In the 1994 edition of “The Rock” magazine, Principal, John Boyce wrote “..we can’t rest on our laurels because our work is too important. Each year has to be a great year…”
The school was doing well – among the best in the South, with excellent exam results – with a talented and hard-working staff he had turned things around from the low point of just three years before.
A newcomer to Gore, John arrived at St Peter’s in 1991 from Hamilton, where he had been Senior Master at the Sacred Heart Girls’ College. He needed a new challenge and the Gore vacancy came up at just the right time. Catholic schools had recently been integrated into the state system and pay parity and comparable standards had ensued, making moving between state and Catholic systems easier.
Raised in North Canterbury, John had been a pupil at St Bede’s and was influenced in his choice of career by their teaching order of Marist priests. His subjects were English and Drama and his first job was at Ashburton College. He soon found that he had issues with the ethos in state schools, but found his niche in the Catholic system in Hamilton.
Later, arriving in Gore he was amazed at the friendliness of the people. His children made friends straight away and when his daughter went out to play, she came home with a Gore accent!
At St Peter’s he rallied the staff, put new structures in place and provided strong leadership. Together they changed disciplinary procedures, introduced one hour lessons, improved exam results and evened out subject distribution time, so that all subjects gained equal importance. Throughout this process, the Catholic character of the school was maintained and strengthened with the help of John’s wife, Suellen, Head of RE.
John recognized the need to “market” the school and introduced a more professional approach to how it was presented. This new way of thinking enabled the PTFA to go out and raise funds at a whole new level.
Looking back at those years, the Eisteddfods stand out as one of the highlights and when he moved on to Garin College in Nelson ten years later, John took the idea with him and introduced it there. They embraced it and went on to develop it with their own local culture and customs.
With his interest in drama, John produced several shows here at St Peter’s to much acclaim, notably “Godspell” starring Mike Puru in the lead role and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” with Brendan Terry. Throughout the 1990s rebuilding continued at the school, the car park was sealed, trees were planted and funds found for the hostel and the chapel roof.
After ten years, with a strong and vibrant school community, a hard working and cohesive staff, a new emphasis on the arts, along with continued success in sports, John realized that it was time for a change – for himself as well as the school. But he says he took the St Peter’s ethos to Nelson.
He hasn’t kept close ties with the school over the years, feeling that new people needed the freedom to get on with it, without his influence, and after fifteen years at Garin College in Nelson he has retired.
Retirement has brought more family time and the opportunity to indulge in his hobby of growing bonsai trees. He is learning to play the penny whistle too.
A shoulder tap from the Dunedin Diocese brought him back to visit St Peter’s in 2016, to review the Catholic Special Character of the school. On his return he found that outwardly it all looked much the same. There are more trees and two extra classrooms, but the community spirit that he so carefully nurtured is intact. In the 1991 “Rock”, John said “St Peter’s is busy and productive – just the way it should be.” He found it that way again today.
So, what does the future hold for our ex-principal? He hopes more time with his grand children, a greater role in parish life and a walk along the Camino de Santiago, Pilgrims’ Way in Spain – maybe he’ll be playing that penny whistle as he goes…………..