I attended a Catholic boarding school for most of my education – from the age of 10 to 18 – and recently decided to write about this period of my life on social media:
‘Today I visited my old school and college for the first time in years. I had forgotten how privileged I was to go to such a transformative place.
I am thankful every day for the opportunities I have been given. I am so grateful for the friends I made over my 8 years at Stonyhurst, who have evolved into my family since leaving the college.
Now I want to make a concerted effort to use the advantages I was given to be as kind, creative, considerate, and hard working as possible.
I don’t want to forget my past. I don’t want to be ashamed of the silver spoon I was born with. I want to be thankful and appreciative and aware that few people have the head start I was given.
Thank you, Stonyhurst and thank you, family.
Time to be a ‘woman for others’.’
I would like to explain what prompted the decision to write so publicly about my experiences.
I realised, probably in my first year at university, that I existed in a bubble throughout my school education.
This bubble contained my friendships, morals, and understanding of current affairs. After leaving Stonyhurst, my peers and I soon realised we had been so sheltered. This was not necessarily a bad thing. I am very grateful to have spent my weekends at school playing hockey matches and rehearsing for dance and drama productions. What I didn’t know about sex, drugs, and rock and roll didn’t hurt me. In fact, it gave me more opportunity to focus on friendships, study, and extra-curricular activities. I wouldn’t have an array of interests in arts, science, and sport if it wasn’t for the incredible societies at Stonyhurst. Besides, partying was soon discovered in my gap year.
To give a short overview of Catholic boarding school I will begin with a few stereotypes.
The rumours are true, many of us were prudes. I only realised women don’t have sex out of their urethras at the age of 15. I vividly remember the hockey captain sitting me down in the corner of the library and sketching out a vagina, urethra, and anus with her splodgy, blue fountain pen.
Sex education consisted of a clinically described animation depicting a man and woman taking part in ‘sexual intercourse’. The voice was scripted, the movements were robotic, and yet we were led to believe that this couple were ‘in love’.
We were then shown the ‘miracle of birth’, displayed as a sweaty, screaming women brought a child into our precious world with her caring husband by her side.
This was the story we were told time and time again. We were not informed about possible birth complications, or STIs, or even condoms. Extra-marital sex was reserved for the ‘sluts’.
One day a boy in year 10 was found with a condom in his blazer and was given a detention.
A couple in sixth form were caught in the languages department having sex by one of the members of the chaplaincy. They boarded at the school and it would have been more dangerous to have sex in their own bedrooms than in a classroom, due to the likelihood of them being caught. But they were still found and both pupils were ‘asked to leave’.
Students were not expelled from Stonyhurst, if they were involved in a misdemeanour terrible enough to warrant an expulsion they were asked to not come back, in a calm and collected manner. This punishment was perhaps designed not to teach the child a lesson or set an example to others, but rather to prevent the school getting a bad name from such stories making their way to the local, or even national, newspapers.
These teenagers were asked to leave, and yet when a number of rugby scholars in my year were caught stealing hundreds of pounds worth of audio equipment from HMV, they were simply given a short suspension and a hypothetical slap on the wrists. Because losing such assets to the sports department could be detrimental to the 1st XIV’s winning streak.
Sex was morally worse than stealing.
With hindsight, in some areas the school was absolutely topsy-turvy.
Looking back, I hope to become more grateful for what I was born with through the new perspective I have gleaned since leaving and I hope now to focus on the incredible opportunities I was given.
School filled up my entire world, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Three meals a day were included in my fees and I took full advantage of them. Full English breakfast, four course lunch, and dinner with more than three options on the menu every day.
This meant the gap between the boarders and day pupils was shortened. We had the choice to live at the school or at home. Borders slept in dormitories – these were divided by gender and the size of rooms varied. In sixth form borders were given private rooms, which usually included a single bed, sink, wardrobe, chest of drawers, and desk. I was a day pupil, but I effectively lived at the school. I had 3 meals a day at Stonyhurst and spent most weekends there too. My parents moved up to Lancashire when I was 10, for the sole reason of sending me and my brother to Stonyhurst College.
We arrived at school at 7:45am and didn’t leave until nearly 9pm, seven days a week.
Our friends, teachers, cooks, and cleaners were our second family. Everyone knew everyone.
I went on a school geography trip to Morocco, a big band trip to Hong Kong, and hockey tour to Lake Garda, to name a few.
We were encouraged every Thursday at singing practice in the church to sing our hearts out. The result was that even toughest rugby players would shed floods of tears during the Pater Noster at leaver’s Mass.
The boys were taught the importance of respect, particularly to women. Doors would always be held open for one another and if a teacher was struggling to carry their books there would be a rush to be the first to help them.
Not everyone at Stonyhurst was Catholic, but the Jesuit values of respect, being proactive, and always trying your best were instilled in every pupil from a young age.
This is why I write at the end of my post, “Time to be a ‘woman for others’”. St Ignatius of Loyola spread this message. Furthermore, everything we did was “ad majorem dei gloriam” – “for the greater glory of God” – and thus we did the best we could do for other people, as God intended.
To this day, I hold respect as the highest virtue. When I visited Stonyhurst in January, lots of the building had been renovated, many of the teachers had changed, and I didn’t know any of the pupils. But the students seemed too similar to the ones I knew.
At the end of the day, I acknowledge the great advantages I was born with. I am incredibly privileged to have had the childhood and support through university that I have had. After leaving Stonyhurst, I have been more exposed to education that the majority experience. Sadly, only through seeing the juxtaposition between the different lives have I realised quite how lucky I was. And so, I hope, perhaps in writing this, but also in the way I continue my adult life, I hope to speak to people from similar backgrounds to me and make them aware of the incredible possibilities they are provided with at private school. I intend to make the most of what I have been given, rather than squander it away and I hope to pursue this further for years to come.