The academic father of generations

By Mathias Huckert ,

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HELPING OUT SAMOAN STUDENTS: Brother Humphrey (above) teaching English to a group of young students.

HELPING OUT SAMOAN STUDENTS: Brother Humphrey (above) teaching English to a group of young students.

Carefully, he reads out the words that are displayed on the screen in front of the eight boys and encourages them to repeat what they just listened to. 

With a noticeable amount of enthusiasm in their voices, the young students join in; ready to learn everything possible about the different vowels of the English language.

At 81-years-young, a glance at Brother Humphrey O’Connor’s eyes reveals that despite of his age, the man still has preserved the sparkle of his youth which inspired many young Samoans over the last decades to make something out of their lives.

“The other brothers always often tell me I should not work too hard because I am so old now,” he says.“But I am only teaching in the morning, and it’s still enjoyable for me.”

Sometimes, the definition of the term father does not always have to be used in a biological sense.

In the case of Brother Humphrey, the upcoming Father’s Day should also be used to celebrate one of Samoa’s most well known teachers, who certainly has been and still is an academic role model for so many generations in the country.

Having first visited the country only a few days after its independence from New Zealand as a 27-years old, Brother Humphrey has been a teacher his whole life long.

 “I’ve been teaching for 61 years now, and I am still enjoying it,” he says with a smile on his face.

The idea of becoming a Marist Brother had grown deep in Humphrey O’Connor’s heart when he had made his first experiences with the religious community. 

“When I was thirteen years old, my parents sent me to a Marist Brothers school in Auckland, the Sacred Heart College, which was run by brothers. I was so impressed by their way of teaching, that it got me thinking about joining them.” 

By the age of 17, Brother Humphrey had made a decision that would determine his future. His decision of becoming a teacher and Marist Brother was one he never regret throughout his whole life.

While having started again to teach primary students at Marist Brothers Primary School inMulivai since this March, the experienced lecturer has taught many different subjects throughout his career.

“I taught English, Religious Education, Music, Geography and a very good subject called Commercial Practice,” he says. 

The last of these different subjects is one Brother Humphrey is particularly proud of.

“It was sort of an introduction to business practice, dealing with the processes of taxation, insurance or how to set up a small firm.”

In all these years, the cleric’s task of teaching has led him to many different places and schools

 “I’ve taught at St. Joseph’s College here in Mulivai from 1962 to 1967 and I’ve been teaching in every year since, except for the last five years in which I was looking after some of our older brothers, but I’ve done a little bit of help for boys with reading difficulties during that time.”. 

Other stations of his academic life as a teacher include many years of lecturing at different facilities in his home country but also a short stay in the Philippines, where Brother Humphrey taught English to other Marist brothers.

Of course, during all these years of teaching, Brother Humphrey has seen many young faces in his classrooms which would take over leading roles in the development of Samoa as an independent Pacific island nation – including the one of current Prime Minister TuilaepaSa’ileleMalielegaoi.

“Back then, the Prime Minister would have been around fifteen or sixteen years old,” he says.

“I remember him and his classmates from the years of 1962 up to 1967 as some of the hardest working boys I’ve ever taught. They really did work so hard. 

“There was a certain work ethic among them and they didn’t have cell phones or television in these days, which might be the reason why they were able to give their full attention to their education.”

 Still being impressed by the achievements of these boys after all these years, Brother Humphrey is able to recall some of their names, with the P.M. certainly being their most prominent one nowadays.

The relationship to Prime Minister Tuilaepa is still alive after all these years, as the teacher was able to explain. 

“He used to send me a Christmas card every year and we sort of kept in touch. When I came back to teach here [this year], he visited me and we had a simple family meal. It really was a nice experience for me, because I do not consider myself as the former teacher of the P.M., I was just one of his teachers, along with many other Brothers.”

But not only the students from the past are the ones that Brother Humphrey praises. 

“It is very enjoyable for me to teach those young boys, because they are very polite and you can tell that they are willing to learn new things. Sometimes, I ask them: What do the players of the All Blacks or the Manu Samoa do, when they’re not playing on a Saturday? They practice. 

“And if those boys do the same, they will be winners too. There’s no easy way but if you make up your mind to discipline themselves and concentrate on their work, they will find satisfaction in it”.

Brother Humphrey finds it amusing that so many students in Samoa can look back to him as their “academic father”, as he says: “I am as old as their grandfathers. As a matter of fact, I am teaching grandsons of boys I taught in the 1960s. Former students do appreciate that I am still doing this and it just makes me happy to look back at all these generations, it is really interesting”.

For his future, the teacher does not think about giving up what he has done his whole life: “I am not interested in retiring, because I think if you still have enough energy to do something good, you’re a much happier man if you continue doing it”. This decision might seem unusual considering the fact that Brother Humphrey O’Connor now is 81 years old. But maybe if his role as a teacher is compared to the one of a father, his decision makes more sense. A father always stays a father, there is nothing to change that. In the case of Brother Humphrey, it might be the same for him with being a teacher.

Students from 1962 Brother Humphrey O’Connor remembers:

Sa’ilele M Veni

Francis McKenzie

Elijah Stanley

William Robinson

John McFarland

Steve Laban

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