Thanks to an excellent and informative article and pictorial spread by Haris Zuberi in The Express Tribune, I now know that today (May 6, 2011) one of the schools I studied in – the St. Patrick’s High School, Karachi – turns 150 years old. Congratulations on your sesquicentennial, St. Pats. And many happy returns.
I spent two wonderful years at the St. Patrick’s High School as I moved from city to city and school to school across Pakistan. I took away great treasures from every school I went to, including the Islamabad College for Boys (ICB) where I studied longer than in any other of my schools, but in many ways my two years at St. Patrick’s (7th and 8th grades) were especially formative. Some of those friendships and many of those memories still remain with me. It gave me some great teachers to learn from (Mrs. D’Mello, for one), some great students to learn with, and maybe most importantly the idea that learning happens not just in class but all around you and all the time. Thank you, St. Pats.
Haris Zuberi’s article is worth a read even by those who never went to St. Patrick’s or have memories of it:
Two presidents, two prime ministers, three governors, five chief ministers, three mayors… the list of leaders produced by St Patrick’s High School in Karachi reads like the who’s who of Pakistan and is too long to decently fit into a newspaper article’s introduction. For a school that began with just three students in 1861, that is no mean feat.
… It was initially named St Patrick’s English School when it was founded on May 6, 1861 by Rev Fr J. A. Wily of the Society of Jesus. Its very first student was one Master Caldeira later remembered as Captain Caldeira. School records state that St Patrick’s was recognized as the second Catholic school of Karachi; one had previously been established by the Discalced Carmelites in 1845.
During its first year, St Patrick’s was a co-educational institution but in March 1862 five Sisters of the Daughters of the Cross along with Bishop Steins arrived from Europe and started a separate convent school for girls. Both schools continued to function directly under the management of the St Patrick’s parish priest till 1893 after which the girls section was made entirely independent, and named St Joseph’s Convent High School.
St Patrick’s English School was registered a high school in 1867 and the first student to be sent for Matriculation was one Thomas Duncan in 1869 who eventually stood First Class First in the Bombay Presidency. The Society of Jesus remained in charge of the school for 74 years till June 4, 1935. It was then taken over by the Franciscan Order for 15 years from June 5, 1935 to October 6, 1950. Since then it has been administered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi and has been led by Pakistani principals now under the Catholic Board of Education which also owns and operates St Joseph’s, St Paul’s, St Lawrence’s and the Convent of Jesus and Mary. In 1972, the Bhutto government nationalised St Patrick’s College, which was finally returned to the Catholic Board in 2005.
“Nationalising such reputable educational institutions was one of the worst decisions of the ZA Bhutto government,“ Justice (retired) Wajihuddin Ahmed told The Express Tribune. He takes pride in being a student during the late 1950s and recalled how Father Stephen Raymond, who was the longest serving principal, left a deep impression on all his students.
Another illustrious former student, Javed Jabbar, recalled how he had initially gained admission to St Patrick’s College in 1961 to the Commerce section, while his interest lay in Arts. “Father D’Arcy D’Souza came to my rescue, spoke firmly to my father and persuaded him to allow me to transfer to the Faculty of Arts which I loved,“ Jabbar told this newspaper. “I had the honour of helping win the trophy for St Patrick’s in two debate competitions and also helped produce and edit the college magazine.
We also set up a social welfare group to raise funds for charitable causes… and to get an opportunity to meet girls! The two years were brief but forever enduring in their impact on my life.“
The school motto is the Latin phrase `Per Aspera Ad Astra’ which has also been one of the mottos for Nasa’s space programmes and translates into English as `Through hardship to the stars’.
The original building of the school on its present location was constructed by Rev Fr Jurgens in 1894 at a cost of Rs54,000 of which Rs14,000 were paid by the government as a grant.
The new main school building was completed in 1949 just in time to facilitate the growing number of students as many people migrated to Karachi after partition. The Archdiocese of Karachi was determined to meet the burgeoning needs of education in the independent Pakistan.
According to Principal Father Joseph Paul today the school has more than 5,500 students and 350 teachers and administrative staff.
In 1961, under Principal Rev Fr S Raymond, a memorable centenary celebration was held to mark 100 years of St Patrick’s which was attended by president Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Khan of Kalat. In 1986, prime minister Junejo attended the 125th anniversary.
In June 2005, L K Advani visited while on a trip to Karachi. He had attended the school from 1936 to 1942 and recalled his first meeting with then president Pervez Musharraf, “After learning that he too was a former student, the first subject we discussed was our school and nearly 20 minutes of our 45-minute meeting were devoted to St Patrick’s!“
The same year the school honoured Musharraf. Paying tribute to his teachers Father Raymond, Father Todd and Simon D’ Lima he said, “Their mentoring made a big difference in my life. My brother was a better student, so I would get punished by Mr D’ Lima for not doing as well in Math. Later, I … excelled in it…thanks to those reprimanding reminders I got from Mr D’ Lima!“ He even recalled the spanking he once received from Father Todd, “I wanted to sit on a block of ice after that experience! “Musharraf recalled the spanking he once received from Father Todd, “I wanted to sit on a block of ice after that experience!“
Of course, political figures who went to St. Patrick’s included not just Gen. Pervez Musharraf, but also President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, Indian Minister L.K. Advani, Governor Azim Daudpota, Governor Jam Sadiq Ali, Yusuf Haroon, and many more (longer list here).
Another recent tribute to the school comes from the inimitable Ardeshir Cowasjee, writing in Dawn. Here is an excerpt:
The Irish Fusiliers stationed in Karachi built a chapel in the mid-1850s in the cantonment where now stands another famous school, St Joseph`s Convent, and, in 1861, established St Patrick`s School nearby to cater to the educational needs of the growing `parish` community… St Patrick`s has catered to the wide spectrum of society, regardless of caste or creed: children of Sindhi waderas, Baloch sardars, well-to-do families of Karachi, the middle classes and the poorest of poor, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Scheduled Castes and Parsis. All sat side by side in bright, airy classrooms, acquiring quality education at affordable fees (waiver or reduction of fees was available for the indigent.)
Such was the mission of St Patrick`s and the scores of teachers, outstanding men and women, who made this institution one of the finest in the subcontinent. Living former students remember how teachers focused more on the lessons of life and character-building than the curriculum — amongst the many Patrick Mendes, Ozzie Nazareth, Kathy Gomes, Super Fernandes, Jal D`Souza, Simon D`Lima, Romana D`Mello, Yolande Pinto-Hendersen, Julius Correa, Frs Stephen Raymond, `Punchy` Mascarenhas, Todd and `Tona` deSouza. The school band, scouts and other co-curricular activities were part and parcel of the deal.
One claim to fame was its sports teams and athletes. In 1936, when India was crowned hockey champion at the Berlin Olympics, the school team gave a sound drubbing to the Bhopal Wanderers — more than half of them Olympic gold medallists; St Patrick`s played Peter Paul Fernandes, a member of the Indian team that won in Germany. Winning all-India trophies like the Cabral Shield, the Beighton Cup, the Aga Khan Cup, and the Customs Cup was expected of St Patrick`s — such was the talent, skill and tenacity of the youngsters.
The Ruby Shield and the Pentangulars were also dominated by cricketers from St Patrick`s for many years. Remembered from my school days in the 1940s was Dutch principal, Fr Petronius, who unfailingly sent Jack Britto, an able cricketer who never seemed to grow old enough to graduate from school, to regularly beat our BVS team. Jack, an all-rounder, went on to play hockey for Pakistan in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Wallis Matthias and Antao D`Souza were Pakistan`s test cricketers in the early decades.
The school is blessed with large open spaces and playing fields for cricket and hockey that contributed to its prominence in sports and were formation grounds for its erstwhile champions. These heritage spaces are a valuable sports legacy of the city and need to be maintained and well-utilised.
St Patrick`s has produced a president, two prime ministers, a Nishan-i-Haider recipient, four governors, two chief ministers, scores of federal and provincial ministers, generals, air-marshals, an admiral, two cardinals, a chief justice of the supreme court, chief justices of the high court, judges, Olympians, Test cricketers, prominent businessmen, heads of corporate organisations, and social and celebrity icons. The present administration must address the challenge of maintaining the reputation of the school and the brilliance of its alumni.
Let me end on a personal note. Reading these articles I was compelled to prepare this post not just because of nostalgia about one of my own Alma Maters. What moved me much more was the thought that so much of what we become, we become of the educational institutions we go to; and so many of our educational institutions have so much to celebrate and be proud of; and, yet – as a nation and as individuals – we celebrate them so infrequently and so inadequately.
So, whatever educational institution that you went to and whatever institution contributed to making you who you – today would be a good day to think about it; and, maybe, to think about what you can give back to it.