St Peter's College Gymnasium opening

Speech to open the St Peter's College's gymnasium, Auckland
21 Sep 2010

I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the afternoon (Sign)

I then specifically greet you: Bishop Pat Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland; David Milne, Chair of the Board of Trustees of St Peter’s College and your colleague trustees; Kieran Fouhy, College Headmaster and members of your staff; Sean Ginders, Head Boy and fellow students; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen.

It has been a pleasure to accept the invitation to be here for the opening of the St Peter’s College gymnasium.  I have been asked to unveil a plaque to that end, and just before I do I would like to speak of the significance of this event and of the school.

St Peter’s College opened its doors to its first students on 6 February 1939.  From the comfortable distance  of 71 years later, it is difficult to imagine the dark days that the world faced in 1939. 

While the fifth Waitangi Day was held in New Zealand on 6 February 1939, on the same day in London the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the House of Commons that an attack by Germany on France would automatically be considered an attack on Britain.  There was a widespread public sense that war was inevitable and so it was nearly six months later, the Second World War, one of the greatest tragedies our world has experienced, began on 3 September.

That the Christian Brothers and Catholic community of Auckland, led by Bishop James Liston, should choose to establish a new school at this time, speaks of a deep seated faith in the future and in the regard placed on education in developing young men.

Guided by its motto—To love and to serve—St Peter’s College has continued to grow and achieve.  I note that the review of the School by the Education Review Office last year noted that 84 percent of Year 13 students gained University Entrance. This is a commendable result and is a significant indication of teachers' success in meeting the aim of preparing students for tertiary education.  St Peters has an enviable reputation in producing doctors and lawyers and businessmen as well as priests and bishops.

The school has also been well known for the sporting prowess of its students.  As a Sacred Heart College Glen Innes student, I well recall the times when boys from the two schools squared off on the sports field.  There is often a special bit of ginger in encounters between Catholic schools.  In sport this school can be proud of adding names like Dallow, Eastlake, Hafoka, Howarth, Jakich, Kohlahase, Lam, Love, McCahill, McGahan, Mika, Nukunuku, and Vuksich to sporting annals depending on which sport you care to name.

The high quality of the education provided at St Peter’s is reflected in its growth.  From 183 pupils in 1939, the school now has a roll of about 1,200, making St Peter’s the largest Catholic school in New Zealand.

But that growth has also placed pressure on the college’s facilities.  I understand the old gym was built in the 1970s when the roll was just over half that currently here and has been much awaited.

Taking a year to build, this facility, with a floor area of 1000 square metres, reflects the ongoing partnership between the School, the Catholic Diocese of Auckland and wider St Peter’s College community.  I understand this new gymnasium forms part of a wider $12 million school development plan. 

The investment in this new gymnasium and other buildings will, I am sure, serve your school well and will be much admired when your school celebrates its 75th jubilee in a four years' time.

At that time, when the school's alumni return, they will no doubt comment on how St Peter’s College has changed.

But there will also be a recognition that it was the education they received at this school that was an important factor in their later achievements in life.

A good education requires more than just books, computers and examinations.  Healthy minds need healthy bodies. Facilities such as this new gymnasium are important because they provide an outlet for physical education, regardless of the weather.

The point was made well by the French educationalist, Baron de Coubertin, who founded the modern Olympics more a century ago. In support of presenting the Olympic idea he travelled widely and to New Zealand.  Writing of education in New Zealand Coubertin said: "In New Zealand one finds oneself well off to have received in the public schools such a strong physical and moral education.  Muscles and character are there the first object of necessity."

And on that note I will close in New Zealand’s first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours.  No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.

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