Where are they now - Br Laurie Collins
author: Lorrie Liston
The College reconnects with former principal Br Laurie Collins, pictured working in his humble office with a gravel floor in Kenya, who shares many memories of his time at St Patrick’s College and explains his life’s work since then.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
Since completing my 10 years (1992-2001) as Principal of St Patrick’s, I have experienced a remarkably varied and interesting set of opportunities and challenges. These have included one year as the Loftus Professor at Iona College in New York, during which I focused on the topic of ‘The Spirituality of the Principal”, two years as Executive Officer of the Christian Brothers Education Commission that governed all the Edmund Rice Schools in Victoria and Tasmania, one year as Acting Principal of St Joseph’s College Melbourne (with campuses in North Melbourne and Pascoe Vale), six months teaching theology in Kabankalan in the Philippines, and six years in the governance and administration of Province non-school ministries.
My life took an unexpected direction when I accepted a pressing invitation to the position of Principal of Brother Beausang Catholic Education Centre in Embulbul, Kenya. BBCEC had commenced just a few years earlier as a centre for street kids, and was in the process of developing into a formal primary and secondary school. It consisted of tin sheds and dirt floors, and had very few resources. While establishing and building a school in this impoverished area was an extraordinary challenge, I received an unbelievable level of support from many generous donors, and the situation was transformed. Edmund Rice’s famous dictum, “Providence is our inheritance”, once again proved to be true.
During my three years there, we strongly encouraged immersion experiences, and hosted many visitors from Ireland, USA and Australia. These were extraordinarily successful and beneficial, both for the visitors and the school community, which relished the interaction. I am delighted to record that four past students from St Patrick’s from my era (Brenton Carey, Adam Whitefield, Hayden O’Dougherty, and Bernard Wilson) ably contributed as volunteers for a couple of weeks.
What are your fondest memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
The centenary events, including the time capsule, the dinners prepared for their appreciative parents by the first food technology students, the first successful Herald Sun football team, and the major achievements by the music and drama students.
Which staff member (or student) from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you? Why?
James Cornips was a lively Year 8 student who died suddenly from a heart attack on his way home from school. At the request of his father, James’s Requiem Mass was celebrated in the college chapel. The students responded magnificently, entered into the singing wholeheartedly, and formed a most impressive guard of honour. It is my considered opinion that this was a time of great blessing for our college, as the sense of a grieving community was so evident. Today I cannot hear that final hymn, “And the Light Shines On” without being immediately reminded of that special occasion.
What do you think the boys would remember most about you?
The boarders in 1996 would remember a video of a most unusual event - their Principal performing a bungy-jump at Victoria Falls!
Where was your favourite place in the college?
The proud history of St Patrick’s is on display throughout the college: I added the honour boards during the centenary year. The front foyer includes academic prizes won by my grandfather in 1896.
What was your favourite college event?
While there were many entertaining special assemblies, my favourite was when, to the astonishment of the audience, the departing Deputy Principal, Bruce Runnalls, was successfully cloned by a ‘mad scientist’. No one had been aware that Bruce had an identical twin brother!
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
When the BBCEC students voted for a school motto, their overwhelming choice was “Carpe Diem” (seize the opportunity). I think they chose wisely.