Jim Furlong: School Days

Jim Furlong: School Days

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My father used to tell me school days were the happiest days of your life. What a crock that turned out to be.  I was taught by the Irish Christian Brothers, a teaching arm of the Catholic Church, and despite some experiences and much learned, it was a nightmare. 

Smack Across The Face

I was afraid to go to school because I never knew what awaited me there. It might be a smack across the face for an act of commission or omission, a leather strap across the backside or the hands, or it might be the assorted other physical and psychological terrors that were part of my education. I lived in a permanent state of fear. 

Some of the more difficult moments actually involved watching OTHER boys being beaten. It affects you to watch a teacher smack a classmate across the face over and over and chase him up and down the aisles of a classroom. What was that 12-year-old boy’s great sin? I have no idea, but the look on the Christian Brothers face I will never forget. His face was contorted and his eyes were bugged out in rage. It didn’t have much to do with teaching young boys or with Christianity. 

The first thing that happened when I got to school for grade one was a series of warnings about what Brothers to “watch out for.” I didn’t understand it but as it turns out the warning meant more than who used the strap. It was about who might be touchy feely. One of the biggest warnings was about Brother Lasic. He was transferred the year before I started school, but he was a legend and ended up in jail.

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‘A Few Bad Apples’

There was of course another Brother who was my grade one teacher that I met in later life when as a reporter I was covering court in St. John’s. My teacher was in the prisoners dock and my cousin was actually his legal counsel. I went over and said hello to my teacher before court started. He didn’t remember me. It was many years later and he would have taught thousands of students. He had actually been a very gentle man and one of my favourite Christian Brothers. I liked him. What is slightly funny is that when I first said “Hello” he looked at me with a deer in the headlights kind of look. Maybe he thought I was another accuser. I wasn’t. He had been good to me. 

Now some of my former schoolmates won’t like me saying these things and will opt instead for a more forgiving approach.   

“It’s too bad the reputation of the Irish Christian Brothers was ruined because of a few bad apples.”

I’m not nearly so forgiving of the religious order or of the Catholic Church of which it was a part. Abuse within the Church is like layers on an onion peeling away. The events I talk about are from the mid 1950s. This  is 2018 and it is nowhere near over. With lawyers and investigations and apologies and court settlements; I wonder what Jesus thinks of it all.

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NTV’s Jim Furlong can be reached by emailing: jfurlong@ntv.ca

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