Br John Bourke

Written on the 16 April 2018 by Old Collegians Association

Br John Bourke

Excerpt from 2000 Rostrevor Magazine


Br John Bourke at home in the Brother's residence opposite the College.

Born on 20th February 1913, John Bourke attended Rostrevor for one year as a boarder in 1927, his Sub-Intermediate year. This one year at Rostrevor has had a profound effect on his life's work and the work of the Christian Brothers in Australia.

"My year at Rostrevor made a tremendous impression - both the school and the Catholic education system · it inspired me to join the Brothers."

John Bourke came to Rostrevor from Aldinga where his father Jack and mother Ludmilla (Von der Borch) raised 7 children. Jack was the head teacher at Aldinga for 27 years. John's younger brother, Tony, was to attend Rostrevor in 1930 as a boarder and then go on to become an accountant. Tony's sons, Greg ('67) and Damien ('62) are also old scholars. His older sister Carmel, became Mother Carmel and was Head of St Aloysius and Mercedes for over 20 years. Another older brother, Tom, became Fr Tom Bourke SJ and was Rector of St. Ignatius College in its foundation years in the early sixties. At the same lime Br John was Headmaster of CBC. He recounts with a great deal of justifiable pride that the three members of the Bourke family were leaders in Catholic Education in Adelaide during this period.

From the 1948 Annual.

John's younger sister, Terry, married old scholar Bob Nicholas, Australian Air Force World War II veteran and dentist and sent 5 boys to Rostrevor: Daniel ('66), Thomas ('67), Stephen ('75), Michael ('79) and Simon ('80).

Indeed, the Bourke family has contributed a great deal to religious life in Australia over three centuries with John's father's aunts being foundation members of the Josephites with Mary MacKillop as well as two Dominican vocations. His first cousin, Sr Martin, also a Josephite.

In 1928, at the age of 15, John travelled to Strathfield in Sydney to commence his studies as a Christian Brother. His three years at Strathfield Juniorate largely emphasised the spiritual dimension he was accepting as a Christian Brother. The academic aspects of preparation for teaching were not well developed in these first three years. The boys were not allowed to study Public Exams at this time and novitiate graduates went on to continue their studies and gain degrees as part-time students while they were teaching.

In 1931 Br John Bourke was given his first appointment to St. Virgils in Hobart and later to St. Patrick's in Launceston. In 1939, after one year in Young, NSW, he worked in schools in Rockhampton and Brisbane until 1945. In 1946 he worked at St. Bernard's at Moonee Ponds in Melbourne and in 1947 he returned to Rostrevor for three years. In 1950 he returned to Queensland to complete his Science degree. He now possessed a B.A. and B.Sc. acquired through part-time study. In 1953 he returned to Strathfield as a teacher where he taught John Marks {'52), Trevor Gibbons and Pat Guidera ['52) in their early years of study to become Christian Brothers.

In those days there were 120 boys studying in the Junior (secondary schooling) and 53 in their final year­ approximately 200 Christian Brother students in total. About half would stay on and complete their final vows." In 1954 he returned to Rostrevor for 4 years and was, at various times, Sports Master, Cadet Master, Senior Dorm Master, bus driver, lstXVIII coach, 1st XI coach and of course, a classroom teacher of science and maths. He was 44 years old. In 1958 he was appointed as Headmaster to CBC Wakefield St. During his period of leadership, a great deal was achieved at CBC. A new Admin Building, later to be called the JV Bourke Wing, new classrooms, the new Junior School on East Terrace, rowing commenced, and a rowing shed was constructed and the redevelopment of the cow paddock to become the current CBC main oval. Over 100 men attended the working bee one weekend that helped establish the oval surface. It was largely pick and shovel work.  A 30-centimetre thick slab of concrete, the cricket pitch, was excavated with explosives early one morning and Jim McDonald ('30) CBC and Rostrevor old scholar did all the surveying. In 1964 he moved to St Patrick's Ballarat, as the Senior Science and Maths teacher. In 1966 ·he was back in Hobart this time as Headmaster of St Virgil's.

From the 1927 Annual 4th XVIII.
Back: F.Fisher, C. McFadden, G. Sheehan,  J. Coffey, P. Kiely, J. McEvoy. Middle: J. Sheedy, Lewis, J. Connelly, E. Gryst, C. Radford, B. O'Loghlin, J. Bourke.
Front: H. Liggs, N. Drummond, C. Montogomery, F. Siebert, W.Kennedy, A. Richards.

In 1967 the Holy Spirit Province was formed joining SA and WA and separating administration from the eastern states. Br John was given the option and chose to join this Province. As a result, he was re-appointed as Head of CBC, Wakefield St in 1968 at which time he commenced the preliminary work for the O'Brien Wing. In 1971 he was at Aquinas in Perth as Senior Maths and Science teacher and loo after the senior dorm. In 1973 he completed his Diploma of Education. Administration and was made a Fellow of the Australian College of Education.

In 1974 he returned  to Rostrevor as Headmaster and during this time the Mogg Labs and the current swimming pool were constructed in this decade Commonwealth fun grew and Rostrevor was able to take advantage of grants. This allowed more lay-staff to be employed thus reducing class sizes.

At the same time the curriculum was able to be widened and more specialist subjects were able to be offered. It was in this time that Rostrevor employed its first
PE teacher, Mr. Peter Taylor.

In 1977 at the age of 64, Br John returned to St Kevin's in Melbourne as a Senior Maths and Science teacher.

At a time when retirement is beckoning most workers, Mr. John McDonald ('55), the then Director of Catholic Education in SA, recoll1mended to Bishop Gallagher of the Port Pirie diocese that Br John Bourke would be an excellent Director of Catholic Education for the Port Pirie Diocese, Br John accepted the challenge and lived in Pt. Pirie until 1984. During this time, he was responsible for the administration of Catholic Schools in a region that stretched from Pt Lincoln in the west, Woomera in the north and Renmark in the east. As such he travelled 60,000 kilometres a year or 'eight and a half times around the world' in the execution of his duties. He was in Adelaide almost every week for Catholic Education meetings and attended all schools in the diocese on a regular basis. Over his period or Service to Christ and Catholic education as a Chris tian Brother he has worked in every state of Australia.

Headmaster and Prefects from the 1974 Annual.
Back: J. McBride, D. Wardleworth, 
K. Peters, L. Cardone.
Middle: H. Young. T. Adey, M. Kennedy, A. Evans, M. Rossetti.
Front: P. Webster, P. Meaney, M. Dunne (Head Prefect). Reu Br J.V. Bourke (Headmaster). J. Yeates (Senior Boarding Prefect, Deputy Head Prefect), R. Toigo, P. Arnfield.

In 1985 he officially 'retired'  to Rostrevor but continued to contribute Rostrevor in a number of ways. It was in this year that he was made an Honorary FACE, at the time only 5 South Australians had achieved this distinction, Archbishop James Gleeson being another. "The Rostrevor Story", the history of Rostrevor 1923-1983,had been an ongoing project of Br John's for some years.

His return to Rostrevor now allowed him the time to complete the book and have it published in 1991. It was compiled with his own detailed personal knowledge of the history of the school as well as his research of Rostrevor Annuals and through consultations with old scholars. In 1987 he became an inaugural member of the Rostrevor College Foundation and helped guide long-term capital developments at the College.

When asked to recall special memories of his time as a student at Rostrevor, one readily came to mind. This was his time as an Under 15 footballer, training alongside the 1927 1st XVIII, still considered to be the best Rostrevor team and at the time acknowledged as the best schoolboy team in Australia. Academic achievements were also significant in this period with the Tennyson Medal for English being presented to a Rostrevor student in four consecutive years 1924-27.

As a Sub-Intermediate he was privileged to sleep on the northern balcony of Rostrevor House although this did not afford too much freedom as his bed was directly outside Br Coghlan's window.
When asked to identify some noteworthy students from his times as a teacher at Rostrevor he declined explaining ' there are so many prominent Rostrevor old boys from my time at Rostrevor I prefer not to be specific at the risk of offending someone - there are too many to name.'

In 1993 the Brother's community moved to their current residence on Glen Stuart Rd and Brother has "gradually tapered off his direct contact with the College."

From the 1976 Annual, Rev Br J V Bourke Headmaster, Rostrevor College 1974-76.

He still however attends many public functions and re-unions, writes regularly for the old scholar's publication "Red and Black" and takes a great deal of interest in the achievements of old scholars as they make their mark in society. 

The Rostrevor Old Collegians' take a great deal of pride in acknowledging Br John Vianney Bourke's lifetime achievements. He is warmly regarded by four generations of Rostrevor old scholars because he has made a difference to their lives and continues to do so.


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Author:Old Collegians Association


Glen Stuart Rd Woodforde Sa 5072 Australia


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