Thomas Kendell (1929-2001) R.I.P. - The passing of a great Catholic educator

Thomas Kendell (1929-2001) R.I.P. - The passing of a great Catholic educator

Nicholas Kendell

The large turnout at Tom Kendell's Requiem Mass on 24 October at St John Vianney's Church, Mulgrave, indicated the high regard in which he was widely held, especially for his educational achievements. Among the Mass concelebrants were Bishop Moore from Papua New Guinea, Fr Stenhouse, editor of 'Annals', and the present and former Principals of Mazenod College.

During his long period as Principal of Sacred Heart College, Oakleigh, it became one of Australia's outstanding Catholic schools, by virtue of its religious ethos, moral tone, academic standards and sporting achievements. Tom Kendell was a regular contributor to 'AD2000', offering his typically frank views on Catholic education and what needed to be done - views not always warmly received in high places. This journal extends its sympathy to Tom's family - he will be sorely missed. The Catholic community has lost a great man and a true visionary in the field of education.

This article is adapted from Nicholas Kendell's tribute to his father at the Requiem Mass.

From the time he left school in Adelaide at 13 to work as a "lolly boy", progressing to the rank of projectionist at the local cinema, Tom Kendell was looked upon by those around him as a leader. Subsquently, he decided to return to school to complete his matriculation - a feat he accomplished after an absence of five years from formal education.

A brief stint in the novitiate of the Christian Brothers led him to believe that the religious life, though very worthwhile, was not for him. South Australian State titles in boxing, athletics and cycling would be testament to his commitment to tasks and application to a work ethic. (Until his dying day he maintained that he was robbed of an Australian lightweight title by a bad points decision!)

Tom coached and managed the South Australian State athletics team for four years, coached many school athletes to high achievements in both Victoria and South Australia, and for 14 years hosted the athletics segment on World of Sport in Adelaide. He used to tape his voice from the television on one of the old reel- to-reel tape recorders, and on returning home would spend hours critically analysing his voice projection, inflection and any mistakes made. One could rest assured he would not repeat any shortcomings.

Tom finally decided that a life in education was to be his vocation. It would become more than just a job, as over the years he helped mould the lives of others, placing no limits on his time and generosity.

There was very little that he would not do for his students. In the early days our house in Magill Road was inundated with Rostrevor athletes on Summer camps, while later he would spend hours at night investigating ways to make Sacred Heart the best possible Catholic school in Victoria - a task many people believe he achieved with flying colours.


Tom Kendell was determined to provide a top quality Catholic education for Catholic families regardless of their financial status or location. And such was the school's growing reputation that there were often waiting lists for entry, and many girls travelled from the farthest reaches of greater Melbourne for the privilege of attending Sacred Heart.

At times he was unpopular, both with the Melbourne Catholic Education Office and local parish priests, but he remained unflinching in his opinions and beliefs and proved to all that he was a man of conviction and honour. He was always of the opinion that in teaching it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected. He was both.

His time at Sacred Heart was rewarding in many ways, with exceptional student achievements, sporting successes, study tours - including two visits to the Vatican and private audiences with the Holy Father - and a succession of outstanding young Catholic women graduating from the school.

Soon after Tom began teaching he met, fell in love with and married his soul-mate, Madeleine. They would be happily married for almost 40 years. While Tom's time at school certainly accounted for a major slice of his life, his one true love was his family. His devoted wife was always a strong supporter of his work and their relationship was built around love and commitment to each other. He was also very proud of his children - Ruth, a mother of three, and the present writer, who followed in his father's footsteps and is now teaching at an International School in Hong Kong.

In the final weeks of his life Tom was not afraid of dying, for he was at peace with God and his family - in his passing what more could he ask for? He wanted to be remembered for the fact that he was a loving family man, a committed Catholic and a true believer in the value of a good Catholic education.

One of his favourite quotes when inspiring athletes was "To succeed is to suffer and to suffer is to succeed". Tom Kendell, thankfully, did not suffer too long, but as a husband, a father, a friend, an educator and a man his life was certainly a demonstrable success.

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