“This is a lightly edited version of the main address given by Archbishop Charles Dufour, at the Kingston College Old Boys Association's Annual Reunion & Awards Dinner held Saturday, November 14, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in St Andrew.”
LET me begin by congratulating Kingston College for having reached the significant milestone of 90 years of contributing to the life and development of our nation, Jamaica -- and dare I say -- the world. It is not an accomplishment to be overlooked that Kingston College, so aptly named and dedicated -- is the only school in Jamaica to have received the key to the City of Kingston. The fate of Kingston City and that of Kingston College are inextricably bound together in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Nonetheless, your president, Dr Patrick Dallas, is on record as saying that Kingston College has a responsibility to be intimately involved in any initiative to rejuvenate or re-develop Kingston. That is very much the case.
Congratulations, too, to the KCOBA for your many years of service to your alma mater. Your presence and activities are sometimes misunderstood and even seen by some as controversial, but few can deny your loyalty and dedication to Kingston College and the profound impact of your service to your school over the years. This, and your esprit de corps embodied so much in your "Fortis forever!" creed, make you the yardstick by which all other alumni associations in Jamaica are measured. Thanks for giving me the opportunity as a Roman Catholic to reflect on the founding headmaster of Kingston College and what lessons we can learn from his life to take KC forward for another 90 years and beyond.
Now, I have heard all the jokes and the joshing that are a part of the interplay between two giants of North Street -- St George's College and Kingston College. Some jealous persons who never had the opportunity to attend either have maintained that the only two giants on North Street are the Kingston Public Hospital and Madden's Funeral Home. Obviously, I don't agree with them. As the KCOBA's forays in such events as Roper Cup and, more recently, "Three the Hard Way" with Jamaica College and Calabar High, have shown, rivalry does not mean disrespect or enmity, but can be conducted with a sense of friendship and deep regard and respect for a worthy opponent -- iron sharpeneth iron. You can be proud of the work of the KCOBA with that "Three the Hard Way" initiative as there was a noticeable reduction in pre-Champs violence this year. Such developments are commendable and worthy of applause, for, indeed, they demonstrate that Bishop Gibson's legacy is alive and well with those he left here to carry on his work!
From Anthony Johnson's History of Kingston College, we learn:
On September 8, [1933,] the Kingston College Old Boys Association was launched at the suggestion of the headmaster. The aim is 'for the social, intellectual and moral enhancement of all who have passed through the noble portals of Kingston College'.
When one considers that this was only eight years after the founding of the school, you begin to appreciate even more the foresight of the man Percival William Gibson. He not only founded KC, but he also founded the KCOBA! And, gentlemen, you should always be mindful of the noble aim he had for the KCOBA. You can certainly be proud of the ideals on which your organisation was founded. Congratulations for continuing to show the kind of loyalty and dedication that Bishop would have hoped for!
I met your special honouree, Bishop Percival William Gibson, several times while I was a young man. I remember specifically encountering him one evening at the front door of Webster United Church. What I can tell you of my recollection is that he was a small man but he was a giant of a man. I and others held him in some awe, and his fiery sermons were of note and renown all across Jamaica. His emphasis on honesty and integrity is legendary, and he was never afraid, neither did he tire, to speak out against injustice, especially in his role as member of the legislative council.
He was known to have said he was "the only bishop in Jamaica"! At that time, John McEleney was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kingston. McEleney was not deterred by Gibson's hell raising ways and befriended him. Such was their friendship that whenever they both were invited to the same function one would call the other to check what he was wearing.
Gibson's legacy was carried on by one 'Don T'. Bishop Don Taylor and I became good friends while he was principal at KC. Like Gibson, Don T was committed to educating young men. I remember many a time as a young priest when I could not get a deserving boy into a traditional Catholic high school, I would call Don T who would never fail to take the boy! I remember one time Don T told me: "Just bring a desk and chair and I will take the boy"! Several of those boys who Don T gave a chance are now successful men in all walks of life. Many continue to be grateful to KC and Don T and PW Gibson for the opportunity that laid the foundation for their current successes.
The Catholic Church feels it can take pride in having, in some way, shaped the heart and mind of such a great man as PW Gibson and opened and fostered in him the desire to serve. Would we have liked him to come over to the Catholic Church to serve? Of course! But, in retrospect, it is Jamaica's and the world's gain that we would not be so greedy. Jesuit institutions are renowned for their great commitment to education, and that one with the brilliance of PW Gibson being allowed to enter St George's College -- such as it was at the time -- was remarkable. Gibson's brilliance brings to mind Gladstone Orlando Stanislaus Wilson -- polyglot and polymath Roman Catholic Priest, arguably Jamaica's most learned man. The STGC of today honours Wilson and have honours named for him. Similarly, the Kingston College of today honours Gibson, and there are now athletic games, classrooms and a house at KC, as well as an annual KCOBA lecture, named in his honour. Rightly so.
But I want to ask if these are the best ways of honouring the legacy of a truly great Jamaican? A man who aspired to the highest level of service within the Church yet never forgetting where he came from. Today, there are schools like KC, Glenmuir High, Church Teachers' College and Bishop Gibson High that are monuments to his dedication. These institutions have a responsibility to ensure that they continue to honour his legacy by playing a leading role in developing and nurturing young people of integrity, who will contribute to truly making Jamaica the place to live, work, raise families and do business.
We would like to believe that his time at St George's College deepened in him the desire to serve, presented him with a shaping of his character that showed in everything that he did. The motto of St George's College is Ad majorem dei gloriam -- "to the greater glory of God". It speaks to the centrality of faith in all that we do as a people created by God and the responsibility that we have to ensure that our lives are lived with purpose and meaning only to glorify God, not self. In today's world, it is difficult to live by such a motto, to selflessly go forward recognising the value of our primary relationship -- that between creature and creator.
There is no doubt that Kingston College was special to Gibson -- it was an expression of Gibson's desire to live out his call to answer the greater glory of God. Such was his dedication to glorifying God through service to others that he never married. He remained close to his family, and the evidence is there of him and his sister, Gwendolyn, with help from a friend, purchasing the property -- the old Rectory on East Street -- where Kingston College first opened its doors in April, 1925. There can be no doubt that he was a brave man. It took some bravery to present his idea for a school for boys to his Bishop while he was but a simple priest. It took some bravado to even mention it at a time when the Anglican Church was so strapped for cash that it was contemplating closing down two of its already established schools: St Hilda's in St Ann and St Hugh's in Kingston. It took Fortis for the young priest to stare down adversity and go, relentlessly, after his dream. But Gibson was Fortis -- the first Fortis! (The original front teet, back teet, white teet, no gold teet, Fortis!)
I urge Kingston College and the entire Fortis family to be proud of the legacy of the founding headmaster to create a school committed to turning out Christian gentlemen to serve the nation and the world. These are to be men who value the arts, the sciences and learning. I know that the legacy lives on when I hear of the initiative of the present KCOBA Administration, led by its President, Dr Dallas, to build a Sixth Form of Excellence. I am heartened to learn that this could indeed be a true collaboration between the Roman Catholic Church and Kingston College, with the Church providing the land and KC leading the way in planning, implementing and maintaining a modern Sixth Form oasis of which Kingston and Jamaica will be most proud. This will be no easy feat in a time where the cry is we have no money. Things are tough! I urge the school and the KCOBA to make this dream a reality, and I urge you gentlemen to support this venture as it takes shape. It will be a great contribution in the great tradition of PW Gibson. Many of you here are beneficiaries of his greatness and his fortitude.
On another note, for many and varied reasons, the Christian faith is on the decline in our society and other parts of the world. The reasons are too numerous to discuss here tonight, but certainly, we can see how men and women have lost sight of their foundational relationship with God. We have lost a sense of our "creatureliness". Perhaps we need to remember with the great African theologian and bishop, Augustine (after whom your chapel is named): "You have made me for yourself and my heart is restless until it rests in thee".
"I called you in the womb before I knew you..." My Fortis friends, I speak to you as men -- one man to another -- in a world where being male often means to be perceived as threatening, violent, exploitative. In a world where to take time to be together as men is too often misunderstood. I urge you to reclaim the value and meaning of your manhood in a fashion that truly honours the legacy of PW Gibson. Men of KC should be and continue to be leaders in every sphere of life, beginning with their homes, where they should stand shoulder to shoulder with their partners in relationships built on love and true respect. Understanding ideas of male headship which come to you from Christianity must reflect mutuality and partnership. We must reject any notion that by being men we must dominate others, especially women and weaker men. Women today will not stand for men who want to bully and belittle them. They want and deserve equality and respect. So do not allow yourselves to fall prey to the ways of thinking about and treating women in our Jamaican society that sees them as valuable only for "one thing". Men living the Gibson legacy need female partners that are their equal (and some women would say -- their betters!) With the right woman beside you, you can become your better self.
Home duties are not just for women; child care is not just for mothers. Do not be afraid to love your children and show them the love that they deserve, especially your boys. Yes -- send your sons to KC, so that they, too, can experience the greatness of what Bishop Gibson has wrought. And if all else fails, there is STGC.
Take time out to mentor a young man. Our boys need guidance as too many lack proper male role models or have the wrong kind of role model. Youth is a vulnerable time and a time where young men feel invulnerable. Remember those days? You have learned a lot since then. Be willing to share your experiences so that the next generation of young men can benefit and become even better -- truly brave and never yielding in the right way.
Tell your stories ad nauseum of your days of walking through those hallowed halls at Clovelly Park. And from what I have heard, there are many stories about the man many simply called "Priest". Perhaps my favourite is the one where he corrected a student, who, not knowing Priest was coming along the corridor right behind him, was heard to say to another, "You is a BC, RC eediat!" How that student knew that the other was a Roman Catholic with ancestry dating back before the birth of Christ, I am not sure. Anyway, the offending student was, first, shocked to turn around and see Priest right there, a Priest whose facial expression clearly showed that his tympanic membrane had obviously suffered an assault of profanities. This student was definitely quaking in his boots when the headmaster called him, but was astonished when Priest merely said to him in rebuke, "Young man, not You is... You are!" Sometimes it's all about the grammar.
But unless those experiences and those much loved stories have made you better men, they are but dead memories without substance to give life. Men of Kingston College, eschew mediocrity and strive for excellence in a society where mediocrity is fast becoming the norm. Do not cease to do good even where goodness and kindness are often taken for weakness and someone is just waiting to take advantage of you. Stand up for the right things and be men of integrity even when moral disengagement offers an easy pass.
Remain Fortis strong, live long and prosper, but never forget the life and legacy of that little giant "Priest", who created Kingston College and the KCOBA as great monuments ad majorem dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God).
It was Fortis then. It is Fortis now. Fortis forever!