Leading lights in red and black ties

19:42, Nov 23 2013
St Bedes
DEBATE-READY: Former St Bede's pupils turned MPs gather for a rare photograph on the steps of Parliament, from left, David Carter, Damien O'Connor, Clayton Cosgrove, former MP Mark Blumsky, Gerry Brownlee and Peter Dunne.

Gerry Brownlee and Clayton Cosgrove may, on the surface, have little in common but if you look back a couple of decades, they share a strong bond.

So too do Peter Dunne and Damien O'Connor. Even David Carter can put a similar claim to fame on his curriculum vitae.

All five sitting MPs attended St Bede's College in Christchurch's north-east - a record thought to be unequalled anywhere in New Zealand political history. Mark Blumsky, a recent former MP and Wellington Mayor, also walked its corridors as a young man.

Justin Boyle
LONG HISTORY: St Bede's College rector Justin Boyle outside the 102-year-old school which has always focused on teaching leadership.

A photograph of all six together, donated by Cosgrove, proudly hangs in the school's reception.

The St Bede's connection does not just stop with MPs. Three of the 10 Christchurch East by-election candidates (Matthew Doocey, Gareth Veale and David Moorhouse) also went there.

No-one seems to be able to put their finger on why the school has such a political output.


It's not just politics either. Some High Court judges and several doctors all have St Bede's leaving certificates, as does prominent Christchurch businessman Philip Carter.

Dunne, who was there from 1967 to 1971, said it was often remarked in Parliament how the school was "a factory for producing MPs".

Speaker of the House David Carter was two years ahead of a young, ambitious Dunne while Brownlee was a year behind.

The emphasis on a traditional education and an environment where debating was encouraged probably played a big part, he said.

"There was sort of an emphasis of there was nothing we couldn't do if we put our minds to it."

Dunne recalled the University of Canterbury chaplain telling his class the school had never produced a Students' Association president.

"I thought to myself that we would fix that and I was the first president about four years afterwards. So it was that kind of thing. Lots of challenges to do things."

Being empowered to believe in their abilities was probably what drove all pupils, Dunne said.

His connection didn't end when he left in the early 1970s. Dunne keeps in touch with several classmates and his year held a successful 40th reunion seven years ago.

When the school was established 102 years ago, one of its key objectives was to help its pupils develop into leaders, be it as priests, husbands and fathers, in business or in politics.

Rector Justin Boyle said the message to all pupils was that their time at St Bede's "shouldn't be the best days of their lives, but preparation for the best days of their lives".

"We talk a lot about their God-given gifts and how to use them when they leave."

Cosgrove said it was "a fab time" to be at the school in the early to mid 1980s.

A swag of freshly graduated priests arrived at the school, full of energy and ideas and an enthusiasm that was contagious.

"It was a really neat time to be there, looking back," he said.

He remembered arriving as a third former "scared to death" but "it was a magnificent education."

Cosgrove loved his rugby - still does - and fondly recalled his time as an openside flanker.

"Everyone started getting taller than me so I didn't want to be in the backs. My great claim to fame was starting in the third XV. I just loved the sport."

But it was the great tradition of debating and public speaking that interested Cosgrove and "probably" gave him the skills to consider politics as a career.

The "old-fashioned" style of discipline was just what he needed, to the point where it "saved our lives in a number of respects by encouraging us to always excel".

He takes pride in the fact he is the only old boy MP to have served as an MP in the school's patch.

Cosgrove's main political adversary, Gerry Brownlee, declined to be interviewed on his time at St Bede's, a school he not only attended but where he taught and headed its technical department before he entered Parliament in 1996.

O'Connor, who was there between 1971-74, couldn't recall any one feature of the school that inspired him to enter politics but its "useful" debating forums and forthright teaching staff who pushed strongly on values probably steered him that way.

"They encouraged and pushed us without providing any direction as such. The careers advice assistance was actually pathetic. Maybe that's the reason we all ended up as MPs," he laughed.

The Press