Meet the Head - John Browne, Stonyhurst

Headmaster John Browne among the dramatic Stonyhurst turrets

Headmaster John Browne among the dramatic Stonyhurst turrets - Credit: Archant

John Browne, the headmaster at Stonyhurst, talks to Julie Frankland about the history and ethos behind this historic school

The headmaster has lunch with five pupils each day

The headmaster has lunch with five pupils each day - Credit: Archant

THERE’S an old saying when it comes to schooling that goes: ‘Show me a boy at the age of seven, and I will show you the man.’

This saying can be attributed to St Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier turned priest and founder of the Society of Jesus in the 16th century. They are better known today as the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order noted for its educational work.

St Ignatius’ quote has become a mantra for the importance of not just early years education but also, of an holistic approach to education that transcends just facts and figures to inspire, nurture and develop the child’s spiritual and emotional character that is the backbone to adulthood. And with some 720 boys and girls aged between three and 18 ultimately in his charge as the new headmaster of Stonyhurst College, it’s one John Browne is happy to adopt.

John took on the mantle at Stonyhurst at the beginning of the current academic year in September. The opportunity to do so, he says, just happened to come his way. As a product of a Jesuit education himself – John attended St Ignatius’ College, a North London state school, before studying music at Bristol University and law at City University – the chance to be in charge at not only the country’s leading independent Jesuit boarding and day school but also, the world’s oldest Jesuit school, founded in 1593, was just too good to miss.

Sport plays a big part in the school

Sport plays a big part in the school - Credit: Archant

John left St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow, an independent Jesuit day school of some 1,200 pupils where he was also headmaster, to travel south to the lush Ribble Valley village of Hurst Green and the magnificently imposing Grade I listed hall and its inter-connected outer buildings that is Stonyhurst.

John, who was also formerly deputy headmaster of Stonyhurst’s great sporting rival, Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire, and headmaster of Westminster Cathedral Choir School, said: ‘Stonyhurst is the most amazing place. It’s warm and friendly and plays an important role within the local community.

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‘There are 850 Jesuit schools around the world, 11 of which are in the UK and one of which is Stonyhurst. It is everything a Jesuit school should be. St Ignatius urged his pupils to “set the world on fire” and that’s something we also urge but not in a selfish way. We seek to nourish the spirit and to form men and women for others.

‘We really work at getting to know our pupils – to know their capabilities and what makes them tick - so that we can challenge them academically and in other areas of life. How an individual grows and develops as a character is just as important as academic excellence. Ultimately, we aspire to educational excellence and human competence. At Stonyhurst, we believe we can give our pupils that extra edge, which will allow them to go further in life. Yet we do not want to form young people who will just take what they can. Rather, we want them to leave us prepared to ask what they can give to others. This is captured wonderfully in the school motto, ‘Quant Je Puis’, All that I can.’

One of the student common rooms

One of the student common rooms - Credit: Archant

As part of his getting to know his pupils, John, who is married to speech and language therapist Marie and has a son, William, invites five different students a day to sit and have lunch with him.

He says: ‘I call it my essential five a day. It keeps me current with how pupils experience the school because I get to know things I wouldn’t learn in a classroom setting. It can be things pupils are really enjoying or it can be a leaking shower in one of the bathrooms. Either way, it’s important for them and so important to me as we share this environment.’

And sharing is a quality that looms large in life at Stonyhurst. It opens up to the public many of its wonderful facilities such as its swimming pool, leisure complex, golf course, grounds and its ‘Collection’, the oldest surviving museum collection in the English-speaking world that contains Henry VIII’s cope worn at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, Mary Queen of Scots’ prayer book and a Shakespeare First Folio.

The latest facility that locals as well as students can enjoy is an indoor tennis dome to complement its outdoor courts.

Since 2007, Stonyhurst’s governors have invested more than £16 million in the fabric of its buildings and further funds have been raised through charitable giving, leading to a new recording studio and sound-proof music practice pods, a new refectory, a purpose-built seniors’ boarding house with en suite facilities in every room and a new sixth form social centre complete with ICT facilities and wi-fi café.

They are also now overseeing the transformation of a derelict saw mill in the school grounds into a retreat and visitor centre called Theodore House as part of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst. In addition, they help determine the spend of what was last year £2.5 million in bursaries, which enables children from a variety of backgrounds to attend the college and may even see in the future the arrival of parentless European refugee pupils to the school.

John adds: ‘St Ignatius asks us “to stand at the margins and look to the horizon”; to take a world view. From our location in Lancashire, that’s just what we do.’

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