The Fiji Times
Classes started in 1953
WHEN Xavier College opened its doors as a secondary school in 1953 it was a unique initiative in the Society of St. Columban. Other schools had been set up by Columbans and managed by them, but Xavier alone was a school set up by the Columbans and also staffed by the Columbans.
On February 12, 1953 the first classes began at 8 o'clock in Xavier.
The principal of the new school was Fr. Michael Cryan and his assistant teachers were Fr. Gerry Hurley and Fr. Kevin Fleming.
Xavier is situated in Namosau and the land on which it is built became the property of the Ragg Family in 1931 and remained their home residence until the late 1940s.
Sir Ragg wanted to turn the property into a secondary school.
However, Archbishop Victor Foley had neither the funds nor the staff to build and run the secondary school at the time.
So in 1948 using buildings left behind by the Ragg Family he set up a minor seminary on the Namosau property.
The seminary at Namosau was short lived, and by 1952 it had moved to Cawaci on Ovalau.
Somewhere towards the end of 1952 Bishop Foley made a request to Fr. Denis Fitzpatrick for the Columbans to set up a secondary school on the Namosau property and when 'Dinny' agreed, three of the priests who had been in Cawaci were appointed to the new secondary school.
He emphasised that it was not to be a centre of proselytise but that it should be a means of contact with the Indian people so that they would come to know and to be in contact with Christianity.
It was to be a presence and a witness in a non-Christian area and he expressed the importance he attached to the staff visiting Indian homes.
The first entrance examination to the new school was held by Frs. Michael Cryan and Tom Foley on the feast of St. Francis Xavier in 1952.
There were over 70 applicants as there were no other secondary schools in the Ba area at that time.
Of these Frs. Cryan and Foley judged that 25 were capable of secondary education and they were accepted.
The Columbans and the new staff made a great step in faith on that morning.
They had the buildings and the property that Bishop Foley had handed over-but no money.
The fees for the first year were £15, £10 of which was designated for the maintenance and upkeep of the priests and five for the
Advertising Feature school. Later a fee of 15 shillings was added for purchase and maintenance of science equipment. Early in the first year of Xavier's existence Fr. Cryan decided to make use of a promise that a Muslim teacher, Mohammed Ali, at St. Teresa's School, run by the Marist Sisters in Ba, had made to Bishop Foley.
He saw the wonderful work that Mohammed did in raising funds for St. Teresa's and asked him if he would assist in raising funds for a new secondary school in the Ba area.
Mohammed Ali was one of those people that we sometimes meet who was known to everyone and had perhaps on numerous occasions pulled a few strings to have a Muslim or a Hindu or Sikh admitted to St. Teresa's which at this time was by far the most important school in Ba.
A target of £4000 was set. Of this £3000 was to build the two new classrooms that would very soon be needed and £1000 to provide science equipment and basic library.
The collection was a success and the £4,000 target was reached.
Toward the end of 1954 two new classrooms were built and the nucleus of a science laboratory was set up in what had once been the Ragg family's 'Ball room' where at least two members of the family had celebrated their marriages.
These were to be Xavier College's buildings for several years to come.
In the year 1956 or perhaps '5, Xavier finally became recognized by the government and became a 'grant aided' school.
This meant that it became eligible for building grants and that the staff would eventually be paid a salary by the government.
This was not only a blessing for Xavier but also for the whole Columban Community in Fiji.
Many Columbans were in poor parishes, some starting off new parishes.
In the meantime, much of the staff had changed.
Fr. Norb Feld, an American, joined the staff in 1955 to teach Science.
Fr. Jimmy Gavigan replaced Fr. Gerry Hurley in 1956.
In the same year Fr. Thomas Henaghan, also an American, joined the staff.
It was in 1956 that the first boarders came to Xavier.
They were three, Abbie Dyer, Kumrisan and another Indian boy from Lautoka.
They lived in what Fr. Henaghan had aptly christened "the train station".
It was a three-roomed block with toilet and shower and verandah that had been built during the Ragg family's time to accommodate the friends and visitors of the family who were staying overnight.
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DURING Fr. Eddie McColgan's time as Principal a new building containing dining rooms for the priests and the boarders and a toilet was built at a cost of $25,000.
He also oversaw the building of two new classroom block to accommodate form five which was started around 1966.
A new block of classrooms was built in 1967 and, in acknowledgement of the great contribution made to Xavier by the Ragg family who originally gave the land on which the college was built, the new classroom block was named the "Ragg Building".
Lady Ragg, the wife of Sir Hugh, was invited to open the new building.
Fr Colum McGovern became principal in 1969 and the school rapidly expanded.
A dormitory was built and an administration block.
The number of students had now grown to over 300 from the original 25. Over the years the reputation of Xavier had grown with its physical growth.
The results obtained in the public examinations were excellent in all grades, the soccer team had gained fame and glory in being champions of all Fiji secondary schools in four of six successive years around 1970 and, for the first time, the students were considered a threat in the annual athletics.
From the middle of the 1970s there were only two priests on the staff of Xavier and it became too difficult to maintain the boarding.
As well, several other Catholic schools, either junior, secondary or full secondary had started up in Viti Levu so there were more opportunities for Catholic boys to get a local Catholic education and there was less demand for boarding.
So in the late 1970s boarding closed down in Xavier. It had been a very worthwhile experiment however, and from among those who had boarded at Xavier seven very fine young priests were ordained while one who taught for many years in the primary schools of Fiji after graduating from Xavier and Corpus Christi Teachers College was now completing his studies is in the United States, and hopes shortly to be ordained as a Jesuit priest.
Fr. Daly made such an impression on the Education Department that he was asked to transfer as principal to Namosi Secondary School to help in its development.
By now the numbers of Columbans in Fiji had dropped drastically and they were desperately trying to find some community to take over their works at Xavier.
When Fr. Dan Ahern became principal after Tom Daly, he was fairly certain that he would be the last Columban principal and so he was but just because he realised he would most probably be the last Columban principal in Xavier did not discourage Dan from throwing his whole energy into continuing its development.
During his time, with the help of the government, computer studies became another subject and the computer centre was established — a very big step forward in 1984.
During Dan's time too basic agricultural science was introduced and a small sugar cane farm established.
At the end of 1987 a chapter in the history of the Columbans in Fiji ended.
Xavier was handed over as a going concern to the capable hands of the Monfort Brothers of St. Gabriel by the last principal Fr Dan Ahern.