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Goodbye, Mr Jarvis – St Rita’s farewells their first male teacher after 40 years inspiring students

Paul Jarvis: “I listen to how they ask the questions and I pick up on topics that I feel will make it more interesting to them.” Photo: Joe Higgins

PAUL Jarvis still remembers walking up the driveway to St Rita’s College when he was a young man to be greeted by the Presentation Sisters as the first male on campus. 

“That was a shock for the girls,” Paul said some 40 years later, after retiring from his role at the college recently.

“I was a matter of enormous curiosity.” 

For one girl, his presence was a little too much and her mother wrote in that she was home sick for three weeks because of the shock of “having a male teacher”.

Originally from Sydney, Paul was brought up in a strong Catholic home and his mother’s family was particularly devout.

“My mother’s family had a Marist priest, who’s not long passed away, Fr Wal Fingleton,” Mr Jarvis said.

Wal’s brother was Jack Fingleton, Australian opening batsman and later a well-known writer. 

Sport ran in the family, but not always with great success.

While at Waverly College, Paul journeyed north to Brisbane and played against Nudgee College in the First XV Rugby in 1968.

The based-on-a-true-story footy match was his first meeting with his future college and a storied game his teammates would blame him for losing to this day.

Paul was marking what he called a “monster on a sports scholarship”, who got around him on full time to score the winning try. 

His teammates couldn’t believe it.

But Paul said he had been distracted by a girl on the sideline wearing a brown and white uniform – a St Rita’s girl.

His students always laughed at that story.

“We spent a lot of time laughing,” Paul said.

“I got a most beautiful letter this morning from a girl who was a real rebel and this girl thought she was bulletproof.

“I exiled her – I put her out of the room in the first week, and she said she learned that I valued her even though her behaviour was reprehensible. 

“She said she learned her own worth from the fact that she knew she was massively misbehaving, but I still liked her. 

“I would hope (my students) would leave with a better sense of – ‘I’m someone of worth’.”

St Rita’s was where he “became a teacher”.

He was best known as an economics and study of religion teacher at St Rita’s and did it without ever writing a lesson plan.

He said the practice of being a paragraph ahead of the students was appalling.

Rather, teachers must know their discipline.

“I have an idea of what I’m going to teach about, I have wide knowledge, I keep up on current events, and I bounce off how their reacting to what I’m saying,” Paul said.

“I listen to how they ask the questions and I pick up on topics that I feel will make it more interesting to them.”

When it came to teaching economics, Paul narrowed in on more than just the statistics and the economic models.

He said he taught the humanity of economics.

“Social justice teachings of the Catholic Church when it comes to economics are really challenging the status quo,” he said. 

“I found the girls thrive on that.”

He said it taught them to understand left and right wing politics, propaganda and the role of power in political economy.

And connecting SOR to economics was easy.

“We start talking about what is a human, what are we here for, and how does economics deal with that,” he said.

“It makes it fascinating. 

“Just becoming a consumer is not the purpose of human life. 

“Discovering your spiritual nature, that you have a soul, an eternal soul, runs counter to the consumer society where the next quick fill of consumption is supposed to keep you happy but it doesn’t.”

He said his students loved engaging these human and social justice issues couched within economics and SOR.

And more than this – they appreciated it.

“St Rita’s always appreciate you, they always say thank you and in my case, I know if they see me, they run up to me and say ‘hi’,” he said.

Paul taught many students in his time, including many high-achievers.

But it wasn’t the high academic results that Paul remembered as his teaching highlights.

“The highlights are struggling girls who come to you and something happens in your interaction with them where they discover themselves as being someone of worth,” he said. 

“It’s not actually to do with the subject, teaching is more to do with the subject being a means to a girl developing better respect for herself and her intellect and herself as a person. 

“That’s what teaching’s all about.”

Unfortunately, bonding with the students made the low-points almost unbearable, particularly the deaths of students.

“Seeing young people trying to cope with death, it breaks your heart because we live in such an instant gratification society that we deny the realities of certain things,” he said. 

“We tend to think that if we can only buy this next thing it’ll keep us happy.

“And when the reality of death hits adolescent girls because one of their peers has just … ceased to live, the suffering is terrible.”

Paul and his wife Lyn, a former nurse, raised their two children.

He said he had a “wonderful family”.

His daughter Nicola is an anaesthesiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and his son Andrew is chief executive officer of Portland Group.

He said his passion for learning showed through both his children.

Paul’s passion for economics even saw him lead a tour to the former Soviet Union in 1989.

“We saw communism in action,” he said. 

“Our tour guide was a KGB spy, he openly admitted it, but at that time there was Glasnost and Perestroika were happening and the opening up was starting to happen.”

Of all the stark failures of communism, he said the worst was the toilet paper.

“They did not make toilet paper,” Paul said.

He said neither did they make sanitary items for women.

“So the Soviet Union could put people into space but they couldn’t provide basic consumer items like toilet paper, and sanitary items for women,” he said.

Discovering the Soviet Union was just one of many ways Paul has touched the lives of his students; his time there also moved him too.

He said he had no idea when he first walked up the driveway of St Rita’s how it was going to influence his life.

He said he met the sisters and developed a “deep respect” for them.

“They taught me about being human and making your contribution,” he said.

“You’re not here to waste time just accumulating wealth, you’re here to contribute your bit to the Kingdom of God.”

Written by: Joe Higgins
Catholic Church Insurance

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