St. Theresa's Home

Bloom in God's Love

Patrick Mei

An Amazing and Incredible Journey


It all began the day that I was taken together with my eldest brother, Abraham and younger brother Desmond from the Durban court to St Theresa's Home. I vaguely recall having been driven to St Theresa's. On arrival we were greeted by a Catholic nun whom we affectionately called, Mother Gabriel. She welcomed us with a great affection and assured us that we had come to the right place. Of course we shed many tears on parting with our home and our beloved mother. l was four years old at the time.


The three of us were shown where to go by a kindly sister. We realized that we were to live with a crowd of over a hundred boys. It was a truly daunting experience to realize that we had to contend with other orphaned boys ranging from two to about what seemed to me as twenty five year old. Life was really going to be tough! Having my two brothers with me was a great consolation. I was sympathetic to those boys who did not have any siblings to relate to.


I was placed with several other little boys including Desmond Griffiths in a dormitory called Guardian Angels. There were four rows of ten beds strategically positioned and facing a statue of St. Gabriel the Arch angel. I soon made friends with the other little boys in the group and learnt where the dining room for the toddlers was situated. I seemed to have developed a love for gazing at the statue and speaking to the Lord and asking Him to help me to understand my new environment. At night I dreaded the mysterious noise which emanated from some of the boys and people who frequented the place. It occurred to me that many boys were either missing their families or just couId not adapt to their new home.


Sr. Mary Regina and Auntie Elizabeth, a dear lady, cared for us. Sr. Philomena, Sr. Cecelia and Sr. John Bosco took turns to spend time with us in the evenings and we said our night prayers together. Then we were told that a new sister was coming to join the community of sisters at St Theresa's. When Sr. Marie Therese arrived we were placed under her care. Sister taught us to sing many nursery rhymes and read stories to us as well. Each morning we went to the clinic, in a row, holding each other's hands singing these nursery rhymes. As we were a very musical group that loved singing we sang out loud and clear. Our clinic was staffed by Mrs. Tilston a nursing sister from the Durban Sanatorium, run by the Augustinian Sisters.


As time went by we were timeously shown where the refectory (dining room) and the playground were situated. The younger boys were separated from the older ones to avoid any unsafe or abusive treatment towards them.


When l grew older, l was given together with the other boys simple tasks each day. My task was to fold the sheets when they were returned from the laundry. There were rules to ensure discipline. These were not stringent rules. Mr. Sam Joyce and Mr. Joubert King , lovingly called Jubes by all of us, left an indelible impression on many boys including myself. The late Sam Joyce was very fatherly towards us and spent many hours each day teaching us how to cope with the demands of life. I still cherish his words of wisdom and appreciate his guidance. This motivated me to become a boy scout.


As boy scouts we learnt to be prepared for all kinds of situations, no matter what challenges confronted us. There were ten rules we had to learn to obey. We bravely carried out our duties despite the difficulties experienced. Our troop was known as St. Francis Scout Troop. On Holy Saturday we joined the other scout troops in the area and went around collecting eggs from the people. These were later distributed to the poor. I recall having gone on many hiking trails in the bush and marching through the streets on public holidays. We were also taken to outdoor camps and explored mountain trails. I enjoyed listening to the many stories told, the jovial songs and games around the campfire. Sr. Marie Therese was actively involved with us wolf cubs and then as fully fledged scouts. Anthony Thomas, Mickey Manack, Richard Camphor, and the late Gordon Bailey were part of the troops and became close friends. This friendship has lasted for many years since we left St Theresa's.


We were privileged to attend the school run by the Augustinian sisters. The school building was conveniently situated on the same property as the home. St. Theresa's school became a famous institution of education and is still renowned for many an excellent student being proudly taught in it. The Augustinian sisters played a pivotal role in the inculcation of religious and secular teaching in the school. I vividly remember Sr. Philomena as the Principal. Mr. Patrick Champion who was part of those educated at the home and school became the Vice Principal Sr. Marie Regina and Sr. Marie Therese were instrumental in teaching me the values and qualities of becoming a respectable member of the community. l loved the true life stories told to us in the Sacred Scriptures. I felt inspired by God's grace to Iearn all I could from our catechism classes. It was through the good example that I yearned to be involved in Church work and show my gratitude to God for His unfailing love for me. We boys were taught to pray as soon as we awoke in the mornings and last thing at night, together with the sister and supervisor on duty.


I soon became an altar server and sang in the St Theresa's boys choir. l will always remember Reverend Fr. Charles Hugo OMI a charismatic priest who celebrated the Eucharist when I made my First Holy Communion on the 28the Jane 1964. He was strict but very saintly and a great spiritual mentor.


As a choir member I was exposed to the awe inspiring compositions of the "Ave Maria", ''Panis Angelicus'' Gregorian Chant and many secular pieces. We were trained by Sr. Marie Therese and Mr. and Mrs. Knudsen, a Norwegian couple who dedicated their lives to the service of us as God's children. As a choir we sang the Common of the Mass in Latin with the monks, at the Mariannhill Monastery Church.


The choir was in great demand for weddings not only in the Catholic churches but in many of the various Christian Churches in and around Durban. I became familiar with the Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese such as the Emmanuel Cathedral, St. Joseph's (Stamford Hill Rd), Holy Trinity, Christ the king (Wentworth) the Assumption. I deeply admired the heartrending pieces performed on the pipe organ in these various churches. I became so fascinated by the excellent church such as Moira Kearney and Godfrey Slater. We were taken to the Durban City Hall on several occasions to recitals of classical music. I was very impressed by the rendering of the Passion play and the Arias Ensembles sung by May Abramharnse of the Eon Group from Cape Town which had a profound influence in my life. I vowed at the age of nine that I would fulfill my ambition of becoming a church organist and pianist one day. This vision became a reality when we were blessed to meet at the Corpus Christi Celebration held at King's Park Stadium, Mr. Barry Ward, a remarkable musician and an engineer, Mr. Ward or Uncle Barry as he would affectionately be called later on, steered my love for music to great heights. He taught me to become an adept pianist and musician beyond my wildest dreams. It was through his inspiration and guidance that I excelled as a piano accompanist. I owe the late Uncle Barry a very deep and sincere gratitude for making my career as a musician and music teacher incredibly awesome. I had decided from the age of twelve not to overlook this "gift of music" from God. Under the guidance of Uncle Barry who encouraged me all the way, I began to excel as a young pianist and organist. Both Sr. Marie Therese and the late Sr. Regina strongly encouraged me to pursue my career as a specialist, qualified musician. After I had left the home, I was given full permission by the late Sr. Anne Marie, Superior of the Sisters to continue practicing on the piano in the music room of the home. Mr. Ward appointed me leader of the band and in 1976 1 qualified with distinction in music at Bechet Training College. I furthered my musical and associated subjects through the trinity College of Music in London and also through Unisa. I've also conducted the choir for the musical ''The Witness" held at St. Anne's Church, Sydenham under the guidance to the OMI Fathers Money, Raucci and Danker. It is with much gratitude to God, the Augustinian Sisters, the staff at St Theresa's especially Mr. Joyce and Mr. King that I can confidently stand as a respected music teacher, a Church organist at booth St. Theresa's and St. Anne's Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Durban which l have humbly served from as early as 1972 to the present day. It has been my privilege to perform as Choirmaster, solo pianist and accompanist in many place from Durban to Cape Town. Having taught music at Charles Hugo School in Mayville I now teach music at the Sherwood Primary School.


In 2009 we formed an ex St. Theresa's Boy's Club. It has grown since its inception and the database has increased from 30 to almost 200 ex boys. The intention of the club is to network with the many boys who have been associated with St Theresa's from its humble beginnings since 1925. The core group of the association consists of five active members, namely Colin Penn (Secretary Charlie Anderson (P.R.O.) Patrick Mei Chairman). Bryan Laing (Network Coordinator) and Roland Meek (Associate Member). Our aim is to uphold the heritage of all that is and was taught by the Augustinian Sisters and Staff at St. Theresa's Home. We have adopted a working constitution as a valid document of the association's authenticity. We pray that God’s blessings come upon us in our endeavours to spread His Word which He has instilled in us through the many people He chose to help us to be what He wants us to be.


I am indebted to my beloved wife, Mary, for her loving care and encouragement over the years. To my dear children Nadine, Charles, an accomplished musician, Andrea, Emilene and Megan. I say thank you for your support and for being such loving children. Without you I would not have been able to fulfill my dream. May they all be inspired by God to continue His work for His greater glory.


I now conclude with the words of the famous theme song of St Theresa's Home


“We are St Theresa's Boys. We are St Theresa's Boys
We are respectable wherever we go, We are St Theresa's Boys."

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