Farewell to a Great Friar

Rev V N Kierce OCarm would joke with his Carmelite counterparts that he would be taken out of Whitefriars College in a box.  He was on the grounds and died peacefully in his sleep on night of Friday May 8, 2015.  He joined the staff of the college in 1968 and remained at the school till his final day, apart from a couple of sabbaticals he described those 5 years away as “blips” on the calendar.  His legacy will live on with imprint he had on so many lives.  This describes just a small portion of his impact on my life, there are thousands more stories from current and past students of Whitefriars College.

February 1975 was my first step into life at Whitefriars, a big change from primary school with six footers and larger abounding.  Fr Noel Kierce had achieved somewhat legendary status already.  He taught at the senior levels so our paths did not really cross early, but his reputation, association with the word fierce and a nickname that I will choose omit from this piece did not quite put the fear of god in a young friar – but it was pretty close.

As years progressed and our paths did cross I wondered what all the fuss was about – a more caring and gentle man I had never met.  He certainly had standards and rules to abide by, but the bark was significantly worse than the bite.  In 1978 Noel was promoted to be the school principal, a role he held till 1988.  During his tenure the enforced trip to the Principal’s office did not necessarily have the effect the prescribing teacher desired.  There was always a jar of humbugs on the desk and the matter at hand was dealt with quickly before a more jovial discussion on whatever the boy’s interests were.  He not only led the school from its Carmelite roots but was an agent of change and led the school through a period of great growth.

Being a Latin teacher he was quite the academic, but it was outside of this area where Noel made his mark.  Myself on the sporting side learnt of his passion for cricket, footy, swimming along with other sports and his support of the Richmond Football Club.  In the early days he coached and umpired senior cricket and I vividly recall his pride when Simon Croke became the first Friar to notch a century for the school.  Crokey was ahead of his time using the space above the fielders rather than between.

On the footy side he had a vision as to what it could do for the bonding of young men and the school community – the result was a catalyst for great growth and recognition for the college.  He was a key component in the recruitment of Mr R. B. Keane OAM.  Ray Keane was ex-army and arrived at the college in mid-1977 and might be described these days as an impact player.  My first encounter with him was in the tuckshop area where he was taking aim at any student with hands in their pockets.  I am not really sure how bad it was for posture, but I was certainly conscious of the consequences if you were trying to be invisible.

Noel and Ray reformed the school’s attitude to sport and football in particular.  Ray was then the runner for Fitzroy and became the footy coach also bringing the great Garry Wilson to the school as a teacher.  A group of my contemporaries broke bread with Garry late last year who described his enjoyment of his time at the college and in particular his admiration of Noel Kierce.  Before too long the school team was dominant in the EIS competition and a regular participant in the Herald-Sun Shield matches that were curtain-raisers to the night competition.  Gee whiz Triple Brownlow Medallist Bobby Skilton used to salivate over the prospects of Bradley Gotch!  The Friars got to the Semis in my time but have since won this competition a few times since.

Not my bag, but he was a huge supporter of the swimming program.  Always on hand for swimming squad on Tuesday a

Part of the program was not just about the school teams.  Noel was always in contact with past students, but wanted to really make them part of the broader school community.  He drove the initiative to begin the Old Collegians Football Club.  An early attempt to enter the EFL didn’t quite get up, but the ball was rolling and in 1986 the Friars played their first game in the VAFA.  A great many people worked hard to get us on the ground – but it was Fr V N Kierce who provided the impetus and resources and is why he was the patron of our club and who we will be forever indebted.

It wasn’t all goals, runs and wickets for Noel, he loved a musical!  He was also a key driver in the development of the performing arts program.  The theatre and music centre was built on his watch and school productions have grown significantly since the all-boys ensemble that delivered The Mikado when I was in Form 1.

His greatest legacy though is mark he has left on so many of our lives.  Caring, compassion, love, understanding and friendship were just some of his great traits.  Thousands of students passed under his time at the college, he maintained relationships with so many of us across all those year levels.  He celebrated our successes and he was always there as great counsel and comfort in troubled times.

Matrimony and baptisms he performed in vast numbers for his flock.  The bride and I were one of those married by Noel.  He couldn’t get to our reception as another Friar, John Blakey, was being married later in the day.  Bookings were solid!  Going against the grain and marrying someone with Anglican bishops and leaders in her bloodlines, we needed special dispensation to allow Noel to be a co-celebrant at our nuptials in an Anglican church.  This involved being interviewed by Noel and the bride agreeing that I be able to do everything in my power to have our children raised Catholic.  We got the dispensation, but the bloodlines were strong.

Then there is something other than blood for the Friars.  The heir attended one of the leading private schools in Melbourne, their Old Boys ply their footy in the Premier Section of the Ammos.  But in our travels to Friar Park to watch, support and assist the club he grew an affinity to the place and chooses to play his footy at the Friars.  I am not sure exactly why he made that choice, but I do know how well he was always treated by the players when running water or the boundary or just watching the footy.  It is not a long bow to stretch that the player’s kindness and care for the heir has its roots in the compassionate culture that Father Kierce was so instrumental in building.

He will be missed by many and I am so indebted for knowing him,

Rest in Peace


  1. Well said Sal. I will remember Kiercey very fondly. His passing is something of a shock. For a good part of my life (I met him in 1976) he has been one of those constants. I remember he would often call into our house on a Sunday morning whenever he filled in for the Parish Priest in Montmorency. It should have been a weird feeling having your school’s headmaster at the lunch table. But it wasn’t. He was a great humanitarian.

    If the true measure of a person’s life is how the world might be better for their existence, then Noel Kierce succeeded enormously.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    I was unfortunate/fortunate to have many a trip to Fr Kierce’s office just before being given my final marching orders, by him no less. A truly kind and understanding bloke, I just wish there were more like him there at the time. One of my most vivid memories of the Kierce/Keane double act was in the gym. In front of Fr. Kierce Ray Keane let forth the greatest spray any living individual could’ve unleashed. No one and no expletive, bar one, was spared. Kierce must’ve been a great poker player because his expression gave absolutely nothing away.


  3. G’day Steve. I reckon you were the year below me at Whitefriars? 1977 your first year? Or maybe 1976?

    Another thing about Kiercey, he was into footy stats way before it was trendy. I remember he used to watch the seniors playing (early 70s – my oldest brother’s side) and was keeping stats way back then. He even kept the “ineffective kicks” stat. Amazing.

  4. Steve Hodder says

    yup Dips, started in ’77 and shown the door term 1 1980. Like I said, I wish there were a few more like Fr Kierce. 12-15 y.os often need a guiding hand rather than the “proverbial” boot up the arse. Some of the alumni might have a giggle at the thought of me being a Hist/Eng teacher; the result of finding a couple of “guiding hands” after leaving Whitefriars. Never struck anyone like Ray Keane anywhere in my teaching career, but a couple during my time in the railways.


  5. Top bloke. Top stuff. Thanks Sal – these sort of pieces always give me some perspective and things to aim for.

  6. Sal Ciardulli says

    Hi Steve,

    Our paths crossed briefly after Whitefriars, you had just taken a full time position in a retail outlet I was the part timer who had been there a while. The other staff confided in me their concerns about the new guy – particularly concerned about your radical thoughts and reading a book on Marx.

    During a break I took a glance at a few pages of your book. I was particularly taken by the story of Groucho not wanting to be a member of a club that would take him as a member! Not sure a a book on the Marx Brothers was of too much political.

    Noel found the good in everyone – especially the rogues – which set him apart. He would enjoy the irony of you becoming a teacher.

    Great to hear from you.

  7. Steve Hodder says

    PB Shoes!

  8. Jim Johnson says

    To all the comment writers and Sal Ciardulli Jim Johnson says thanks for your kind words re one of my school mates at Lilydale Higher Elementary School.
    As the Captain of Cummins house in 1949 at Lilydale I was fortunate to have in my house cricket team one Noel Kierce. Our school was small in numbers so I knew many of them. I still have in a large brochure copy for a reunion of 1990 that I was heavily involvedI in organising for Lilydale Higher Elementary School the year before I attended Melbourne High School in 1950. A copy of my hand written house cricket team including Noel Kierce is in the brochure. This Brochure had 20 pages full of school pictures with all the names including teachers and phone numbers recorded together with results of the annual school sports with many of the place winners recorded. In the intermediate 100 yards Noel came second. In the intermediate 220 yards he also came second. A video copy of the reunnion I still have. I won the hundred yards, second in the hop step and jump and of all things first in the high jump ahead of Stan Prout who was around a foot taller than little Jimmie Johnson.
    To all the comment writers and Sal Ciardulli Jim Johnson says thanks for remembering a great man.

Leave a Comment