WHEN Don Barrett retired recently, just short of his 89th birthday, he was Queensland’s oldest practising teacher.
Mr Barrett’s distinguished academic vocation includes 34 years at the University of Queensland as an honorary associate professor and research consultant in Classics and Ancient History, and 22 years at Brisbane Grammar School where he taught Latin.
His love affair with the Latin language began at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ College, Ipswich, (St Edmund’s College today) when he was plucked from suburban obscurity and recruited to be an altar boy at the majestic St Mary’s Church.
“It was a magnificent place of cathedral proportions,” Mr Barrett said.
“They thought I would be suitable to do the Mass justice.
“I was one of a select group recruited to serve. We felt very special.”
Mr Barrett credits his mother as being the stalwart of faith in his family.
“My mother was a devout Catholic. My father was a late convert,” he said.
“Dad was Christian, but he wasn’t a church-goer.
“It was largely due to my mother’s influence that he became interested.”
Frustrated with not being able to understand the language used during the Mass at the time, Mr Barrett began studying Latin, and soon discovered a deep affection for the classical language.
“I couldn’t fully understand the Latin responses in the Mass, but they just intrigued me,” he said.
“There was a mystique to Latin.
“I was put outside the class once or twice for misbehaviour and I remember taking a Latin textbook with me to spend the time outside the class to keep learning.
“I got more and more wrapped in the language.”
Mr Barrett attended the University of Queensland (UQ) in 1947, and his faith in both the religious and the intellectual was challenged.
“I went (to UQ) on an open scholarship. I was the twenty-third top student in the state.
“I was very green and unsophisticated, but I had a fair conceit of myself, which slowly got knocked off me as I met people who were cleverer than myself.
“I often think my education is the discovery of my own ignorance.”
Mr Barrett confessed that his faith was often challenged at the University of Queensland.
“I can remember guest speakers coming on campus and they could really shake your faith just through ridiculing the Christian/Catholic beliefs,” he said.
“I always remember one man belittling the Virgin Mary.
“He said, ‘How on earth could anybody believe that she became pregnant in any way except through a man – it’s absurd.’
“I also remember one man who said, ‘People say the Church has what it takes, I say it takes what you’ve got’.”
Mr Barrett laughs off these memories, and has great admiration for the University of Queensland.
In 1994, UQ’s Office of Gender Equity declared Mr Barrett to be Feminist of the Decade for promoting equal progress of women and men.
Colloquially, Mr Barrett was dubbed “Member of the Order of Protector of Youth from the inevitable consequences of Folly, Giver of Second Chances, and Listener to Woes, and Forgiver of Transgressors”.
Mr Barrett is a man who can attest to both the rewards and challenges of living a faith-filled life.
Although never hanging up on God entirely, he recalls a time during his life when he stopped picking up the phone.
“I shut it out to some extent and immersed myself in the joys and demands of marriage and family life,” he said.
Like many Catholics in a similar situation, he grew to accept that there was a void in his life that left him incomplete.
“I stopped going to Mass for 10 years,” he said.
“I didn’t want to go to Mass and not be able to receive Communion.
“That’s the core of Mass; and it’s the core of the Catholic life.”
Anxious for his eternal salvation, and hungry for the Body of Christ, he returned to Mass, and the faith. Mr Barrett is a daily Mass-goer at Villa Maria Chapel, Spring Hill, and his anxiety about what awaits him after death is on a surer footing.
“It’s all a bit of mystery – what awaits us after death,” he said.
“I guess it’s not clear to me what happens to the soul straight after death, but I rely on the promises of Christ, whom I trust.
“So many words he uttered promise that if you endeavour to lead a virtuous life, then you will be safe and happy for eternity with Jesus Christ.”