I’ve had a couple of attempts to write this post and so far and I’ve lost a bunch of stuff I’ve written. So, this one could be the best of three, or may even be the worst but that’s not so important. What’s important for me is the information that came to me a few weeks back, which I feel is worth writing about and hence is why I’m writing this revision for the third time.
This all started when I wrote a post about my final year at St Ignatius College, Riverview, when my religion teacher, Peter Bohrsmann surprised me with an act of kindness. You can read more about it here (http://disorderlyhappiness.com/2012/04/10/peter-bohrsmann-on-would-jesus-do-at-st-ignatius-college-riverview/).
I then got a call from a friend of Peter’s, who told me what I already felt was true, that his suicide was not a confession of guilt for what he was accused of, which is what people presume when such a thing happens.
But if you haven’t read that post and you’re interested in what this is all about, here is a bit of a background…
Peter Bohrsmann was accused of some kind of sexual thing with a male student, and this accusation was never found to be true. Peter’s friend, whose name I can’t remember, but as he says he reads this blog, I’m hoping he’ll comment with his name and clarify anything here – he told me the accusation was from an anonymous tip-off to the police. So they, the police, doing their job had to investigate and they found no evidence.
Peter apparently thought it came from a woman who worked in the refectory, which if that’s a term you’re unfamiliar with, it’s where food is prepared for boarders, who are the kids that live at the school. The reasoning Peter had was that because he’d recently had an argument with this lady, and because in Peter’s mind the accusation was baseless, she was the most likely candidate for the anonymous accuser. He was so sure of this that he tried to make her feel guilty by getting her to be a witness to his will. I suppose he thought this would make it known to her that he knew she was behind the tip-off and she’d feel regret or remorse, or at least she’d feel much worse when she’d learn about his suicide.
The thing here, from what I heard was his suicide wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, it was planned and it’s likely that it might have been on his mind even before this event. Afterwards, Peter’s friend for instance saw all the receipts of the equipment he bought to get the car exhaust into the closed car. Peter even bought a new car just beforehand – maybe he just wanted to treat himself with a last bit of luxury before committing the final act. It makes some sense to treat yourself when you mightn’t have another chance again. The point being was it appeared planned and if he was guilty of some sexual act with a boy, it wouldn’t make any sense he’d be thinking this lady was the anonymous accuser to the extent of getting her to witness his last will, as a sort of retaliation, at least not in my mind anyway.
Yet to put this in more context from what I understand, Peter had previously attempted suicide a long time before, so it’s likely he fought with a deep sadness that might have had a lot to do with his father committing suicide too when he was just a young boy. On top of that, Peter’s family life was generally dysfunctional, so Riverview, the school that took him in, was the saving grace from his troubled youth. I can imagine then that he must have had strong emotional ties with school, in a way the school perhaps acted as surrogate parents and these emotional connections are not likely to just disappear when we become adults.
Why this is important is the school just before this accusation had demoted him from the high position he had there. It was due to one of those hired business consultant teams that throw around words like innovation, economize, streamline, competitive edge etc. etc, far too often, and these guys came to the school and saw Peter as a someone who couldn’t be “re-branded” enough to fit into their glossed over vision of what the school should transform into – to place itself as “a strong competitor in the marketplace”. So he was demoted and that was sure to be a big hit, considering the school was for him his home, his passion, his life, and in many ways emotionally, his parents.
But I feel it’s probably a good time to add a bit of a disclaimer. I’m talking about this as if I have first hand knowledge of these events, which I don’t – but I want to relay what I was told and from how my memory best serves me regarding the phone conversation I had, because I believe many ex pupils might have automatically believed that Peter Bohrsmann was guilty of what he was accused of, and I personally feel, even more now that he wasn’t.
Back to the topic then. Peter’s friend also mentioned a lot of good things about his mate. One thing that struck me was that he loved the surf, that he came from the northern Sydney beaches and he relished in the waves. It was out in the surf that he apparently felt he could be himself and when he was himself, he didn’t mind expressing his common tongue. It may be why my last religion essay which had many fucks and shits and cunts written throughout it, as I recall, wasn’t such a big deal to him. As I wrote in the previous post, Mr Bohrsmann was far more concerned with the reason I wrote like this than the words themselves.
It’s funny about the surfing thing too, because I used to take a pretend sick day or what was then called wagging from school almost once per week to get out in the surf myself and I never figured he was a surfer. I mean, he didn’t look the part, he was a big guy in both the up and sideways dimensions.
Anyway, from my memory, I recall that it was his down to earth nature, kindness and his humbleness that was a quality that really set Peter apart as a teacher and person, and that’s why a lot of kids liked him. He’d often joke with the kids and so would have to take a few of the big guy jokes on his chin, because he was a big guy but from memory he’d just be quick witted about it because wasn’t the type of person that would dish a hurtful comment back, like some other teachers, who seemed to do that out of some twisted need to exert power and control over young kids.
The last thing I’m going to write about was how Peter used to attend Fr Ted Kennedy’s church at Redfern, Sydney. Fr Ted, was not the conventional Catholic priest, his masses where really informal almost like a group of people got together and talked, while a few ritual interludes had to be injected in between. I’m not a church goer myself, but I went there once when my Polish grandmother-in-law, Halina who visited Australia and wanted to go to Sunday mass. In her mind, so my wife said because I can’t speak Polish, it wasn’t really a service, so it didn’t really count towards the weekly mass attendance checklist!
Anyway, Fr Ted did a lot of work for the Aboriginal community and a lot of that community went to church there. Peter, was always offering to help Fr Ted’s church financially or with things needed for the community and from what Peter’s friend said, who spoke to Fr Ted, he contributed a fair bit. This was something that wasn’t really known about Peter among his friends or colleagues from what I heard, as he never really talked about it. It was only known to Peter’s friend by the off change phone call he had with Fr Ted, while he was doing his own investigating of the events around Peter’s death.
I understand that Peter’s friend has written or is in the process of finishing a book about Peter, which will obviously have a lot more detail than this post. Anyway I wanted to thank you again, Peter’s friend for straightening this out for me, sorry I forgot your name!!
My personal feeling on the matter of Peter Bohrsmann’s death, having myself a strong sense that an afterlife or spirit life exists, is that suicide is sure to bring some difficult circumstances for the person that commits suicide after passing. But having said that, I feel someone like Peter, who had a real and by that I mean a demonstrated religious conviction, had a strong belief in God, was humble and kind, would get through these challenges relatively quickly, and move to a good place, one that’s a hell of a lot better than a life at Riverview anyway!
On a side note, I don’t have a huge issue with my old school but I did and still do have a big aversion to institutions that act out with hypocrisy, but then again, I myself, in the past have been a hypocrite, so who am I to judge? Well all in all, I feel it will all make sense soon enough and we’ll all have a laugh about everything we hold on to too strongly – for dear life!
So too, wherever you are, thanks Peter for being a great teacher and a good bloke to many.