Brother Vincent was alone now. It was unusually cold for mid April and Brother Nagle, the Superior, had already turned off the heating. The clock struck 9, too early for bed he thought. He felt weary and discouraged.
The Monastery parlour was quiet but inside his head the voices were there again, voices of doubt and regret. He thought about the last class that day. Maybe hed over reacted. But Horgan was a difficult boy, like his brother, and his mother said there were problems with him at home. Dont spare the rod, she sanctioned.
Brother Vincent was a big man with a fearsome, if undeserved, reputation. He got results. Firm and effective, no one questioned his methods, least of all the parents.
He was a handsome fair-haired man; broad shouldered, and stood over six-foot tall. He moved quickly and elegantly in his black soutan, with the leather strap tucked into the waistband, like a gunslinger and sometimes used to deadly effect.
His quiet voice and shy smile contrasted with his reputation. The boys knew him as Vincy. He called everybody John, sometimes with menace. When he said, in a low voice, Out to the line John, the class knew trouble was brewing.
His features belied his rural background. Were it not for his good looks and measured voice tone, his strong frame and big hands could have found their place behind a plough in some stony field in Kerry.
He didnt hesitate to use those big hands when necessary. Twisting ears, pinching side locks, punching shoulders or bringing the full force of the leather onto trembling hands. Small hands that might already be numb with the cold of a winters morning. He believed this was a part of the boys training and motivation. Of course punishment was painful and unpleasant, but later the boys would see it was for their benefit, and anyway it did them no harm.
Its the only way to get some of them an honours Leaving Certificate, their route out of poverty and social advancement, they wont love us for what we do, but some day theyll be grateful.
Br Vincent couldnt make himself comfortable and yet he didnt want to join the other brothers in the reading room. He was troubled by the rumours about Brother Doyle and didnt want to be part of that conversation. And yet it worried him. How many more schools was this happening in, he wondered. Theyll blame us for this some day, he thought, blame us for everything.
He often went to the Oratory to complete his Office but right now he didnt feel like praying. He rarely felt like praying these days. He got on fine with most of the other brothers but didnt have a best friend among them since Donal left.
He hadnt been feeling well for months. He hadnt mentioned it to anybody, who could he tell?
He was reflecting on the life he didnt live and questioning his Vocation. He remembered how it began. Brother Mitchell had befriended him when he was12 and feeling vulnerable upon entering secondary school. He was inspired by stories such as The harvest is great, but the labourers are few and by the ideals and vision of the founder Brother Rice.
When he was 17 he was an A student with many options- but now, in his late forties, he felt he had none. He worried about his future. Was this all there was? At one stage he wanted to be an engineer, he would have liked that. He used to dream about going to California-the New Frontier- with his best friend David. I wish I had discussed that with my Dad, he thought. But others told him he would never be happy if he denied Gods call to serve.
He might have got married and had children. He had lots of children now but they all belonged to others. He wondered what it was like to hold a woman, to kiss her, touch her. Those thoughts troubled him.
As a teenager he had been popular with the girls. He had a girlfriend when he was about fifteen, but when he told his mother that he felt he had a vocation, she discouraged him from seeing her. Besides, wasnt the Church a higher vocation than marriage?
He worried about his widowed mother, now in her eighties and living alone. He had a brother Sean, a priest on the missions in Africa and a sister Mary married in Australia. The neighbours were very good to his mother, but it wasnt the same as family.
He wrote to her every few weeks, even when she didnt reply. They didnt have a lot to say to each other, and yet so many things were left unsaid. He hadnt seen her in over a year. He remembered how proud she was the day he was professed. It would break her heart if he left.
He went to the kitchen to get a glass of warm water to ease his stomach pain. He would have liked a cup of tea but that kept him awake at night. Many things kept him awake at night. A whiskey would help him sleep, but was harsh on the stomach. Besides, alcohol was discouraged in the Monastery, maybe because the community had several alcoholics.
Returning to the parlour he began to relax. He was looking forward to the longer evenings of early summer. The Harty Cup would be starting soon. He loved hurling and was proud to be the coach in a school with such a famous tradition. Ten cups and this year he had high hopes of number eleven. He was a hard taskmaster, but hurling was a mans game and the boys who were privileged to play for this school were learning valuable life skills and victory would ensure that they would be remembered forever.
The exams were not far away now. He would have to push some of his boys very hard if he were to achieve his promise to them
Every boy in this class will get an honours Leaving Certificate. He had one grand ambition
to have a student obtain full marks in the Maths exam. He almost achieved it one year. There were three boys in the current year that had the potential to do it. Are you going to do a Gaisce (great deed) this year? he challenged them.
He liked the boys in Rang 6A, one of the best classes he ever had. He rarely had to threaten them. He would miss them when the year was over. Thirty years now he had been teaching and he could recall some faces and characters from every year.
Feeling better now, he thought about the Harty Cup and the Exams. Thats what his vocation was about ... helping boys realise their full potential in the classroom, on the sports field and in life. Building patriotic leaders with Catholic values. Raising boys out of ignorance and poverty, giving them national pride. Brother Rice would have approved.
Vincy smiled as he opened his well-worn copy of the textbook
Leaving Certificate Mathematics, Questions and Answers, 1946-1962. A quick review of tomorrows lesson, night prayers and then off to bed.
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