a home of sound learning – not merely learning, but sound learning – and a place where good is bred.
  • Our purpose is to ensure that our students are rightly trained in mind, body and character – not merely trained in this ‘holy trinity’ of mind, body and character, but rightly trained.
  • The purpose of such training is that Johannians will depart from the College equipped well to serve God in Church and State: not necessarily in the literal sense as priests and politicians (sometimes the two seem mutually exclusive). It would be good if some of our boys were to be ordained as men of the cloth, but failing that we would like to see Johannians live out that religious discipline of which Fr Nash wrote, and that they serve their country and their communities in accordance with the concepts of Lux, Vita and especially Caritas, as contemplated in our School motto.

We find other clues to the College’s core values in the speeches and writings of James Okey Nash: ‘We believe [he said in 1908] that the supreme end of education is the training of character. And we believe that the most powerful agency for the influencing of character and morals is religion.’

A year later, in 1909, Fr Nash expatiated on the raison d’etre of St John’s College:

Character or moral culture is the chief end of education. We hold that to cause the light of the image of Christ to shine in the child’s heart is the most powerful way to educate the child ... and we trust that the image of Christ will make our boys gentlemen, if a gentleman be one who “respects himself and respects others”; ready to learn, as they come to see that wisdom and knowledge are Godlike; manly, as they admire and follow the Bravest of All; upright, as they train themselves by Christ’s words and ways and deeds.’

In 1931, Fr Charles Runge (the last of the Headmasters from the ranks of the Community of the Resurrection) said: ‘St John’s College exists to educate citizens of South Africa. In addition to all their other activities, boys should learn something of the wider aspects of citizenship and what is expected of them as Christian citizens in respect of the tasks which lie before their country.’

In 1935, the Revd Sydney Herbert Clarke said:

‘It is the education of the whole man, body, mind and spirit, at which St John’s has always aimed, and at which St John’s will continue to aim. … Above all other school activities I shall be interested in the reading of boys in their free time, their acting, their music and so on. … In particular I would stress the knowledge and understanding of good literature.’

Upon his departure from St John’s in 1954, the Rev Mr Clarke said the following:

‘St John’s must live by faith. So it has done always. Faith built the School, and faith will preserve it. But we have to maintain a tremendously high standard. Unless we can claim that in actual attainments – work, games, cultural activities and the like – St John’s is the equal of the best schools in the country, there is no case for our existence at all. Moreover, the real reason for the existence of St John’s lies still deeper: it is that we are a Church School, sending out generation after generation of boys into the life of South Africa, imbued with a real liberal spirit and possessed by a consuming desire to serve their generation. ... [We] should send out men who ... are on fire with the belief that a nation can only be great if it is built on a basis of righteousness and equality of opportunity between man and man. ... men who try to maintain the ideal expressed by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the words: “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister ... I am among you as He that serveth.”’

Several memorials around our school are adorned by the inscription ‘Ad maiorem Dei gloriam’ (abbreviated to AMDG – ‘to the greater glory of God’). This is the motto of the Society of Jesus, which has established countless great educational institutions around the world. Their objective in doing so is to combine the educational advances of humanism, which includes a reverence for the liberal arts, with a desire to produce pious members of society. Like them, we encourage our students to examine their consciences, develop an inner spirituality and attend Mass as much as we expect them to study the classics of literature and hone their skills in mathematics and science, culture and sport. In this Christian-humanist way, we set about training students to be good Christians – or adherents of their own faith traditions – and virtuous citizens, and we strive to produce eloquent, elegant members of secular society.

This year we have been blessed to have had a Head of School who epitomises in many ways the core values of our College, and who has amply demonstrated qualities of exceptional leadership. There is a famous public school in England called Rugby. (The school is not named after the game; the game is named after the school.) An Old Rugbean, Thomas Hughes, wrote a novel based on his experiences at Rugby, called Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857). It includes the following passage:

“In no place in the world has individual character more weight than at a public school. Remember this, I beseech you, all you boys who are getting into the upper forms. Now is the time in all your lives, probably, when you may have more wide influence for good or evil on the society you live in than you ever can have again. Quit yourselves like men, then; speak up, and strike out if necessary, for whatsoever is true, and manly, and lovely, and of good report; never try to be popular, but only to do your duty and help others to do theirs, and you may leave the tone of feeling in the school higher than you found it, and so be doing good which no living soul can measure to generations of your countrymen yet unborn. For … it is the leading boys for the time being who give the tone to all the rest, and make the School either a noble institution for the training of Christian Englishmen, or a place where a young boy will get more evil than he would if he were turned out to make his way in London streets, or anything between these two extremes.”

Although our Head of School has not read Tom Brown’s Schooldays (I have now given him a copy), he seems to have absorbed this message of schoolboy leadership at his mother’s breast, as it were.

Our Head of School is a young man of outstanding character and morals, as contemplated by James Okey Nash. We can verily apply to him Fr Nash’s definition of the type of gentleman – and gentle man – that our College aims to produce: he is par excellence ‘one who “respects himself and respects others”; one who has come to see that wisdom and knowledge are divine; and one who is manly in the truest sense of the word – not masculine in the virile of ‘macho’ sense of the word, yet courageous and bold in standing up for his beliefs – and upright and honourable in word and deed.

His unqualified love for and devotion to the College has been one of his hallmarks for as long as he has been a student here. Those of us who were privileged to be at hymn practice yesterday morning will have heard the great emotion in the simple but heartfelt and true words that he uttered on that occasion. He has repeatedly displayed his erudition, elegance and eloquence, as witnessed by his great accomplishments in academics, drama and oratory, some of which were recognised at last night’s Speech Day ceremony. On that memorable occasion he delivered, seemingly impromptu, a speech that must go down in the annals as one of the great pieces of public speaking ever to emanate from the lips of a College boy.

He is imbued, in the words of the Rev Mr Clarke, with a real liberal spirit and possessed by a consuming desire to serve; despite his high office and the many accolades that he has received over the years, he always remained utterly devoid of airs and graces – one who ‘came not to be ministered unto but to minister’ and who was always among you, not as one who commands from on high, but as one who served you with great distinction.

If someone were to ask me what I consider to be the ideal College boy, I would mention qualities such as discernment, decorum, maturity, a sense of duty, compassion, humility, sensitivity, dignity, loyalty, integrity, equanimity, comity, imagination, open-mindedness, benevolence, and the ability to communicate meaningfully with other human beings. We don’t expect very much of our boys! But these are all qualities that our Head of School has demonstrated in abundance. From the time that he entered the College in Remove, he has always remained true to his own self – he has never pretended to be someone or something that he wasn’t, and he has never needed to do so.

He has the most wonderful sense of humour, frequently expressed in self-deprecating terms that illustrate that he does not take himself unduly seriously. He has led the School through tumultuous times, devoting countless hours to advancing the School’s interests under challenging circumstances. He often suffered from sleep deprivation, and yet always turned up to shoulder his responsibilities with a smile on his face and with boundless enthusiasm. Despite the enormous demands on his time, he has without fail continued to adhere to the highest standards of excellence in his academic and cultural endeavours, never losing his composure, and always putting the College above all else.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Long Walk Award is being bestowed upon a great Johannian – our outgoing Head of School, Raymond Peter Barrow.

In recognition of the enormous contribution that he has made to the College over the last year, a plaque with his name on will be affixed to a brick on Long Walk, to immortalise one of the great sons of St John’s College and to serve as inspiration to generations of Johannians who will follow in his wake. We know that our founding fathers and the brethren of the Community of the Resurrection, gazing down upon this ceremony this morning, will smile and nod their approval.