A Highlands Novitiate
An account written by some of the young English men who spent a year in Jersey as novices in
the order of the Brothers of Christian Instruction.
Edited by John Lodge
This book is the product of collaboration. The editor would like to acknowledge the contribution
of the following people who sent in material for inclusion. Thanks also go to those who offered
critical feedback on the book’s development, especially to Jimmy Coffey who spent a lot of
time contributing ideas and material that led to the book’s improvement.
Many thanks also to the St Edward’s wiki members for their written contributions and
photographs.Also, archivist Brother Hervé responded very quickly to the request for
photographs of novice groups over the years; many thanks, Brother.
This book is presented on the occasion of the 2015 reunion of former Highlands College
novices. It is written in remembrance of those young Englishmen who lived as novices at the 1
college and has been compiled from contributions by former English juvenists and novices who
lived there and in other houses of religious formation between the years 1948 68.
Inevitably this book is an artefact of its time and its authors’ experiences. It is not an official
publication by the Brothers of Christian Instruction (or La Mennais Brothers); it is an account 2
based on the experiences of some of those who underwent religious formation at a time when
religious orders carried out their training more or less as they had done unchanged for decades.
In the late 1960s, shortly after the period described in this book, the Vatican Council ushered in
a wide range of reforms which radically changed the face of religious formation. This book
therefore describes a time capsule in that it attempts to capture what living as a novice (or
juvenist) at Highlands was like in the first two decades following the second world war.
A word about the authorship of this book: the contributors to this volume are participants of an
online wiki. All of usl shared the experiences of training for the brotherhood and are happy to be
in touch with each other. We look back with affection on our years with the brothers and the
friendships we made at the time although most of us are ambivalent or critical about some
aspects of our training all those years ago. However, there are sure to be other former juvenists
and novices not part of our group who retain possibly very different feelings about their time
spent with the brothers; their contribution is not present here. Consequently, no claim for
objectivity is made for this text.
Novices were not parachuted into Highlands most had already spent several years in religious
formation and they would go on after their novitiate to spend further years in training. To
understand the novice lifestyle one needs to see the Highlands year in the context of the wider
practice of religious formation in the brothers. For this reason the novices earlier experiences at
the juniorate and their postJersey training in the scholasticate are dealt with here.
As editor, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my former friends and colleagues in
the brothers who have made this book possible. People have been generous with their writing,
their photographs and their feedback. Further, I would like to thank some of the presentday
brothers themselves who have contributed photographs and some of whom will be participating
in this reunion. With so much goodwill on hand, it has been an enjoyable task putting this text
This book concerns itself with those ‘novices’ in their teens entering the religious life. However, Highlands catered also for another
group of novices, i.e. ‘les grands novices.’ These were experienced professed brothers who spent 6 months or so at the college on a
‘refresher course’ in religious practice.
Named after their founder John de la Mennais.
Juniorate 1116 years 194850 Highlands College
195068 St Edward’s College, Shropshire
196465 Highlands College (Postulate)
Novitiate 16 years 195068 Highlands College
Scholasticate 1720 years 195264 Strawberry Hill Teacher Training College,
196769 Toddington Manor, Glos.
196770 CB Marino, Dublin
Teacher in community 20+ years St Mary’s College, Southampton
St Joseph’s College, Shropshire
St Edward’s College, Shropshire
St Josephs Cathedral Choir School, Liverpool
Woolton College, Liverpool
Figure 1 . Formation houses of the Brothers of Christian Instruction (English province)
The brothers' English province had close links with Highlands College, Jersey. Highlands was
the mother house of the brothers started when there was religious persecution in France in the
early 20th century. Following the expulsion of religious orders from France in 1903 some
brothers settled in England and opened up a school in Southampton and later at Market Drayton,
Shropshire. Later on in 1922 the order bought Highlands College as a headquarters and a site for
their novitiate . 3
Early on in their teaching activities the English brothers pursued, like other religious orders, the
active recruitment of young boys and men into the order. As early as the 1930s they were
sending small numbers of English candidates for the novitiate to Highlands; these received their
training or ‘formation’ alongside their more numerous French counterparts. By the 1950s the
numbers of young English men passing through Jersey increased and in some years there were
groups of around four or so of them studying alongside novices drawn from France. This book
describes the experiences of these young men and what it was like to live as a novice at
The preparation of candidates for the religious life was a lengthy process and those who visited
Jersey for the novitiate year were partway along a timeline of religious formation. For most,
their entry into this timeline began as a young boy of 11 or 12 years; they studied at a residential
school called a juniorate. The regime at the juniorate was not dissimilar from a boarding school
but there was a strong emphasis on religious education and practice.
Juvenists (as they were called) were allowed only limited holidays home and at school their
contact with the outside world was minimal. At around 16 years, midway during their final
year at school, a juvenist graduated to the status of postulant a role in which more 4
responsibility is taken as preparation for the novice year. After GCE exams in July, postulants
completed a full week’s retreat prior to entry to the novitiate; following this, at a special 5
ceremony, candidates were dressed in a cassock and took a promise to live as a novice for full
year obeying the Rule of the order. Their novitiate year had begun and they travelled from the
juniorate to Highlands to undertake this.
After their year in Jersey those aspirants those aspirants who wished to continue took temporary
vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became ‘scholastics’. As its name suggests, 6
scholastics engaged principally in the studies needed to acquire a teaching qualification so they
could work in the order’s schools (see diagram on previous page).
A period of religious training lasting one full year.
A postulant in the brothers was a senior juvenist, i.e. a person who had declared his intention to attend the novitiate.
A retreat is a time set apart from daily life in order to spend time in prayer and reflection. There are usually spiritual talks during
each day and extended prayers. Silence is an important feature of the experience.
A religious brother took these three vows. Before being fully professed a young brother would spend several years taking
temporary (renewable) vows before making his ‘final profession.’
Cheswardine Hall, Shropshire the brothers’ juniorate from 195068
The novitiate at Highlands was fed from juniorate institutions in both France and England. To
provide a regular supply of new English entrants one of the brothers Brother Louis Dupré
was appointed as recruiter. He visited Catholic parishes up and down the country seeking out
potential candidates. Any 12 yearold who showed an interest in the brothers received a home
visit and very soon afterwards such a boy could find himself walking through the doors of the
juniorate. And for him it was an entrance into a new mode of existence!
'Little man' comes to school
We were called into the hall of our school. Everyone from four classes was there, all the pupils
and all the teachers, some of the staff, the assistant head and the head. So it seemed that this
gathering had an important purpose.
This little man walked onto the stage at the front, looking much like a priest and started talking.
He had a strange accent, was dressed in a cassock and was wearing a dog collar. I can't
remember much of what he was talking about other than the religious life and teaching. Even at
the tender age of 12 I had been thinking about what I had wanted to do when I left school and I
had teaching in mind. Having been brought up Catholic and assisting at all sorts of religious
ceremonies and morning mass at the priest’s house for a number of years, the thought of a
religious life appealed even though, in my naivety, it meant little to me. Priests, bishops and so
on had always seemed to be very special people who had abilities and attitudes at a higher level
than the rest of us, even above my favourite teachers. They appeared, to me, to put aside their
personal feelings for a much higher purpose beyond my comprehension.
We were all handed a leaflet and given time to fill it in. As best as I can remember it asked if we
had an interest in both the religious life and teaching. I answered ‘yes’ to both. I had no idea that
my answers would have such large repercussions. A few days later the man who had addressed
us at school arrived at our house. I learned that his name was Brother Louis. He was a French
Canadian. That really didn’t mean much to me and I still thought that he talked funny. He and
my parents spent a time alone with him at the kitchen table. When they finished I was told that I
was going to St. Edward’s College to become a brother.
At school, the following Monday a group of us gathered and talked about this funny little guy.
Another of the boys, in a different class group, said that he was going to St. Edwards later in the
year. That began a loose friendship with John Carroll. We were aware of each other as we were
both in the same scout group based on our local junior school.A dice had been cast.”
‘ VAT69 to the rescue
“Thanks, Barry, for rekindling the memory of the lifechanging visit of dear old Bro. L. His
recruiting ground was determined by the location of Catholic communities in London, the
midlands and north taking in Southampton, the home of St. Mary's College. For accommodation,
he relied on families of already recruited juvenists.
I'll always remember him returning about 1954 after one of his trips to Yorkshire where he had
stayed with my family in Huddersfield. He came looking for me to tell me how he'd had to spend
a couple of days in bed with the flu which might have been longer but for my Dad's remedy,
VAT 69 whisky served in hot water with sugar (a drink known as a 'hot one' I enjoy to this day
on winter visits to Ireland).
‘Your farder's VAT 69 cured me straight away', he was delighted to tell me. (Remember? Br. L
never really mastered the English 'th'). Every time there was an outbreak of flu after that at
Cheswardine he'd come to me and say ‘If only we had VAT 69, the miracle medicine!’
Personal account: Jimmy’s experience of formation
A candidate to the religious life passed through several stages before becoming a fully professed
brother. This is my journey told in words and pictures of going through different steps in the
Recruited to the brothers
I was recruited by Bro Louis from St John Fisher’s
Secondary Modern School in Dewsbury, West
Yorkshire, following a talk he gave to my class on the
My positive response gave rise to a visit to my parents
and it was arranged for me to go away to St Edward's
College in June for a trial period upto the Summer
holiday. I was driven down to college by the father of
another recruit from Leeds Mario Granelli. It was a
journey into the unknown and the reality hit home on
saying goodbye to my mother who had accompanied
I was allocated a ‘guardian’ whose job was to look
after me in the early days and ‘show me the ropes’. My
time as a ‘juvenist’ had begun.
The photo shows me posing by a stranger’s car on one
of the parents days of which there were two per year.
Studying at the juniorate
I spent five years at the ‘juniorate’ where life was a
mixture of religious exercises, study, manual work and
sport. It was characterised by small class sizes and a
shifting pupil population since boys chose not to stay
or were invited to leave.
We received a good academic education enhanced by
opportunities (not open to many of our age) presented
by living in 72 acres of parkland where we worked in
the gardens and the woods as well as enjoying sport on
a daily basis.
The Brothers ran a strict regime but in a kindly manner.
There was no such thing as corporal punishment which
was commonplace in the schools we had left. The photo shows my small class with our form tutor
After GCE OLevels a decision had to be made
whether to become a member of the Religious
Congregation which would mean taking the ‘habit’,
progressing through a number of years of temporary
vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to a point
where total commitment of final vows would be asked
The first step in this process was to become a postulant
which was like a statement of intent. The school blazer
Seen here with one of my fellow postulants John
Lodge. The lapel badge denotes postulant status.
was no longer worn and the school tie was replaced
with a black tie.
After a short period as postulants we took the ‘habit’
and entered the ‘novitiate’. The novitiate was housed at
Highlands in Jersey and consisted of a year of religious
study whilst practising the life of a Religious Brother
but without vows. High on the agenda was prayer,
meditation and long periods of silence tempered by
occasions to savour the beauty of the Island and in
Summer to visit Greve D’Azette on a weekly basis for
Here I am pictured with John and Paddy in our new
soutanes and our parents looking on proudly.
At the end of the Novitiate one had to decide whether
to take the next step which was to commit to a year of
temporary vows of poverty chastity and obedience. On
making first temporary vows a crucifix was added to
the habit to be worn on the chest. This was the
beginning of a new period of formation a large part of
which was studying to become a teacher. Many
brothers pursued this phase at Strawberry Hill Teacher
Training College but I did my Alevels at Toddington
with the Christian Brothers and then later went on to La
Sainte Union College at Southampton.
Pictured with my mother on the day of first vows.
At the end of the scholasticate brothers entered
community in one of their schools to pursue their
vocation as teachers.
The school day was preceded, punctuated and closed
by religious exercises such as Mass, meditation,
spiritual reading and the Divine Office . 7
Pictured with my football team at St Mary’s,
The Divine Office consists mainly of psalms, hymns and prayers and forms part of the official prayer of the church. Each brother
had his own ‘breviary’ a book containing all these prayers over the cycle of a full liturgical year. All priests and religious are
required to ‘say their office’ every day.
Juvenists at Highlands
For most of the period covered by this book, the brothers’ juniorate was at St Edward’s College,
Cheswardine in Shropshire, viz. 195068. However, for two brief periods juvenists were located
at Highlands: the first was a two year period in the late 1940s and the second was an
unsuccessful initiative to establish a presence for older juvenists (or postulants) in the
194950: Postwar juvenists
“In 1949, my class of Juvenists were transferred from St Joseph's, Market Drayton to Highlands
College, Jersey. We went by train to London, and got another train to Weymouth which went
right through the town's streets to the ferry for St Helier.This was quite an adventure for the
group of mainly Liverpool 1213 year old boys. Until four years previously, Jersey had been
occupied by the German army and we were of an age that could remember the blitz of Liverpool
in May 1942. Highlands College had accommodated German troops and this added to the
There was still much evidence of the occupation. Besides the famous underground hospital, one
could see the gateposts of some houses which had been daubed with swastikas. These were the
homes of someone who had collaborated with the enemy. The Germans had built many concrete
fortifications around the island, and these were great play areas when we went for our Sunday
walks. John, when looking at the photographs of Jersey, one with the view from the football
pitch showing the steeple of St Thomas Church jolted my memory.
In 1949 at the harbourside in St Helier was a gun emplacement. The gun was no longer there,
just its plinth. Surrounding the emplacement was a low concrete wall and stencilled on the wall
were graphics of various targets to aid the gun aimer. There was a graphic of St Thomas's
Church with the appropriate range setting underneath it. Obviously it could be used for purposes
other than repelling invaders from the sea. We wondered if the Jersey people were aware of how
methodical their uninvited guests were. All of great interest to 12 year old boys.
Every morning at Highlands we had porridge for breakfast. We were told the weavils would not
harm us they had been killed in the cooking and were quite nutritious. The rich, creamy milk
from the Jersey cows helped to wash it down, but I've never eaten porridge since I left the
brotherhood. A more exotic item on the menu which was new to us was artichokes. These grew
in abundance in Jersey and were served up as an occasional treat.
The football pitch at Highlands had not so much as a single blade of grass. It was just hard
packed dirt. We were told that the German troops had used it for an exercise area for their horses
and older boys used to try and terrify us with stories of the dirt pitch being impregnated with the
sweat of the horses. When playing football, if you went in with a sliding tackle and grazed your
leg, we were warned the leg would probably fall off.
We were introduced to some new sports to supplement the football and cricket. Volley ball,
shinty and the baseballlike game of softball became enjoyable means of exercise and these all
took place on the barren football pitch.I don't remember using any form of motor transport at
Highlands. We walked everywhere. In the warm summer months we walked to the various
beaches for a swim and on the way back, we used to slake our thirst with the tomatoes which
were growing abundantly in the fields.
A couple of years ago I visited Jersey with my wife and found Highlands College. It is now a
Polytech type school, the nearest thing to a university on the island. I went into Reception and
told them I went to school there 50 years ago and received a very warm welcome. I was shown
around the school by the caretaker who was able to rekindle some old memories. What was once
the chapel is now a very large and ornate Dining Room and there is a picture on the wall of a
lunch the Queen attended there. In one of the site pictures is Brother Edward who was in Jersey
when the Germans invaded and he finished up in a prison camp in Germany. His parents
interceded on his behalf claiming he had been born in Eire. Eventually, because Eire was neutral,
he was released and repatriated.” (Tom Taylor)
1964: Older juvenists initiative
“In 1964 the brothers’ English province was rethinking its formation and four of us older
juvenists were sent to study our Alevels in Jersey. We formed a small English community with
three scholastic brothers and an older brother, the superior of our little group. We all attended the
De La Salle school a few minutes up the road. However, living at Highlands proved to be too
much of a lonely and institutionalised experience for my fellow juvenists and after the Christmas
holiday I was the only one of the four to return. I found it difficult to settle into my new school
but fortunately the extracurricular activities compensated somewhat and helped keep up my
One of the scholastics, Tony Brown, was a cycling enthusiast and he mended several of the ratty
bikes in the rear shed; with these we'd the freedom of the island! At weekends and on summer
evenings we'd cycle to the beach (Green Island and Portelet were favourites) or ride off to
farflung spots (like the beautiful GreveauLancon). My preferred beach I think was Portelet
Bay which, together with Beauport and the far corner of St Aubyn's bay, had the clearest water
on the island and was a joy to swim in. Green Island was our regular swim spot near to hand
and full of rock pools and interesting things to see as well as swim.
Highlands did not work out as a formation initiative for older juvenists so our group separated in
summer 1965 and I went to study at the brothers' school at St Mary's, Southampton where I
completed my Alevels.” (John Lodge)
Novices at Highlands
French novices and the occasional English one had been studying at Highlands since 1922
and since that time small groups of young English aspirants (from the brothers’ English
province) joined them for a year’s novitiate at Highlands. With their school exams completed at
around the age of sixteen, farewells made to families and wearing their new soutanes, the
novices started out on their full year of religious training, separated almost completely from the
The novitiate year was rigorous and managed in accordance with church law.
“Novices are to be led to develop human and christian virtues. Through prayer and
selfdenial they are to be introduced to a fuller way of perfection. They are to be
instructed in contemplating the mystery of salvation, and in reading and meditating on
the sacred Scriptures. Their preparation is to enable them to develop their worship of
God in the sacred liturgy. They are to learn how to lead a life consecrated to God and
their neighbour in Christ through the evangelical counsels. They are to learn about the
character and spirit of the institute, its purpose and discipline, its history and life, and be
imbued with a love for the Church and its sacred Pastors.” (Code of Canon Law Article
2: The Novitiate and the Formation of Novices)
These instructions of canon law were taken seriously by the novice master and the young men 8
arriving in Jersey were in for a shock as they grappled with the exigencies of starting out on
their training. Although the juniorate experience was designed to prepare them gradually for a
life of prayer and selfdenial, they could not have anticipated the extraordinarily intense
demands of the novitiate year. Of key importance to this year’s success would be how they
adapted to their new regime; but also they would need to be supported and guided by by an
experienced and sensitive novice master.
Personal reflections on the novitiate 9
“My novitiate year was from 196667. Preparation for it began in midJuly when I met up with
my two fellow postulants, Jimmy Coffey and Paddy Monaghan. We had a full week’s retreat to
get us in shape for it – this proved to be something of an ordeal for altho’ we’d had short retreats
before we’d never had anything this long. What made the experience especially challenging was
that the World Cup was on and we had no access to radio or TV for the duration; fortunately the
priest giving the retreat would slip the scores somewhere into his homilies.
At the end of the week – in the Cheswardine chapel each of us ‘took the cassock’ and from that
moment on we were novices. To indicate to the novices the radical nature of the lifestyle that
they had embraced, even their names were changed (although this practice was discontinued 10
after 1959). That day was special also because our parents came to visit and assist at the mass.
But the very next day, we were off on a plane to Highlands College, Jersey – the mother house
of the order.
The novice master was an experienced fully professed brother who oversaw the novices year at Highlands; he was a pivotal figure
in the novices’ religious development and responsible also for their pastoral welfare. There were several English novice masters
during the period of this book and inevitably they each approached the task differently.
This section is written mostly by the editor but is interspersed with contributions from other former novices.
The practice was dropped because changing someone’s name, without deed poll, gave rise to administrative complications where
brothers taught in state schools.
We arrived at Highlands under the supervision of our novice master. Each of us was given a
room in the main building and we were shown the English novices’ study on the ground floor
where each novice was allocated a desk. The study was spartan – just some desks and a few
glassedin shelves of religious books on the back wall. The building had high ceilings throughout
and possessed a strong institutional atmosphere. This did not have the appearance of a place of
comfort nor intimacy!
‘Highlands College was walled on all four sides and non religious people rarely came
through the main gates. The milkman, the butcher, the grocery delivery van being the
rare exceptions, but they came and went without us hardly noticing. This religious
fortress overlooked (as it name suggests) the capital St. Helier of a relatively small
island which attracted holidaymakers, most of whom would have been oblivious to our
existence.’ (Brian Slattery, 2015)
English novices’ study
Shortly after our arrival a group of the professed English brothers landed up at Highlands for
their annual retreat. Up to this point, we had been spending a lot of time in silence and so we
were delighted when they appeared outside our study door – we opened up for a friendly chat
with them. However, conversation was to be shortlived as the novice master intervened and
reprimanded us for talking without permission. And so began a year’s regime of extended
periods of silence . . .
Happily, the French novices arrived soon afterwards and we had the company of people of our
own age. They were numerous (there were 31 of them) and really likeable lads and we got on
well almost immediately.
In our spoken communications, we stammered broken French in their direction and when we got
stuck for words they came back helpfully to us in English. The three of us thought this was
working out well; but not for the first time, we were in for a surprise. The novice master
instructed us that we were to converse only in French – our Gallic confrères had been forbidden
to speak English to us. Ouch! Moreover, we three were not permitted to talk to each other during
recreation, walks and so on; we were to mix solely with the French lads. Whew! This was social
engineering big time.
At the time, the reasons for this onesided language requirement were far from clear to us, but
subsequently I gathered that the French novice master was concerned that some of his charges
might spend time practising their English – a forbidden activity for them apparently. Since none
of us had studied French beyond OLevel communicating was a struggle at first, but bitbybit
we managed to understand what was being said to us and then gradually we took the initiative
and slowly began also to speak in our turn. By Christmas we were reasonably fluent. Our novice
master gave us several French lessons at the beginning of the year but these tailed off after a few
weeks and we were left to get on with it by ourselves after that.
This approach to learning French was hardly calculated to help us integrate easily into the whole
cohort. Every teacher knows the crucial importance of communication so it was surprising that
our master of novices – an experienced teacher – did not provide us with more support. Perhaps
he was of the view that others before us had been required to get on independently, so he could
see no reason why we shouldn't do the same.”
‘I arrived in Jersey at Highlands College in 1967 armed with my French ‘O’ Level and
was immediately required to speak French to total strangers. This was daunting at first
but soon became a pleasure and after several months was quite articulate. I remember a
French family wandering up to our study room, and asking for directions to Hotel de
France which was adjoining our property. I replied and we had a short conversation.
The lady of the family was surprised that I was English and told me that she thought I
was French. I was very proud of myself.
We had to take it in turns to read passages of the bible in French at church services, and
I used to practice these readings beforehand so that they sounded competent. The only
time that I have really spoken French since leaving Jersey is when my wife asks me to
perform like a monkey to family or friends we meet; I rarely do so unless the other
person knows some French.
In particular My wife and I holidayed in Paris at Montparnasse Hotel for a long
weekend, and I found it very useful in dealing with the reception and in shops. We
booked a Saturday evening and night tour, which took in a VIP meal at La Cupole
restaurant, then a boat trip on the Seine and finished with a night at Le Moulin Rouge.
Here we were led in passed the huge line of people queuing to get in and were treated to
a bottomless pit of champagne. We were accompanied by an American couple and the
minibus driver was an Algerian who knew every back street and drove everywhere
faster than Lewis Hamilton.
I think the Highlands language learning added to the experience. It also helped me sail
through the oral exam for ‘A’ Level French. I became an ad hoc interpreter for the
Police and carried out this function at road accidents and other incidents for 30 years.’
“Although outnumbering us by ten to one, the French boys proved to be interesting company.
There were lots of different characters among them and they came from a wide variety of
backgrounds. In conversation, it was clear that they had received a different education from us –
one that appeared more intellectual with its emphasis on subjects like philosophy and so on.
We were warned – there seemed to be a lot of admonitions that August in 1966 – to avoid
particular friendships with the French novices – especially when out on walks. This was a bit
bothersome since certain French lads were quick to pick up the meaning of our crude French and
so we naturally gravitated to them. For all that, I did manage to a maintain a good friendship
with Frère Yves. He was a smashing lad from Finisterre and like me he shared an interest in
nature; thanks to him, before the end of the year, I knew the French names of most common
birds and hedgerow plants. I still know them today.
A day in the life of a novice
Routine structured our lives. We rose early and went to bed early; indeed, the house operated its
own time (HST ) – two or three hours ahead of GMT if I remember correctly. We really were a 11
Our days were filled with prayer, the liturgy, lessons, meals, chores, recreation and occasional
outings. We prayed the Divine Office – the official prayer of the church. So there was Matins 12
first thing in the morning, Lauds after breakfast and chores, Sext at midday, None in the
afternoon, Vespers in the evening and then Compline just before retiring. Meditation followed
Matins and then we went up to mass in the splendid woodenbeamed chapel.
A twenty minute period of ‘spiritual reading’ followed
mass and then it was down to breakfast continentalstyle
with lovely French bread, butter and jam – all with a large
bowl of coffee; bizarrely, the English novices (only) were
permitted breakfast cereals. No speaking was allowed
during meals – instead an improving spiritual book was
read out loud. Chores came after the meal and then we’d a
short break up on the gravelcovered playground beside the
zaingo . We English boys usually played football at this 13
time and there was always a group of French lads who
joined in too. Some French novices were country boys with
large boots and little experience of the game, so one had to
be careful in tackles. After the break, we went down for
Former chapel, now a hall at Highlands.
The three of us would repair to our own study where our novice master would take us for classes
until lunch time. We’d begin with Lauds at 9.00am (HST) and then settle down for a lesson on
some aspect of the spiritual life. There was a break for recreation midmorning – something we
all looked forward to – and we played a wide range of games such as football, drapeau, handball,
softball and so on. We encountered lots of unfamiliar games and sports during the year – most of
Then it was back to the study for more classes until lunch time. Despite the privations we
experienced that year, food was not one of them – quite the contrary. There was a group of
Spanish nuns on site who saw to the cooking and laundry. And could they cook? You bet they 14
could – we ate like princes! Nothing at the juniorate could compare with this grub. Lunch was
eaten in silence and a spiritual book was read aloud to us. The dining room comprised several
long refectory tables and we sat at these on benches. There were the usual condiments on the
table but additionally there were baguettes and drinks such as water, orange squash and –
excitingly for us – bottles of cider. All of us ate with a vengeance.
HST Highlands Summer Time (my own appellation).
Matins was the first prayer of the day in the Divine Office. Other prayers were said at different times of the day in order with the
aim of rendering the whole day holy.
The zaingo was the building clad in corrugated metal behind the main Highlands building.
I remember these nuns floating around in their blue habits. They did our laundry and cooking (great cooks apart from the pigs’
trotters on Thursday nights). They also looked after the sacristy. They never spoke to us but would leave notes. One of the
washingup jobs was 'les marmites'. That was washing the pots and pans the nuns had cooked with. If they were not washed to their
satisfaction the next day there would be a note waiting for you when you went in to tell you so. Normally you were on ‘les
marmites’ for a month but at the end of my month the duties rota was rejigged and by some strange turn of fate I ended up doing a
second month. (Jimmy Coffey)
Chores followed lunch and then another recreation; back for prayers to the study and then an
afternoon activity of some kind. This varied according to the day; sometimes it was further
manual chores, or a practice teaching session where a novice would take a sports lesson of some
kind, or it could be an afternoon walk or even a swim out by Green Island.
Evenings began with Vespers and then the novice master left us on our own to undertake
spiritual reading in silence, of course. In turn, one of us would be appointed to be in charge of
the other two; if one wanted to do anything other than sit quietly at the desk, one had to ask
permission of the colleague in charge (even for calls of nature). These sessions tended to be slow
and boring. The exception was when Bro Augustine – an English brother who was doing his
great novitiate at the time – came over and talked to us about his travels in Brittany. He’d had
several weeks’ leave in August and toured all round the brothers’ houses taking slide
photographs as he went. One evening a week over a period of almost a term, he’d come to our
study and show his slides and talk about the places he’d been to and the brothers he’d met. After
the novice master’s dull classes, Bro Augustine’s lively travelogues were a godsend. Finally
we’d go down to the refectory for supper, then chores and a short stroll around the playground.
The day concluded with saying Compline together; then it was off to our rooms for sleep.”
‘ Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
A constant theme in religious formation was the need to pursue virtue – to be aware of
our wrongdoings and shortcomings and to seek to overcome them; great stress was laid
on this in the novitiate. Since the juniorate years the evening prayer concluded with the
“Let us think of our last ends. At any moment we may die and enter into our
eternity. At death we shall be judged according to our works. If we die guilty
of even one single mortal sin . . ..”
This prayer preceded the beginning of the ‘magnum silencium’ (the great silence)
which was to be maintained until permission was given to speak the following day. The
idea of the silence was to facilitate reflection on our spiritual well being. The novitiate
devoted lots of time to this kind of soul searching. To aid the same process time was set
aside on the first Sunday of each month for what was known as monthly recollection a
thorough examination of conscience giving rise to a renewed commitment to do better 15
and pinpointing one area to be a resolution for the coming month.
Each day during the midday Office ‘Particular Examen’ took place. This was a few
minutes set aside to reflect on how well we had done regarding our resolution made at
the previous ‘monthly recollection’. We would then record a mark out of ten to plot our
progress in notebooks reserved for that purpose.
To help us even further with selfimprovement we had “fraternal correction”; this
consisted of other people pointing out your shortcomings and where you needed to
improve. It was a group exercise and so the six or so brothers who sat together for
meals would list each other’s failings and then once a week in the evening, whilst
strolling to and fro on the yard outside (now a car park), they would take it in turn to
inform the others of their faults. No discussion was permitted – there was no counsel for
the defence; the observations made about you were to be accepted and acted upon.
The final and perhaps most scary exercise aimed at our spiritual development was
monthly ‘spiritual direction.’ This was a formal, individual meeting with the master of
The examination of conscience is a classic spiritual exercise in which one reviews one’s thoughts, actions and words and
considers whether one has in any way broken the moral law or the Rule of the Order.
novices during which he would question us about our development as novices.
Uncomfortably we had to tell him what we thought our weaknesses were and even
more uncomfortably we'd to reveal to him those criticisms that had been voiced by
others during fraternal correction. As if that wasn't enough, the master of novices might
add his own opinion regarding our areas for improvement. The interview was a
When asked by the novice master if there were any issues or concerns I wished to
discuss to avoid yet more criticism I always said everything was fine, fearing that
anything volunteered might rebound and be used against me in a future meeting. These
exercises of selfexamination were perceived at the time to be a necessary part of
preparing for the religious life; however an overemphasis on selfexamination could
leave one feeling unworthy of the calling we were supposed to have. The antidote to all
this introspection I found, was maintaining a good sense of humour.’
“Although we got along well, inevitably cultural differences existed between the two groups of
novices and this led to some surprised reactions on either side. Personal hygiene, for instance.
We were only permitted one shower a week – a meagre ration for young lads playing sport every
day. The shower room (a large room with separate cubicles) was in the zaingo and you needed to
know the drill or you could be stranded with a soapcovered body. Frère Michel would give the
first call of “Eau chaude” and warm water would flow out of the showerheads for a couple of
minutes; then the water stopped and the instruction, “Savonezvous” (soap up!) was given.
Finally, “Rinsezvous” was the last stage and the showers came on again and the novices sluiced
the soap from their bodies. One of us (Jimmy Coffey) got into a bit of a tangle with this
procedure on the first occasion and wound up covered in soap at the end of the cycle!
Brian Slattery reports that Jimmy wasn’t the first English novice to get into trouble over the
showers . At the start of his novitiate, John Melody ran into the same difficulty. Brian could hear
from two cubicles down where a soapsudden John let out a strangled cry of, “Encore s’il vous
plaît un peu d’eau!” Happily Frère Gildas the deputy novice master obliged.
Views about appropriate sports clothing was another area where we differed with our French
colleagues. One afternoon we went out to some open space (with grass) in St Helier to play
football. We three English boys got into our shorts and shirts for the game whilst the French lads
merely rolled up the sleeves of their shirts but kept on their everyday clothes. The reaction of our
confrères to our kit was one of confusion – they thought we were playing in underpants! On our
return, our novice master had to reassure the other novitiate staff that we were dressing properly
i.e. accepted UKstyle.
There are a number of things in my novitiate year that were really good experiences and have
stayed with me. Christmas was celebrated in the English way in our study – whereas there was
little evidence of the festive spirit in our confrères’ study. Our novice master was adamant about
this. I can still remember that delightful afternoon on Christmas Eve, listening on the radio (our
one and only time that year) to the carols and lessons from King’s College and fabricating our
own decorations from tissue paper. When we had finished, the study looked a treat funny isn’t
it, how much pleasure one feels when so little luxury is available?
Grattan O’Brien also remembers a similar very English incident during his novitiate.”
‘One morning in the summer of 1957 we looked out from our study window to see the
royal yacht at anchor in St Aubin’s Bay. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were
their Royal Tour. The itinerary included passing along the road next to the college
grounds. Preparations were in hand to decorate the outer wall and gateway where the
Queen was to pass.
We prepared great banners with lettering a foot high “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” and
“GOD BLESS THE QUEEN” these were hung on the wall where the Queen was to
pass. In the gateway we erected a stand with a huge crown and velvet cushion. We all
waited on the pavement for passing of the royal party. It was a great thrill when they
came. The English cheered, the French applauded and cries were heard “God save the
Queen”. The Queen waved and smiled at us. Later we all agreed, both English and
French that we had done our bit to welcome the Queen to Jersey.’ (Grattan O’Brien)
Every day we had a period of manual work in the afternoon and at the end of it we
returned to our study to pray Vespers and then we would come out again for a session
of physical education. In one corner of the yard there was a metal structure with ropes
hanging from it. In the same corner was a long jump pit with the runup starting down
by the statue which overlooks the present car park. This was the sum total of our PE
equipment apart from a collection of rocks from the beach referred to as ‘balles de
jonglage’ – these were used like weights to do physical jerks with.
Each novice had to take his turn in leading the PE lesson and on the afternoon he was
doing it he was excused manual work to prepare. When it was my turn I struggled
thinking of things to do with the added complication of having to translate the
instructions into French. By the end of the work session I had run out of time, failing to
have carried out the translation. On the way into Vespers I rushed into the office of the
master of novices and asked if he would translate the instructions for me. When he
came in for Vespers he passed me a piece of paper which I put in my cassock pocket as
After the Office I ran out to get changed and appear in front of the ranks of young men
ready for action. We did a few preliminary warm up exercises with the balles de
jonglage and then I pulled from my pocket the piece of paper which contained the
master class. To my horror I couldn’t read a word of the master of novices writing. In
my best French I uttered in a loud voice ‘Suivez moi’ and set off running. We ran
around the property for the next half hour with me constantly checking my watch
desperate for the lesson to be over.
After the session Bro Michel, the submaster of novices, complimented me on my
lesson – I don’t think he would qualify today as an OFSTED inspector. However, this
was probably my first lesson in the need for improvisation to survive in teaching.’
Every six weeks or so we’d have a full day’s outing and all the novices with Frère Michel (sub
master) would go out to some remote part of Jersey for the day. I say remote – what I mean is,
remote primarily from the opposite sex. This meant we went to the rougher parts of the coast
such as Bouley Bay in the north or St Catherine’s in the west – we went where there were cliffs
or rocky places or beaches where no one in their right mind would want to swim. Nonetheless
these days out were marvellous breaks. I can still remember saying the Divine Office (breviaries
were bussed in at midday with the grub) and sitting praying together on the rocks above the
pounding waves. Magic.”
‘Où est mon béret?
Et allongeons la jambe, Anatole,
Car la route est lonongue.
What the neighbours made of it, Heaven knows! Every Monday afternoon in the 1950s
thirty young novices would file out of the main gates of Highlands College in a long
line, three abreast, led by Brother Gildas, the submaster of Novices. We were heading
off on our weekly walk. Dressed in sombre trousers and jackets, we must have been an
odd sight as we headed downhill to Bagatelle Road or uphill towards Five Oaks. In my
year the Novice group was made up of 28 young Breton boys and 4 of us from England.
Highlands, the headquarters of an order of Breton Teaching Brothers, was like a
transplanted bit of Brittany. They even kept Breton time, ignoring the British Summer
change of hour. The Breton novices were completely comfortable with all this, wearing
their wooden sabots, speaking their French and Breton language (they pronounced Five
Oaks Feeve Oowacks), while we young Brits felt like strangers in our own land.
So it came as no great surprise when, just before setting out on our first Monday walk,
we were issued with a beret just like the ones all the Breton Novices had and the one the
French onion sellers back home used to wear with an inch long stalk in the centre of the
crown. We’d line up in front of the main building and one of the novices would shout
‘En avant!’ (Forward!) and we’d shout back, ‘Pour le Christ!’ (In the name of Jesus!).
The file would move briskly through the gates and soon we’d be clear of the built area
of St. Saviour and into the country lanes. That’s where one of the novices would
suddenly burst into a French marching song and everyone would join in at the top of
our 17 yearold voices, striding forth to the beat of songs with lines like:
Dix kilomètres à pièd ça use, ça use
Dix kilomètres à pièd ça use les souliers .
Nous sommes des carabiniers
La sécurité des foyers
Mais par un malheureux hasard
Nous arrivons t’jours en retard
I imagine the farmers working the fields and catching sight of our berets bobbing along
just above the hedgerow perhaps cheered by the singing setting their watches by our
song and tramping feet. Most days we’d walk about ten miles and occasionally the trek
would stretch up to fourteen along the lovely Jersey seascapes.
On reaching the Highlands gates, tired and ready for food, we’d hang our berets on their
pegs where they stayed till the next Monday. I became quite attached to mine and was
most disappointed at the end of the year when we were asked to hand them back. I
sometimes wonder what happened to my beret. I’ve never seen a single photo of any of
us in our berets. Still, mustn’t grumble. I bet every one of us can remember the words of
those French songs and maybe more than a few of Highlands neighbours can too!’
(Jim Howley, novice from 195758)
“The sport was welcome, competitive and varied. I loved all those different variations of drapeau
– simple, double, prisoner, bridge, random call. Football games were fast and furious; to make it
more 'interesting' several balls were usually in play at the same time. The surface of the
playground was quite dangerous at the edges and one had to be careful not to trip on (or kick) a
hidden lump of concrete. Only one French lad showed a consistent dislike for us English boys
and as he fancied himself at football, we felt we always had something to prove when playing
against him. Not surprisingly, we were all incredibly fit that year.”
‘I loved the sport at Highlands and grew quite adept at tennis, always trying to get the
best racquet. I recall the afternoon collation, where we had lovely bread and la
confiture, with large old fashioned real glass bottles of cold CocaCola. Also in respect
of food which was always top notch, the Spanish nuns made rice pudding with Jersey
cream which I to this day treat myself to at home sometimes.’ (Pete Finnerty)
“The French lads were great; they were so welcoming and interesting to talk to. If the three of us
had been on our own in Jersey, I wonder whether any of us would have completed the year – the
boredom, the silence and the oppressive discipline would have been difficult to sustain without
the cheerful company of our French counterparts. And of course through our exchanges with the
other novices we learned something of the French character – and of course their language.
Something very useful to take away after Highlands.”
‘The French novices were a pleasure to be with and I remember many walks with them,
and discussions about our monarchy and Napoleon and our different cultures. They
always marvelled at our English calmness and often tried to startle us by clapping their
hands in our ears and making loud sudden noises and movements behind us. A good pal
was Frère Joseph Le Goff and also Hervé Goudy. Sadly they are both unwell but
remain in the brothers. I cannot wait to be reunited with Jo Le Goff in Jersey on 6th
June 2015 and hopefully my French will come back to me.’ (Pete Finnerty)
“The mass and the liturgy in the chapel were excellent as was the organist; we sang a lot of the
medieval Latin Gregorian chant as well as lively French hymns. And I gained an initiation into
personal prayer that has served me ever since.
Not everything was great that year, however. I found our daily classes to be worthy but
undemanding. By contrast, we were all rather jealous of the French novices who appeared to
have much a more interesting and challenging curriculum. Indeed, our novice master gave a
weekly class in moral theology to the French lads and the novices raved that it was a lively and
humorous affair. We wondered how come our classes weren't like that?
In an important year like the novitiate, guidance of the aspirant is crucial, yet I felt this was quite
lacking in my case. Our master of novices was ascetic but distant. It was very difficult to share
one’s thoughts or concerns with him, so instead of receiving sensitive direction, my Jersey
experience was a kind of lonely “Teach Yourself The Spiritual Life.” To be fair, I learned
afterwards that other novice masters were quite different from ours more approachable and
supportive of their charges, so I wouldn’t want to characterise my experience as typical of all
During that year my brother Liam married and emigrated with his new wife to Canada; sadly, I
was unable to be present at their wedding. I should have liked very much to attend but I was told
it was not permitted during the novitiate year. My parents celebrated their their silver wedding
anniversary that year also and my inability to be with them was another regret for me.”
‘After Highlands, my group went to Dublin for 3 years and I attained a Diploma in
Education. I left the Brothers and a few months later returned to England as my father
was being treated for lung cancer. He died 3 months later. How I regret all those years
being absent from him and not having the chance to explore his life and wartime
experiences. I was 20 and he was 49.
I discovered that in order to teach in England I would have to study for another 2 years.
I joined the police instead and have had a great life. I will never forget the Highlands
experience which has partly made me who I am and dearly value the comradeship that
is growing amongst former novices, albeit on a totally different footing to that
experienced in Jersey and elsewhere.’ (Pete Finnerty)
“I grew to like Highlands and Jersey a lot – although I am ambivalent about the novitiate
experience. My postulancy (19645) provided me with plenty of happy memories of the island
and, in addition to a couple of short periods spent there with the other scholastics, I also worked
one summer holiday (in 1971) alongside Bro Hubert. My duties were mainly housekeeping ones
such as driving people to and from the airport, preparing their rooms and the like. I found it to be
fun and easygoing – not least because I could go to the beach in the afternoon when I wasn't
I haven’t returned to the island since 1971 I guess I shall feel quite nostalgic visiting the place
where I spent some of my formative years. I’m looking forward to it!”
My first view of Highlands College in 1956 should have been inspiring but, as far as I can
remember, I was still suffering the effects of sea sickness from the previous night’s very rough
ferry crossing from Southampton. In the days that followed the five of us, soon to become four
with the departure of Ged Steele, had to accustom ourselves to a strange new environment: new
routines, a new language in which we were hardly proficient, new confreres outnumbering us.
I’m sure, but for the fatherly care of Brother James Messier, it could well have been too much.
I think, right from my first days at Cheswardine, nothing had really phased me; so this new
“adventure” was yet another chapter in the progression of what would eventually end in my
profession as a religious brother. We soon became aware of other communities existing
sidebyside in the College; communities which came together once a day for Mass and then
from time to time on special religious high days. Besides our small group and the larger one of
French novices, there was the senior members of the administration, comprising the Superior
General and his Assistants; a group of some 30 mature brothers from a cross section of the
Order, referred to as the Second Novitiate; and a number of Brothers who made up the stable and
resident community and who saw to the general running and maintenance of the College. And,
of course there were the Spanish nuns who prepared such wonderful food.
And so began a daily schedule of prayer, work, recreation, meals and sleep; a routine which kept
our minds and bodies busy and focused, and as I recall, happy. Two personal episodes which
remain with me: during one of the occasions when we met with the rest of our novitiate group
we were given some instructions about: “Le grand cabinet” et “le petit cabinet”. Mulling these
phrases over in my mind I couldn’t work out which of the toilets were bigger than any of the
others. I subsequently decided that this was the French euphemism for our long and short calls.
The next event happened in the refectory when it was my turn to read. I was recounting the story
of the Prodigal Son and had reached the part where the father was welcoming his son’s return.
He kissed him and ”Il mit un anneau (a ring on his finger) sur son doigt “ only I read “Il mit un
agneau (a sheep) sur son doigt.” The whole room exploded with laughter and of course I
couldn’t understand why.
I hope others like me will have happy memories to recount, more than I could possibly relate
here, but I’m sure we’ll hear many more during the coming weekend. Looking forward to
meeting in this special place and recalling those like dear Mel who will be with us in spirit.
More personal reflections on a Jersey novitiate
‘A Year in Jersey’
Deep in the Shropshire countryside surrounded by the sound of
woodpigeons and the sight of the colourful pheasant,
then flown to a gem in the sea with the squawk of the seagull and the hum
of St Helier rising up to the grounds of Highlands.
The imposing set of buildings with long corridors and grand staircases.
Early mornings punctuated with the sounds of plain chant and periods of
Meals eaten to the accompaniment of readings to enlighten the mind and
strengthen the spirit.
Creamy Jersey milk, French bread, patés, and rough Breton cider, new to
the English palate.
Long walks to and from beautiful bays and the joy of riding the waves of St
Ouen, Greve De Lecq and the like.
Reciting the Office on cliff tops, decorated with the green and yellow gorse
bushes, prior to a welcome picnic washed down with strong black coffee.
Picking strawberries with an aching back, peeling vegetables and stripping
corn cobs whilst overlooking Fort St Elizabeth and the boat arriving from
England in the early morn.
The blockhouses and gun emplacements of a recent intruder leaving
memories of hardship to the natives.
An unused hospital testifying to man’s inhumanity to man and hiding in its
walls terrible secrets.
The Battle of Flowers with the Red Arrows approaching from the sea,
flying low over Highlands leaving their streams of red, white and blue.
Another plane journey and back to landlocked Ches with its silence save
for the pigeon’s coo!
Reflections on religious formation at Highlands
One of the concerns in creating this account is not really whether it is accurate or not there is
little doubt that the authors’ contributions here are authentic but whether the novitiate 16
account described here is typical of the experience of others going through similar training
elsewhere. To allay doubts it is necessary to turn to other sources to see if they confirm or
challenge what is written here.
It turns out that there are indeed any number of personal accounts that people have written about
their experience of undergoing religious formation, e.g. Armstrong, 1982; Cornwell, 2007;
Leavy, 2012. From the research literature I found two texts written by O’Donoghue, 2004 &
2012 to be especially helpful particularly with respect to teaching religious brothers into which
he had undertaken significant study over several years. I found that many of the key issues
related anecdotally in the text of this book certainly resonate strongly with what research tells
us. A few of them are discussed here to reassure the reader that this book does indeed describe
religious formation with reasonable validity.
There is no denying that the ethos of the Jersey novitiate was strict. “One of the most
distinguishing characteristics of the life of the teaching brother, as with all fellow religious, was
that it was conducted within a very authoritarian framework.” (O’Donoghue, 2012). Armstrong
(1982) a former nun claims that obedience was achieved by breaking “down the will and the
judgement of a religious so that he (sic.) unquestioningly accepts the will of God as it is
presented to him through his superior.” In the literature there are some pretty humiliating
examples of obedience tasks novices have been required to undertake especially amongst
female religious. But, although our regime was authoritarian, Jersey novices were never
required to undertake degrading tasks.
There was little encouragement to critical thought in our lectures; the focus was on hearing and
doing; this apparently was typical of much religious formation. O’Donoghue (2012) from his
researches concluded that, “Critical debate between the brothers was discouraged, as was
critical debate among the students they taught in class.” One incident during my novitiate 17
illustrates this absence of critical debate. During a lecture on the subject of vocation one of my
fellow novices proposed exploring the nature of vocation through a comparison of the religious
life, the priesthood and the married state. His idea was immediately refused by the novice
master for his suggestion such an exploration was evidently considered inappropriate;
unwisely in my view. One would have thought the novice year was precisely the time to explore
such a theme.
The brothers rightly placed great importance on the need for harmony in their communities and
had identified accurately that exclusive friendships posed a potential threat to this harmony.
However, the way of dealing with this issue was heavyhanded in the novitiate year; although in
adopting this approach the novice master was following a well trodden path. O’Donoghue
One can never be absolutely sure of accuracy of course but personal accounts reported here have been drawn from a wiki where
participants’ communications have been read and responded to by others who have undergone the same or similar experiences.
The editor is referring to his novitiate.
(2012) writes, “A brother was trained to be suspicious of himself if he ever found he was
inclined towards establishing a friendship with a peer.
‘Brothers shall guard against all personal friendships, because such friendships are not
only hurtful to common charity, but even those which are innocent in the beginning,
often degenerate into sensual and criminal friendship.’ [Marists Brothers Rule] ”
The Marists weren’t the only order to insist on this; to avoid special friendships developing,
novices with the Irish Christian Brothers, for example, were forbidden to walk out in twos; there
had to be a minimum of three novices to each group. Perhaps it was fear of scandal ‘criminal
friendship’ as much as damage to community harmony that the novice master had in mind
when warning us against developing particular friendships.
Deciding to leave
The issue of whether one had a vocation was dealt in a rhetorical way in lectures; the impression
given was that you were now wearing a cassock, so you had a vocation! O’Donoghue writes
that, “various practices operated within the cloister which made it difficult for anyone
contemplating leaving to do so.” And if a novice did in fact leave the brothers, it would
certainly have been considered a failure or something to be ashamed of. This attitude continued
amongst the brothers for a long time afterwards; fortunately today, a more enlightened attitude
prevails and former members are welcomed back with a better understanding and appreciation
of their life choices.
Anything to do with the opposite sex was simply never talked about; indeed anything to do with
sex was never spoken of, so novices received no sex education of any kind whatsoever not
even from their peers who found themselves in a state of similar ignorance. Modesty at
Highlands was maintained by means of the cloister walls, the avoidance of places where women
bathed and the total absence of radio and TV. In creating this environment, the brothers were no
different from other religious orders of that period.
Speaking of his time with the Irish Christian Brothers, Leavy(2012) writes, “While I am aware
that I emerged from the Brothers’ houses of formation in reasonable emotional and
psychological condition, I am conscious of the fact that many others, both those who left and
those who remained, weren’t so fortunate and had to face life in a damaged state, with
sometimes disastrous results.”
The contributors to this book are those who look back (mostly) with affection on their
experiences with the brothers; they are the ones who have come through the religious formation
process with equanimity. However, it is undeniable that there are probably some who suffered
under such a strict and unnatural regime that was in denial of some of young people’s important
emotional and psychological needs. Training with the brothers may have been arduous, but for
those who coped with religious formation there were real gains. The excellent education and
extracurricular opportunities received proved lifechanging for many and provided
subsequently a solid foundation for future careers.
Returning to Highlands
It’s hardly surprising that former novices should want to come back and see Highlands College
again; indeed, that is in part the raison d’etre for our 2015 reunion. Three accounts of earlier
visits to Jersey are given here which, it is hoped, will give a sense of how the College was
organised in the 1950s and 60s.
Fortieth anniversary visit
In August 2006 a group of French brothers
celebrated their 40th anniversary of the
religious life. As part of their formation they
had studied for a year in Jersey from
196667 together with three English novices
i.e. Paddy Monaghan, Jimmy Coffey and
To make the occasion special, several of the
brothers from Brittany decided to go back
and visit the place where they undertaken
their novitiate; none had been to Jersey in the interim and so they were looking forward to what
they would find. Like other visitors with links to the brothers, the staff at Highlands College
received them well and the brothers were able to take a relaxing tour around the campus. They
were delighted with the visit and it brought back many happy memories.
Like others before me, I visited Highlands College
last year and received a warm welcome and a bit of
a tour. Below are some of the photos I took which
may awaken some memories.
I was looking for Belle Vue (a curved stone wall at
the bottom end of the property but I couldn't find
it). The photo shows what in my time was the
English Novices’ study.
As described elsewhere, fellow novice John had
spent a year in Jersey simply going to school and had told Paddy and I about the swimming and
the bike rides etc. In our naivety we thought that is the sort of thing we were going to do.
Nothing could have been further from the truth! First names were out and we were required to
address each other as Bro Patrick, Bro James & Bro John and each week one of us was in
charge of the other two.
This photograph shows the two underground
passages from the main building. The floors of the
corridors were of a linoleum kind of finish and you
would get scuff marks on them from polished shoes.
One of our housework chores was to painstakingly remove the scuff marks using one of those
green scrubbers used for washing up. In our day the sloping ground had been planted with
strawberries by Bro Marie Bernard and picking them was backbreaking. And all the borders
were planted with red geraniums which Bro Marie Bernard would bring out in spring and take
back in again for the winter.
Here we are looking down towards the archives and the
congregation’s Admin Centre cum residence for the
Superior General and his Assistants. We didn't often
venture down there. One memory is being on retreat in
Jersey after my first year in Liverpool which I loved
mainly due to the football team we had. Towards the
end of the academic year there was always a worry that
you might be transferred to another community. It was
now near the end of the summer holiday so I thought I
had escaped a move.
On the last day of the retreat I was called down to the Admin Centre by Bro Patrick, the
Assistant for England. I walked the long corridors racking my brains as to what I might have
done wrong to be called to such an interview. However, it was simply to tell me that on my
return to England I would be leaving Liverpool for Southampton. In the true spirit of obedience
I thanked him for the information and left his office devastated inside what I had dreaded had
When I visited the college I asked them if I could visit the chapel. They said they didn't have a
chapel but they had a great hall. So I asked if I could visit that.
Now a tarmac car park, this was once our play area
which was a stony dirt patch that ripped the soles of
your pumps (plimsolls) to bits. I remember the
frustration of playing 16 a side and having to play with
two balls. It was chaos! The familiar cry of dégage
was constantly heard as a French novice would simply
boot the ball high into the sky.
One of the manual chores was to tidy this area. I had
the job in autumn which consisted of cleaning up all
the leaves and then retrieving the dirt that had been washed into the gutter at the bottom of the
yard and filling up the rivulets that had been formed in the dirt yard. It was akin to the desert
fathers planting cabbages upside down!
On one of our monthly fullday walks we almost lost
two French novices here. There were big signs saying
‘Do not paddle by the rocks.’ Two French novices
who couldn't swim ignored the signs and as a result
were swept out of their depth by a wave that was
turned back by the rocks. Lucky for them Bro Michael
(Master of Novices) always swam beyond where we were swimming and saved both of them. I
remember swimming alongside him and witnessing the terror in their voices as they asked were
we nearly there.
In the time of the Jesuits at Highlands College, there was a disaster at Portelet an account of
which is to be found in ‘A History of Highlands College’ by Eileen Nicolle. Members of the
choir were taken out for a swim as a reward for their hard work in rehearsals. Tragically, a swell
carried off the pupils and teachers and eight of the boys were drowned (July 7th 1915). The
inquest's verdict was accidental drowning but the jury added the comment that the person
responsible for the safety of the boys had committed "a grave imprudence in allowing them to
bathe in a spot without ascertaining whether the spot was free from danger" (Jimmy Coffey)
Armstrong, K (1982) Through the Narrow Gate, Pan Books
Cornwell, J (2007) Seminary Boy: A Memoir, Image
Leavy, L (2012) A Broken Hallelujah. The Making of a Christian Brother. History Press Ireland
Nicolle, E (2000) A History of Highlands College, Highlands College Press
O’Donoghue, T (2004) Come Follow Me and Foresake Temptation: Catholic Schooling and the
Recruitment and Retention of Teachers for Religious Teaching Orders, 19221965,Verlag Peter
O’Donoghue, T (2012) Catholic Teaching Brothers: Their Life in the EnglishSpeaking World
18911965, Palgrave Macmillan
Slattery, B (2015) Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness, Self published
St Francis Xavier School (2015) Brothers of Christian Instruction
Novice groups over the years
Reunion 2015 attendees
John Brownridge Bro. Alain Dubois Marilena Lodge
Bro. Denis Chamaret Pete Finnerty Tony Martin
Bro. Michel Clouet Ann Finnerty Angela Ryall
Jimmy Coffey Jim Howley Ray McTernan
Margaret Coffey Bro. Jacques Jouvance Julia McTernan
Bro. Jack Davis Bro. Joseph Le Goff Grattan O’Brien
Bro. JeanPaul Denis Bernard Leroy Malcolm Prince
Ivitt Dickinson MarieOdile Leroy Brian Slattery
Natasha Dickinson John Lodge Frank Vincent