The first day of any school year is always an exciting yet anxious time. The thrill of making new friends and meeting new teachers is often tempered with the uncertainty of an unknown and unfamiliar environment (it is a natural and common response for most people in modern society). However, the boys who first arrived at Don Bosco High School on Lysterfield Road (sic) on Tuesday 2 February 1965 were justified in feeling a little more nervous and apprehensive than normal.
The College was brand new. A year earlier, cows were grazing happily in the spot where the new school is now built. It was a meager looking place with six classrooms, a sports room, toilets and lots of dirt in an open paddock of long grass. The 105 students who gathered at around 8:30 am on that hot and dusty morning must have had some mixed feelings. The new principal, Father Bill Edwards, would have understood clearly the joy and anxiety of the boys waiting in the main courtyard for something to happen and someone to lead them. He knew what they were thinking and so he had to make sure that his words and actions would relieve some of their anxieties.
Of course, Father Bill was also a little nervous. As he stood outside his office, on that historic first morning, waiting for the boys to walk through the main gate and up the gravel driveway, he would have been deep in prayer asking for guidance and inspiration. He also noticed that a few of the boys did not have the correct school uniform. Times were tough and school fees often meant that families struggled financially. He had met the parents beforehand and he knew their backgrounds. This was a working class community.
When the boys stood there gazing at the bleak grey besser-brick collection of buildings, Father Bill stepped up to the challenge and made his first tentative steps into College history. In his usual calm, quiet, voice, he welcomed the boys and made them feel at home. He moved around the different groups, sharing a few jokes, asking the right questions, shaking hands with students and parents, reassuring the families that this was going to be a place of great joy and happiness. Of course, Father Bill kept his promise.
Around 9:00 am, the new Principal asked everyone to stop their games and he spoke to them as a community belonging to the family of Don Bosco. His words were soft yet offering great confidence and he instantly gained the respect and attention of all the boys in front of him. As always, he started with a meaningful prayer, gave a few instructions, then finally opened the large double doors of the College for the first time, and proudly led them to their new classrooms.
In February of 1965, there were only three classes: 50 boys in Form One, 33 boys in Form Two and 21 boys in Form Three. Father Bill had only planned for two classes. However, some parents had convinced him of the need to create a Form Three class. He was reluctant but he did not want to turn anyone away.
It was a problem, of course, because there were only two teachers: Father Bill Edwards and Mr Bernie McGrath. Luckily, the classrooms had connecting doors and Father Bill had to develop his skills quickly in teaching two classes at the same time. With the help of the Salesian brothers at Lysterfield, the challenges were met and obstacles overcome without loss of time or learning.
Although a few of the names and buildings have changed over the years, the spirit of friendliness and care for each other has always remained. From the very first day, St Joseph’s College has offered our students great joy and a genuine love of learning that Father Bill Edwards nurtured in the school so long ago. In the same Bosco spirit, what Father Bill wanted the most from his boys was their happiness. He created a cheerful learning environment from the start and this was his greatest success and lasting legacy.
Mr Tony Di Donato
Teacher and former student of St Joseph’s College