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Significant Speeches

Significant Speeches at St Benedict's

Here is a collection of speeches made at various historical events at St Benedict's.

St Benedict's Day 2013

I would like to begin by saying thank you to Bishop Buti, Fr Terry, Fr Tony and Fr Vitalis for joining us to celebrate Holy Mass on this special day: our fifty-fifth anniversary. We are both privileged and humbled by your willingness to be with us.I would also like to acknowledge all those who in small and big ways have contributed to the success of this morning’s mass. In particular, we must thank our RE Departments, our altar servers, the musicians, the technical team and our ground staff. Well done!...

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John Keating's speech to the gala dinner on the occasion of the school's 50th anniversary

What can we recall about the Eighties? They brought us Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, New Order and a handful of gay bands whose names I've forgotten. They gave us big hair and shoulder pads - or at least they would have given us big hair were it not for Monday morning hair inspections. We got our first ever snowfall in the Eighties in September 1981...
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Old boy Fr Justin Wylie celebrated mass with the College and Grade 7 Boys

On Monday,  5 October 2009,  shortly after his ordination, old boy Fr Justin Wylie celebrated mass with the College and Grade 7 Boys in the College Hall. The mass was followed by a tea in the lounge above Basil’s. After tea, Fr Justin spoke to talk to the boys of the Junior Preparatory and Preparatory schools. After the mass, the school presented him with a reversible stole of green and white, with the school badge on green side.
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Old boy Fr Justin Wylie celebrated mass with the College and Grade 7 Boys

This is quite a sensation; let me tell you, to look out at all of you – my brother Bennies boys - after all these years; all these happy memories. To be here among you again – it’s great: but all of you have changed.

You know, I really love this school, and I loved all my friend and teachers at this school: and so, by default, I feel a great deal of love for each one of you, too. I called you my brother Bennies boys a few moments ago, and just pay attention to how important brotherhood is in today’s Gospel. Jesus is walking along the beach and choosing those whom He will set apart as His special friends. Look who He chooses: brothers. First, he calls Andrew and his younger brother Simon, and then He calls James and his younger brother John. To be brother means to be in it together, to be a support for each other. As Jesus comes into our midst at this Mass today, let Him find us to be brothers.
How great it would be to get to know you like brothers, to know where you are from, what kind of family you have, your likes and dislikes, quirks and strengths. It would truly be an honour. What a dream come true it would be for me to be appointed your full time chaplain!

So I’d love to meet each one of you, but there won’t be time. As it is, we have only a morning to get to know each other. It is the custom to receive individual blessings at the end of a First Mass- it comes with a Plenary indulgence – but with so many of you….it would take all day and you’d surely miss all your classes….and we wouldn’t want that, would we? So perhaps the best thing to do would be for the class representative of each class to come up after Mass, and I will bless all of you through your rep.
As time is too short to get to know each of you, I may as well talk about me. We got up to a lot of mischief in my day, let me tell you but we were essentially good boys: especially compared with some of the hooligans in the schools around us. I’m proud to say I never saw or heard of a drug of any sort at this school.

I can’t tell you whether Bennies was the best school in the country back then - nor did I even care – but I knew then, and I maintain even now, that it was the best school in the world for me. I don’t know if Bennies is the best school in Joburg now, nor do I really care: but I really want each of you to feel that it’s the best school in the world for you. That you have somehow been chosen and set apart for something great by having been sent here by your parents, and by the Lord God.
So, in the end I became a priest. I guess I should tell you how that happened. If you speak to my contemporaries, or if you ask Mr Dobson or Mrs Leong (who were here when I was here), they’ll probably tell you they always knew I was going to become a priest. But I certainly did not. I wasn’t by a long shot the clean-cut kid: if I told you the half of the stuff I pulled in those years right here, today would probably be the last invitation I ever got to come back to St Benedict’s! But it’s also true that something was happening to me from the earliest age and they observed it. What was it?
Well. It’s kind of like what the first reading is saying when it has God saying to Jeremiah (who also became a priest, by the way) that “Before you were born I set you aside”. Getting a religious vocation is like this: it is being set aside for something special. You don’t choose it, it just comes to you out of the blue. Like James and John in the Gospel: they were preparing their nets. They were going to be fisherman, and then Jesus came and set them aside, to be fishers of men. What does it mean that priests are fishers of men? It means that the Church is an expert on humanity. What a beautiful and important role to have in the world.

Some of you are being called. The others can go forward to perform their tasks and careers in the world carefree - and Lord knows we need good men in all these fields – but you, no. you are being set aside for something extra-ordinary, and this is your purpose – it’s why you’ve been put on the planet - and it will bug you and leave you unsatisfied and unfulfilled…until you do it.

You may deny it, my friends, but a good proportion of you- whether you like it or not – are being called right now. I know it. I sat where you sit, and you may reject it all you want, but I’m warning  you it will haunt you. The one who is calling you is not one voice among many: it is the primordial voice that called you forth from your mother’s womb (as the first reading puts it), that called forth the mountain ranges and the galaxies of the stars at the beginning of creation. Volcanoes and oceans couldn’t resist this voice, but you will resist? We’ll see. There’s little point in delaying. This is why the Gospel reading of today emphasizes that both sets of brothers - Simon & Andrew and James & John – responded at once, immediately. But take your time if you wish: if the Lord wants you, he will get you.
But whatever you end up doing it will be in the Church. All of you are in the Church, not just those of you with religious vocations. If you become a lawyer (as I was) or an engineer (like many of my friends) or a doctor, or whatever, you will still be a Catholic first. And last: long after your career has faded away, this is what defines you in the end. So if you do not work at being a Catholic doctor, or a Catholic lawyer or engineer or whatever, you are achieving nothing.

This too is your call. Whatever you will do in life – Jeremiah makes it quite clear – it will be by the command of the Lord. You will go “wherever I send you”: you will do “whatever I command you” says the Lord. As far as I am concerned, the mere fact that you find yourself at this great school, by the grace of God and the sacrifices of your parents, means that you are in some way “set aside” for something extraordinary. It is your great fortune to have landed here, but this also becomes, at the same time, your great responsibility. Social immaturity is for others, not for you. The Lord says to Jeremiah, and He says to you “no excuses!” DO NOT SAY “I AM ONLY A CHILD”. Go forth; God will put the words in your mouth.

He says to you: “No fear!” FOR I AM WITH YOU AND WILL RESCUE YOU. What a tremendous promise! I am with you – God Almighty – and I will rescue you if something happens to you. What confidence we can have in this promise! Some people will jump off bungee cranes and tall bridges on the basis of their confidence in a shabby elastic band. Imagine what great things you can attempt and accomplish in life on the basis of far more: you have the promise that God himself will come to your rescue. Be bold! Be daring! Be courageous! Be audacious! Attempt great things!
What are these things? The Lord suggests them when He says: “There will be “uprooting” and “planting”, “tearing down” and “building”. None of that sounds easy – but you are promised the best help of all: that of Almighty God.

Gosh: look at all of you, When I came to the school, it started at standard 2 (grade 4): and I stayed here until matric. We were a small school, not much more than a hundred or so boys at first and you easily knew all the teachers – many of whom were priests and religious brothers. We loved them so much, you know.

How well we knew each other when we were pupils here together! I think I knew just about every person in the school, you even got to know many of the parents of the pupils, and even their sisters – which was a bonus for guys trapped in an all-boys’ school.
To really know a person is such a gift, and let me tell you, you will seldom in your life spend as much time in the company of your friends as you do during these , your school years. I urge you to make the most of it. Look around you: these guys are going to be with you for life. They really are given you as your brother s. They will be you varsity - holiday buddies. They will get you out of serious trouble a hundred times. They will stand beside you at your wedding and will be the godfathers to your future children.

And some of them will be at your death-bed. Life is precious, life is fragile. Nothing is promised to you forever. I have had to bid farewell to Liam Whelan, Stephen Roberts, Stephen McGuiness and Andrew Crous: my dead classmates – dead even before they got to see me as a priest. I’d like to remember them in a special way at the altar today.

I’m telling you:  take it seriously. Life is not just a joke. These are the years in which you make it happen: don’t blow it. You know, you spend a huge chunk of your life at school, and much of the stuff might work on your nerves and so forth, but I can really promise you that these are some of the best times of your life.  So enjoy them. You know that the Lord wants your happiness:  Scripture says that the glory of God is man fully alive. So live you school years with gusto. These are years of character formation, so be formed. Take it as a challenge: embrace it whole heartedly. God bless each of you, and please remember to pray for your priest and Bennies brother - Fr Justin.
Fr Justin Wylie


I would like to begin by saying thank you to Bishop Buti, Fr Terry, Fr Tony and Fr Vitalis for joining us to celebrate Holy Mass on this special day: our fifty-fifth anniversary. We are both privileged and humbled by your willingness to be with us.

I would also like to acknowledge all those who in small and big ways have contributed to the success of this morning’s mass. In particular, we must thank our RE Departments, our altar servers, the musicians, the technical team and our ground staff. Well done!

It’s hard to believe that a full year has passed since we unveiled the statue of our patron saint at last year’s celebrations.

I had an opportunity then to share with you the symbolism of the statue and a small peak into the life of St Benedict. Today, I want to share with you another story about St Benedict. It is the story of the first miracle he performed and I read to you from the narrative of Pope Gregory the Great who documented St Benedict’s life. He writes as follows:  

“When Benedict abandoned his studies to go into solitude, he was accompanied by his nurse, who loved him dearly. As they were passing through Affile, a number of devout men invited them to stay there and provided them with lodging near the Church of St Peter. One day, after asking her neighbours to lend her a tray for cleaning wheat, the nurse happened to leave it on the edge of the table and when she came back she found it had slipped off and broken in two. The poor woman burst into tears, she had just borrowed this tray and now it was ruined.”

We need to remember that in those days a broken tray was a matter to be taken seriously. Neither mass production nor money was common.

Pope Gregory continues as follows:  

“Benedict, who had always been a devout and thoughtful boy, felt sorry for his nurse when he saw her weeping. Quietly picking up both the pieces, he knelt down by himself and prayed earnestly to God, even to the point of tears. No sooner had he finished his prayer than he noticed that the two pieces were joined together, without even a mark to show where the tray had been broken. Hurrying back at once, he cheerfully reassured his nurse and handed her the tray in perfect condition.”

It’s a simple little story, almost laughable to the scientific and rationalist types amongst us. It speaks of things too long lost, of things covered over and made cloudy by our modern lives but what can we learn from it?

It tells us that there is nothing so small that it does not deserve our attention.
It tells us that we must weep with those who weep.
It tells us that every living being has a right to dignity and a right to our protection and our help.

Most importantly, it tells us that we must be menders of what is broken in society, not its judges, nor its mocking observers.

And that gentlemen is the example from the life of our patron saint that I would encourage you to make the focus of your lives, both while you walk the corridors of this school and also once you venture into the wide world that lies beyond the safety of our gates: it is easy to stand on the side lines of society and to judge and mock what we see; it is a far more difficult venture but also a far more worthy and honourable one to bend, pick up the pieces and mend that which is broken. 

And the next time you see a tray, broken or whole, remember that!    

On a lighter note, I will share another story with you. In 2008, when we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary I had a conversation with one of my matric classes about what they thought would be the best way for us to celebrate our golden anniversary. One of the boys at the back chirped that Mr Dobson would celebrate as everything is celebrated at St Benedict’s – with a mass. As I recall we celebrated with not one but three masses that year: one on the 25 January, one on the 11th of July and one on the 12 September. In retrospect, it was all as it should have been.

However, for fear of being predictable, I am pleased to inform you that in addition to today’s mass, we will also celebrate our 55th anniversary on Friday, 13 September by staging the Big Bennies Bash. B-cubed is a open air music concert with performances by some of South Africa’s up an coming artists: Daniel Baron, ChianoSky featuring Ross Jack, The Graeme Watkins Project, Lonehill Estate and DJ Lady Leah! The evening’s entertainment will include a fleamarket, lots of foodstalls and a beer tent!

Entrance is free if you are 6 or younger. Tickets are R100 for teenagers and adults and R50 for children under 12. Golden circle tickets cost R200 per person and there are only 300 those. Tickets will go on sale from the finance office tomorrow morning and Golden Circle tickets will be available from Monday morning on a first come first served basis.

We are hoping that that concert will be such a success that we will be able to repeat it every year and that it will come to rival similar events. While other schools may think that on the night its “hip to be squared”, at Bennies we know it’s hip to be cubed! I want to appeal to you all to support this event and help us grow it into an annual, exciting feature on our calendar!

In closing, I want to pay tribute to those present here today and all those who have precede us over the last fifty five years – boys, parents and staff - I commend you on making ours the best school in town and I wish each and every one of you a very blessed feast day!

John Keatings Speech at the Gala Dinner held on the Occasion of the School's 50th Anniversary
What can we recall about the Eighties? They brought us Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, New Order and a handful of gay bands whose names I've forgotten. They gave us big hair and shoulder pads - or at least they would have given us big hair were it not for Monday morning hair inspections. We got our first ever snowfall in the Eighties in September 1981. Do you remember that day? We all went outside, teachers included and got the rest of the day off after that. How about the annual Academic Mass with the girls from Holy Rosary Convent? What a highlight that was each year. We were like caged animals starved of female company and this event provided us with a legitimate opportunity to check out the other side. I'm sorry to say that the Lord was not front and center of such gatherings and most of us returned home with sore necks from multiple looks in the direction of the convent meisies. We also saw in that generation the introduction of hikes to the Eastern Transvaal, our first student to sweep six distinctions (Duncan Royston) and the reintroduction of O'Leary House.

In the Eighties the School won its first Inter-Catholic Athletic event along with a Transvaal Open soccer win. It was the generation when the school switched from mini-minor and major (Fr. O'Brien's weapons of mass destruction), to the less effective strap of Brother Walsh- he once went around a Std. 9 classroom and managed to miss the outstretched hand of every student- to the deadly accurate cane of one Tony Dobson. The Eighties witnessed the coming and going of standout Headmasters including Fr. Dalton, Father Harten, Fr. Da Sylva and the transfer of administration from the Oblates to the lay Board of Governors headed by Robin Lydall. It was an era marked by political change, by inclusion and progress.

History has already provided ample evidence of the fact that August 7th, 1984 will go down as one of the most important dates in the College's history- on this day Mr. Tony Dobson entered our gates and our lives. Much has been said of Mr. Dobson over the course of this evening but on behalf of the Eighties gang I'd like to offer our own tribute. You know, when you grow up (and some of us are still struggling in this area) you attend a lot of meetings, most of them needless and unproductive. In each of these meetings you come across two types of people: men and women who can see the big picture (they might not be able to dress themselves that morning but they can see way out into the future) and then those that couldn't plan tomorrow's events to save their lives but are very sharp on detail and nitty gritty and the day to day. Tony Dobson is one of those very rare individuals who can think big, see the future but also micro-manage the present. He is a visionary but with remarkable management skills. This school and our generation owes him an immense debt of gratitude. Much of what the school has become is directly attributable to his effective and productive tenure and he has played a giant role in developing St. Benedict's College into the continent's most prestigious private school and a world-class institution!

My friends, there are a handful of documents that we save over the course of a lifetime due to their importance- birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports. I hold in my hand one of the documents that has become the most important to me. It is my St. Benedict's Application Form, and alongside my name- John Keating, date of birth 01-02-1970- is written in untidy, pencilled writing, “Accepted”. I cannot overstate the significance of this acceptance notice. Much of what I consider wholesome and successful about my life I can attribute to the grace of God and the decision of my parents to send my brothers and me to St. Benedict's College. That decision was one of the most important contributors to our character formation. My parents, along with many of yours, did not have deep pockets. They sacrificed in ways I am only starting to appreciate to send us to this school. They had the foresight to understand the positive impact that Catholic schooling could have in our lives. Which is not to say that such education makes its graduates immune from sin, error and “poor choices” as the politicians like to say. But when the chips are down and one looks backward for a sense of stability, renewal and moral guidance, the College looms large in the memory. I am grateful to the the Lord Himself, to the teachers and my parents for the great start in life that we were given through their choice to introduce us to and guide us through this college.

I want to recognize in closing, and before toasting the classes of the Eighties, two important and often forgotten groups: our deceased classmates and our headboys. While the list may not be inclusive, in the former category I know of Jeffrey Yan, Antony Bakos, Michael Prader, Marco Converso, Larry Anderson, Robert Galvin, Graeme Smith, Andy Manna and Athol Melaia. May they rest in peace. In the latter category, would all of the headboys of the Eighties please rise so that we can acknowledge your leadership and the respect that comes with your position as student leaders.

"When the gates close behind me for the very last time, in my heart I shall keep all the memories of mine. All the joys, all the sorrows we shared to the end, united in Faith knowing God is our friend." When these lyrics to the school song were penned I could not realize how meaningful they would ultimately become, but they aptly sum up I hope, the sentiments of the generation during whose time the song was written. And so, would you all please raise your glasses in tribute to the College and in particular the students of the 1980's.

Thank you and God Bless.
John Keating
(Author of the school song)