By Br Damien Price
When I worked at St Laurence’s there were two very significant members of staff. Neither had been a headmaster, neither had a litany of letters after their names, neither won an OAM (though they probably should have) and neither were rich or famous.
Paul (Woody) Forrester and Br Bon Sherriff were vastly different and, yet, oh, so similar. Woody was a man’s man and great sporting coach, he loved a beer and away from school enjoyed a smoke.
Br Sherriff was as thin as a match, never smoked or swore and could not see what all the fuss was about on the first Tuesday in November.
Yet, the Laurie’s students would walk on burning hot coals for Woody and Bon. Talk about different.
Each November Woody would go to the Headmaster and ask for the classes in the timetable for the following year “that no one else wanted”.
So the following late January Woody would be strutting his stuff in front of Year 10 Ordinary Maths, Year 9 Business Principles and Year 10 Citizenship Education with the occasional Religious Education class thrown in.
Br Sherriff would find himself in late January at Garden City speaking with the managers as to the design, shape and size of his floral carpet in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In May, Br Sherriff truly came alive and over some 10-day period legions of Laurie’s boys would be found carrying to school bunches of flowers from suburbs all over the southside of Brisbane for the floral carpet.
The floral carpet was a huge display, right in the middle of the Garden City shopping centre, with a Marian theme centred around peace, love and hope.
Woody was an extraordinary sporting coach while Br Sherriff was spiritual mentor for the Edmund Rice Society.
Bon was famous for his oft-repeated catchcry: “If I do not challenge you boys, I insult you!”
And his challenge led Laurie’s boys to the St Vincent de Paul Centre at South Brisbane, to the Blind Hostel on Stephens Road and the tutoring of young Aboriginal student at OPAL (One People of Australia League).
Every school and, I suspect, every family and organisation has their Woodys and Bons.
What is their secret? What is their X Factor?
Br Sherriff and Paul Forrester had a profound respect for and belief in each individual that they encountered – especially those doing it tough.
Their mere presence said: “You can do it!”
They expected and got the best out of students. Excuses were foreign to them and to the landscape of the youth they encountered.
When I worked at St Pat’s, Shorncliffe, John Lovett had a similar effect on the students – in the Maths Classroom and on the Cricket pitch.
At Gregory Terrace, students would long to be in Julie Quinn’s Maths B classes.
The same as for Bon and Woody – their unique ability to deeply believe in the power within the person they were encountering.
John and Julie’s mere presence engendered confidence. Their body language and core verbals were positive, challenging, real, authentic and affirming.
In many ways each of them were the personification of the famous English literary character Mr Chips (1939 film Goodbye Mr Chipps) or David Powlett-Jones from To Serve Them All My Days.
When Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery, reached out to touch the leper and the eyes of the blind man, noticed the widow and her copper coin, encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, and wept at the entrance to Lazarus’s tomb perhaps the real miracle worked was that in each encounter, the other was liberated.
Jesus’ presence said way beyond words: “You are beautiful! You are special! You are lovable!”
Jesus’ presence invited a journey inward to believe in one’s inner power.
Woody, Br Sherriff, John and Julie and a million more like them engage in such a way that the other finds their own voice, their own feet and freedom.
What a gift!