An old speech I found while tidying up my files ...

Mr McDermott’s End-of-Year Speech: June 2004

This year has been almost biblical in its epic sweep.

The plagues of Chavagnes have been legion. Plagues of serpents. Well, we thought it was a viper, but Mr Baudouin managed to identify it as an ‘orvet’a legless lizard. It had teeth but no venom. And it fell under the thud of my sledge hammer; although I admit to quaking in my boots as I struck.

Plagues of bats; well, many of you had fun hunting them in the dorms, with your towels. The Chavagnes bat hunt might yet become an ancient institution.

Plagues of spiders: they are very picturesque, those spider bites, aren’t they? I’ve never seen anything like it in England. We asked Doctor Chyl what to do about all of your coming out in bumps from the blighters. With typically dry wit, she prescribed a vacuum cleaner. So, next year, we must be careful to hoover more carefully: even the corners of the ceiling and the gaps between the floorboards.

Plagues of mosquitoes: well, they are still with us, and many have the marks to prove it. We have all fallen victim to their thirst in the long watches of the night. At least it means we are all blood-brothers now.

Plagues of frogs – getting up at night and hearing the continual croaking and groaning of Frogs, happily propagating their noisy race down on the lake at the back of the College.

“I will plague your whole country with frogs. The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.”

So says the good book on the subject of frogs. And this has certainly been a good year for them, with our little gallic friends finding their way into every nook and cranny of our establishment. Let us hope that, in welcoming them ever more warmly in the future, you will all improve your French. Next year, we are expecting a few more froggies in our midst. And I hope that Froggies and Rostbifs will learn to live and let live, benefiting from such a splendid chance of exposure to each other’s languages and culture in our wonderful school.

Well, a few departures are on the cards. Inigo – one the temperamental Connollys. They say the Connollys always have to find a wife from another part of Ireland, because of the reputation they have “for the temper they have on them.” I will certainly miss my own dear cousin and very special firebrand, Inigo, who has decided to return to England. We wish you all the very best.

Guy – the whingeing pommes is an expression attributed to the Australians. It’s what they call us Brits. Well I’ll leave all of you who know and love Guy as much as I do to reflect on the ironies of that particular cultural clichĂ©. The only whingeing we are going to give in to today will be to say : “don’t leave us, Guy. We’d love to have you back next year.” [in fact, he did come back…]

The return of the Catholic gentleman ... We have some fine examples of that breed here among us. Alex, yes, Greg; yes, also.

But I would echo a comment made to me by Mr Kelly, that, of all our older boys, one gentleman stands out for his steady, resolved, courteous and manly demeanour. That young man is Joe Millington, whose honesty, good nature and strong sense of duty have been a genuine adornment to the College during his year among us. We will be very sorry to see the elder statesman of the seniors take his leave of us, and we wish him well.

Hilaire Belloc published a collection of poetry under the title of Survivals and New Arrivals, and I suppose those of us left un-thanked all fall into that category: those of us who have fought the good fight, run the race to the finish, and now want to do it all again next year. And then there are those who have read about us in the paper or seen us on the television, and now want to part of the adventure. Well, an adventure it certainly is. It has all the right ingredients too: an undiscovered country, new friends, risk, excitement, originality; and - no doubt – a hint of madness.

Of the new arrivals, we are privileged to welcome one of them already, Mr Paul Jernberg, who is taking over as Director of Studies. Bienvenue, Mr Jernberg. I know that I speak for all the staff when I say that we are all very eager to start working with you, to make this College - so full of promise – all that it needs to be.

Josemaria Escriva whose feast falls today said ‘if you can only dare to dream, then the reality will far surpass your wildest dreams.’ He also suggested that our work should be not just good or even excellent, but HEROIC.

Let’s make that vision our own next year. Let’s commit ourselves to live up to the name of ‘Catholic gentlemen’, and even of ‘Catholic heroes’. After a good, heroic rest of nine weeks this summer, let’s commit to imbuing every one of actions next year with an epic quality. I want to hear you referred to as angels in chapel, tigers on the football field, Einsteins in the lab, Michaelangelos at the easel, Thomas Aquinases behind your desks.

This is what our Lord called us to when he taught us that wanted to us ‘live life in all its fullness’. Even in something that is not your specific gift, pledge yourself to be known for your heroic grit and determination; your will to do your best.

God bless you all.


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