It is not unusual to develop a strong nostalgia for the formative years of one’s evolution to adulthood; to romanticize as it were, with certain aspects of one’s development – physical, mental, or academic – and forever long to live the times over and over again. During those impressionable ages of primary or secondary school education, experiences etched in the subconscious of youth, later serve as gigabyte of stored memories that are indispensable for a successful passage through the University of Life.
For example, during this writer’s educational odyssey, he went through three mission schools here at home, and two secular tertiary institutions outside of Nigeria. While all the schools impacted rather fairly well in terms of academic preparations for life’s successive stages, however, in terms of grooming for the challenges of life and crystallizing a core essence for the culture of excellence in any enterprise, St Joseph’s College Ondo, in this writer’s view, will forever out-rank any other institution anywhere in the world!
St. Joseph’s College Ondo will be 60 years old in March 19, 2016, having been founded in 1956 sequel to the Action Group manifesto of January 10, 1956, which promised the opening of 200 new secondary grammar schools in the Western Region during its next term in office. After the departure of Rev. Fr. Walsh, the first principal, came De La Salle Brothers from Toronto, Canada, in the persons of Brother Romuald Gauthier, Provincial of the Toronto District; Brother Broderick Bernard; Brother Cyprian, Brother Thomas McCrea and Brother Julian.
De la Salle Brothers of Canada, an integral part of the international order of the Roman Catholic vocation and Christian society founded by John Baptist De La Salle (1651-1719), constitute a spiritual brotherhood of men who have taken the vows of chastity, poverty and dedication to God’s works. While the spiritual dimension of God’s works involves preparing and winning souls for God in the hereafter, earthly imperatives for a good and successful life necessitate the training of human faculties to work in tandem with the laws of nature and of nature’s God: that is, a good education.
Consequently, De la Salle Brothers go for special training in the education of youths from where they acquire considerable experience in the handling and re-orientation of maladjusted adolescents and in the spiritual and moral education of teenagers on the other side of the law.
Like the Jesuits, an order of priesthood founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, De la Salle Brothers’ forte is in the education of youths. However, unlike educationists from other parts of the world, De la Salle Brothers of the Toronto District in Canada possess a special philosophy of education informed as it were, by the liberal socio-political experience of North America. For some reasons which may be difficult for others to explain, people are attached to their former alma maters; for this writer though, the reason is very simple: the attachment is located in the institution’s very philosophy of education, encapsulated in a blend of reality with creative instincts; its recognition of experience rather than routinized knowledge as a means to wisdom; its belief that it is more important to know how to think than to have something concrete to think about; its faith in the individual as having unique talents and gifts which if well developed, may lead to a meaningful and fulfilled life.
It was the good fortune of St Joseph’s College, Ondo, to be blessed with a crop of De La Salle Brothers whose foundational exertions in the late fifties laid the groundwork for the emergence of a passion for graduating well-rounded students. This passion, given the orientation of schools towards learning, became routinized as a culture of academic excellence but, in later years, in the practical world of no-second chance, resurfaced as an unquenchable thirst for high achievement and self-actualization.
The instructional leadership of the school under late Brother Bernard Broderick, Brother Romuald Gauthier, Brother Cyprian Gagnon, Brother Thomas McCrea and Brother Albert Lapointe, provided an identifiable pattern in the curriculum of the fledging college. There was a shift from the general British method of learning to the American: continuous assessment of students replaced one-time, sessional examinations and more emphasis was placed on practice than on memory and theory. In fact, an innovative blend of science, French language and the arts supplanted the old curriculum because, according to the Lasallian philosophy, “it is better to encourage the Humanities even in a world of advancing technology.”
As a result of the Canadian Brothers’ liberal educational background, a Lassallian instructional tradition gradually emerged in St. Joseph’s College, Ondo. It was thus, not only the aim of the Brothers to prepare students for the rigours of academics, but also, to make them well-rounded human beings whose minds would be stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature and a clear perception of the meaning of life and the essence of God: for example, Brother Bernard’s after-benediction homilies on Sundays. Also, their goals included preparing their wards for challenges in student life that would mimic or simulate outside world realities, sharpening their creative instincts through early exposure to certain independence of actions and broadening their young and impressionable outlook via early acquaintance with global trends: for instance, introduction of students to reading Time Magazine and Newsweek starting from Form 3!
Despite being unapologetically Roman Catholic by faith, these Rev. Brothers showed remarkable religious tolerance by their recognition of the plurality of beliefs and their abhorrence of the instruments of coercion and intimidation as means of religious conversion. Any belief-system that upheld the omnipotence of God and His centrality to all of creations was acceptable to them. For those students that passed through Rev. Brother Bernard, Principal from 1958 to 1967, they can never forget his human-angle stories that were laced with anecdotes, heavy in morals but, pungent in message.
For Rev. Brother Bernard, success in life transcended the pedantic and rarefied precincts of academia and its degrees. It involved among other things, an objective appraisal of one’s struggles and efforts in life along the rejection of the cardinal sins of character, famously referred to as the Ghandian Philosophy on Moral Requirements for a Good Life: “The most deadly sins are: wealth without work, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principles.”
The success of the Lasallian era in the history of St. Joseph’s College, Ondo, (1956-1973) is attested to by the sheer number of students of that period who, today, consider themselves successful according to the above parameter, despite their being at a numerical disadvantage in comparison with students from the post-Lasalian era. Government takeover of the mission schools since 1976 has led both to a precipitate fall in instructional quality of education and a general decay of schools’ infrastructure. For those lucky enough to be under the tutelage of these Rev. Brothers from Canada, they consider it an imperishable legacy to have been brought up under a tradition of guided freedom, unlimited self-expression and above all, solidarity in the brotherhood of love and of the fear of God.
Written By: Hon. Taoheed Ajao