When a group of school friends got together near Thames last August, it was just for a chinwag. But towards the end, they decided to have another meeting that would be bigger, brighter and better.
That’s how “The Final Assembly” of ex-pupils of two former colleges that had been amalgamated into Campion College in Gisborne came to be.

One of the organisers, Bede Brittenden, told NZ Catholic it wasn’t a reunion of old boys and girls from Campion College as such since the college did not exist during their time. Rather, it was “a get-together of all the oldies” from Saint Edmund Campion College, founded by the Marist Brothers for males, and St Mary’s College, founded by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart for females.

“We were certain of only two things: that it will happen in March and in Rotorua. We just spread the word all around the place and we finished up getting a group of 82 [people],” Mr Brittenden said. About 60 of the total were former pupils from either school.

The get-together was held at the Distinction Hotel in Rotorua on March 4 and 5.

“We chose Rotorua as the venue being fairly central for the North Island, whether it was Gisborne or Auckland or Wellington,” he explained. “They came from all over New Zealand. In fact, four people came from Australia.”

As in all Catholic school assemblies, there was a speech from present Campion College principal Paul McGuinness.

There was also a “roll call” of the attendees at the first dinner. The microphone was passed around and people gave their names, maiden names if applicable, and where they live. They were also asked when they were “expelled”, which really meant when they left the school as many of the boys who left town transferred either to St Patrick’s College, Silverstream or Sacred Heart College (Auckland).

On the second day, Gisborne parish priest Msgr Frank Eggleton celebrated Mass, which was offered for pupils who  had passed away. The names of those pupils were placed on the altar.

During dinner on the second night, there was a prize-giving ceremony.

Awards (fridge magnets) were given to the oldest and the youngest, the lady with the whitest hair, the gentleman with the most hair, the person with the highest number of grandchildren and the longest current marriage, among others.

Asked if any old flames were rekindled, Mr Brittenden laughed. “Not to my knowledge,” he said, but he observed that “many of the couples there came out of those two schools”.

Mr Brittenden said most of the feedback he received was that the event “exceeded everyone’s expectations”.

“The other thing was, many of them, I’d guess, hadn’t seen each other for 60 years because they are now in their seventies and they left school in the 50s. That was a very big factor. I guess, I wouldn’t have seen a third of them since I left school,” he said.

The people in the original group that conceived the idea of “The Final Assembly” included Ian Story, Denis and Gail Clare, Paul and Jill Hickey, Brian Brosnahan, Br Brian Callaghan, SM, Barrie Owen and Barry Hilton.

Mr Brittenden came up with the name. “We’re pretty old and we won’t be going to many more, will we?,” he said, chuckling.

He was adamant, however, that that was the last.

“It was so successful that many didn’t want it to be ‘final’. It may happen, but there are no plans because it’s the final,” he said.

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