By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The Congregation of the Presentation Brothers and the schools celebrate the Feast Day of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, November 21. The Brothers are teachers, social workers, pastoral workers, and chaplains.
Former students at Presentation College, Chaguanas remember their former principal and teacher Brother Matthew Feheney.
He came to Trinidad in 1959 and became principal of the school in 1961 and stayed in that role for ten years before going to Presentation College, San Fernando in 1971 for four years.
Deacon Simon Rostant spent his boyhood as a student, and adult years as a teacher and principal at Presentation College, Chaguanas. He entered the school January 16, 1961. The schedule of the school year was different then. The principal was Bro Livinius Kelly, followed by Bro Matthew.
Sharing the impact Bro Matthew had, Deacon Rostant said, “Bro Matthew, then, would have done an experiment: all the guys who would have succeeded in what was the College Exhibition Exam were placed in a Form 2A special…that was revolutionary.” This meant the boys skipped First Form.
“We were thrust into second year immediately upon entering school.” This class would move to 3A special in 1962. This class wrote the Senior Cambridge examination in November 1963. The next year the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level was introduced.
He joked they were “fast forwarded” through the system. It was done once, and he said the students were “up to the challenge”.
Deacon Rostant explained that Additional Mathematics which took two years was done in six months. It was a “phenomenal class”. As to why the experiment was done, looking back, he thinks “I suppose he [Bro Matthew] felt we had the ability. We did well.”
Deacon Rostant fondly remembers the late Selwyn Brooks, a teacher, poking his head through the doorway of the 5A special science class and saying, “well done, guys, well done”. The class went on to Advanced Level examinations.
After exams, Deacon Rostant was preparing to begin work at Texaco Trinidad Incorporated, but Bro Matthew had other ideas. “He said ‘Simon, you will come back here and teach’.”
“I was a student in July 1967 and teacher in September 1967,” Deacon Rostant said. As to why he decided to switch career paths, he replied, “it would have been a privilege, the very fact they were asking me, my alma mater.” It was an opportunity to be “in shirt and tie” sitting with the men who taught and mentored him and see them through the lens of adulthood; they were men and not the “demi-gods”.
Deacon Rostant left Presentation in 1969 to attend The University of the West Indies on scholarship and returned as a Chemistry and Physics teacher in 1972. He became the principal of Presentation College and retired from the school September 2008.
Deacon Rostant said he is grateful to Bro Matthew at the personal level and also as a Brother of the Presentation Congregation. “The mantra we have now and which I stand by, ‘Proud to be Pres.’”
Bro Matthew “was rugged…you couldn’t get anything pass him”. When it came to schoolwork, there was no skylarking.
Before Bro Matthew left to be principal of Presentation College, San Fernando, he taught Chemistry when he was the principal. Deacon Rostant said no boys failed in two years and just one in the third year. “He would have instilled a holy fear into the students. You had to shape up, there wasn’t any question of you being tardy or not doing your work or thinking you could get away with nonsense. It was a question of excellence. He inspired excellence in you.”
His gentler side came across in his love of singing, his favourite song was ‘In a Monastery Garden’. Deacon Rostant said, “I remember him playing the harmonica and singing that song when we as prefects had our dinner, and also he would have carried us to the beach; he was there playing with us….”
The ruggedness came out in sporting activities. Deacon Rostant recalled a type of water polo the boys played at the beach and Bro Matthew was with them. One time, he thought Bro Matthew would give him a “bligh”, he found out otherwise. “I ran into him, and I suffered for it.”
He loved football and had a philosophy ‘the ball could pass but the man cannot pass’. Deacon Rostant said: “I have images of him playing a masters against the students and there was one guy we called ‘Baby’, Ronald Bryce, and he was playing left wing and going down the field with the ball and Bro Matthew played right back. There was a collision between Baby who would have been 5’5” and Bro Matthew who was 6’7” and I don’t have to tell you who came out for the worst for it.”
In an article sharing his memories, Bro Matthew stated, “The attitude of the Presentation Brothers, supported by that of the Catholic hierarchy at the time, was that Presentation College, was erected and existed primarily for Catholic boys but, depending on accommodation, boys of any or all religions were also welcome. To us, education of its very nature was a spiritual activity, and I was never as happy as when I was engaged in it. All knowledge is potentially good knowledge. All knowledge tells us something about God and his wonderful creation, nature. So, I was equally happy with chemistry, botany, and theology.”