There was a time when the houses in Nukutere College were simply named after the colours, Blue, Red, Green, and Gold. While this simple approach needs no explanation, it does, however, miss the opportunity to portray something of the identity of the school.
In education, role models are important to place before students and the names given to School Houses can be significant in this regard. Nukutere College has now taken names of prominent Catholic leaders in association with education.
In this Church Talk article, I will tell readers little about each of the names that have been used so that you know something of their origin if you hear them used outside of the college.
Castanie House: This house is named after the founder of the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands, Fr Bernardin Castanie. He was a French priest working in Tahiti and when the invitation came to establish the Catholic church in the Cook Islands he arrived in 1894 and worked by himself for the greater part of his ministry in the Cook Islands.
In his time small Catholic communities arose on Rarotonga, (1894) Aitutaki (1906), Mauke (1903), Atiu (1909), Mitiaro (1925) Mangaia (1930) Rakahanga (1926), Pukapuka and Nassau and (1936) and Manihiki (1909).
Perhaps the greatest assistance to Fr Castanie came from the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny from Tahiti whom he encouraged to come and open a school in Rarotonga in 1895. While Bernardin was head of the catholic church in the Cook Islands his official title was Prefect Apostolic. Officially he was not a bishop, but had the authority of a bishop. I believe Fr Castanie planted the seed of the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands. Education was an important tool in his mission in that he established and supported primary education. Fr Bernardin Castanie died in the Cook Islands in 1939 and his grave is in the small cemetery at the far end of the old church in the grounds of Nukutere College.
John Rodgers House: Bishop John Rodgers was the fourth head of the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands. Officially, he was the second bishop. Bishop John Rodgers was a New Zealander and worked most of his priestly ministry in Tonga where he had been ordained bishop. In Tonga, he was familiar with education and when transferred to the diocese of Rarotonga in 1971, he wasted no time in establishing a church secondary school. Inasmuch as John Rodgers found the money and built Nukutere College, I consider him as the “founder” of the school. The college was formally opened and blessed on Constitution Day, August 4, 1975. The college shares the same birthday as the country, but is 10 years younger.
Edmund Rice House: Perhaps this name, more than the others, needs an explanation as our minds could wander in the wrong direction to “rice” of the food variety. Bishop John Rodgers needed a religious order to give the leadership in the college. Just as Fr Bernardin Castanie had invited the Cluny Sisters to work in St Joseph’s Catholic School, Bishop John Rodgers invited a men’s group known as the Christian Brothers. The Christian Brothers ran successful Catholic colleges in New Zealand such as St Peter’s College in Auckland and St Kevin’s College in Oamaru. Out of these schools came many fine men to provide leadership at Nukutere College. The Christian Brothers were an international group and had been founded by a layman in Ireland. The name of this man was Edmund Rice. Rice was walking down a street with the bishop in his home town of Waterford one day and they came across a group of boys playing on the street during what we would call school time. The bishop turned to Rice and asked him, “What are you going to do about those boys?” Rice took up the challenge of his bishop and opened his own school in order to give these young people an education. Out of this small beginning the Christian Brothers were founded. And so in 1977 the Christian Brothers came to the Cook Islands. Two of their members are buried in the cemetery at Nukutere College alongside Fr Bernardin Castanie.
Chanel House: Named after the first saint of the Pacific, Father Peter Chanel. Those familiar with expensive perfume brands might have heard of the brand Chanel No 5. Peter Chanel is a distant relative of the perfume makers and the origins of this perfume are French, the country of origin of Peter Chanel. Chanel was ordained a priest in 1831 and his first appointment was to a boys’ school in a town in central France. When the first Catholic missionaries came to the Pacific in 1836 he was one of five priests accompanying Bishop Pompallier, the first Catholic bishop of New Zealand. Bishop Pompallier assigned Fr Chanel to the island of Futuna which is alongside the island of Wallis, halfway between Samoa and Fiji. The people of Futuna were not thrilled to encounter this new religion and the traditional leaders resisted the attempts of Fr Peter Chanel and his companion to win over the people to religion.
Tension between the chiefs escalated when the son of one of them ate yams which was forbidden for boys by custom. Chanel was accused of encouraging the boys to break custom and was clubbed to death as a result. Fr Peter Chanel had the nick name amongst the local people, “Big Heart.” Whenever Futunians were sick he would go to them and distribute medicine and nurse the sick person. Shortly after his death the whole island accepted the Catholic faith. To this day, the island is predominantly Catholic. Fr Peter Chanel was canonised a saint in 1954.
While values do not belong exclusively to the Catholic Church they have always been a key element in Catholic education as a principal motivating force in the school. They help us define the special character of our schools.
As an example, when we study a man like Edmund Rice we take note that he reached out to those missing out on education in Ireland. There was a place for the neglected. That Nukutere has a special needs unit attached to it is no surprise to me. A man like Peter Chanel loved those who hated him. People stole from his garden and he went hungry. Yet when these same people were sick he visited them. I hope this man inspires the pupils of Nukutere College to love their fellow students and to reach out to those in need in their midst.
Having private or church schools in the Cook Islands such as Nukutere College, can add a dynamic diversity to the Cook Islands education system, and the overall education scene can be the richer for the difference.
While every school follows the core curriculum laid down by Ministry of Education, the national system is robust enough to allow for diversity within the overall framework. All schools are not the same and this gives parents a choice to support the special character dimension of a particular school if they so wish.
Bishop Paul Donoghue