WHENEVER Frank Hennessy lets people know about his jail time they can’t hide their shock.
It’s totally at odds with the Frank they know – contented retiree, former Catholic primary school principal and a leader in his profession.
“It’s interesting. From time to time you’re out with a group of friends and something comes up, and I just sort of throw in, ‘I did 17 years in Boggo Road Jail’. And there’s whiplash (as they do a double-take with surprise),” he said as he chats at the inner-city Brisbane apartment he shares with his wife Lorraine, who was also a teacher.
He mentioned his “jail time” almost as an after-thought as he talked about his education career spanning 22 years as a principal in Catholic primary schools around Brisbane and 17 years as a teacher in state primary schools.
“Aside from this, I also taught in Brisbane Prison, Boggo Road Jail, for seventeen years two afternoons a week after school,” he said.
“And I also taught English to adult migrants two nights a week for ten years.”
It was all to do with a dominant theme in Frank’s life – the attitude of “giving back”.
As with the prisoners and migrants, “giving back” was also his motivation for being a prominent player in the establishment and running of the Queensland Catholic Primary Principals’ Association and the Australian Catholic Primary Principals’ Association, for which he was honoured recently.
Frank continues to give back to those organisations even though it’s 19 years since he retired as a principal.
It’s the same with one of Frank’s other big loves – tennis.
While he was busy with teaching and being a principal, Frank was also heavily involved in tennis administration.
He was a member of the council of Tennis Queensland for 40 years, on the board of Tennis Queensland for 26 years and represented Queensland on the Tennis Australia board for three years.
In 1991, he was one of the three representatives to represent Tennis Australia at an International Tennis Federation meeting in Hamburg.
Tennis Queensland recognised Frank’s dedication by awarding him life membership in 1999.
“But what I do or what I’ve done, it hasn’t been for the accolades,” he said.
“With tennis, it’s because I enjoy (the game).”
Frank’s always been one to seize new opportunities and forge new paths.
In 1975, when Brisbane Catholic Education decided to appoint lay principals as the number of religious running schools had started to dwindle, Frank was one of the first seven lay people appointed.
After teaching in state schools for 17 years, he was keen to transfer to the Catholic system.
Being a Catholic and having been involved at Darra’s Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Primary School through the Parents’ and Friends’ Association there, it was natural he would be interested.
“I just thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity to give back’ – because the religious nuns were becoming fewer and fewer to staff the schools,” he said.
Frank was appointed principal of St Joseph’s Primary School, North Ipswich, in 1975 and held the position until 1981.
It was during that time – in 1979 – that he was involved in the formation of the Queensland Catholic Primary Principals’ Association and was elected inaugural president.
Then, when the Australian Catholic Primary Principals’ Association was formed in 1984 in Brisbane, he was again elected inaugural president.
He’s been involved with the association ever since and last year it honoured him with life membership.
Part of the reason was his dedication to the association even in retirement.
When Frank retired in 1997, ACPPA’s then-president asked him if he would continue to co-ordinate sponsorship for the association and advertising for its professional journal TOPICS.
He agreed to do that voluntarily and attends association meetings four times a year. He’s an ex-officio member of the ACPPA executive.
“I like to support them – because I was involved initially when (the association) was born,” the 77-year-old said. “I just want to give back to the principals what I can.”
He knows well what their lives are like, having been principal at St Joseph’s, North Ipswich; St William’s, Grovely; and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Darra.
Apart from the accolades, it’s the little things that remain important as Frank looks back on his career.
“It’s very refreshing and wonderful for someone – you’re out somewhere and someone claims you,” he said.
“Sometimes you can remember their names but other times you’ve got no chance.
But they come up and say, ‘Were you principal at so and so …?’
“I just hope that children have learnt from me at times, and from my teachers – teachers who’ve gained from me – to be able to give children a better chance in life.
“It can be a hard life for some so I just hope that I may have touched some children, teachers, to go the extra mile.”
Similarly, with his work in the prison and with the migrants learning English, Frank hopes he has made a difference.
“I was trying to give. I was giving to the prisoners, and I just sort of felt that, ‘But for the grace of God, there go I’,” he said.
“But I hope I did some good for those prisoners and I hope, and I think I’m right in saying, I did some good for the adult migrants, to get them on their path.”
It was rewarding.
“It was really. I had (prisoners) from murderers down to petty thieves, from 70 to 18-year-olds,” he said. “I felt I was giving back.”
By Peter Bugden