Vincent Reade

The following recollections by Mr Arthur Hunt are taken from the Oratory Parish Magazine for Advent 1996.

I remember Father F. V. Reade, and how could I ever forget? Of course, my memories are those of a pupil at St. Philip’s Grammar School, where Fr. Vincent, or ‘Vink’ as he was affectionately known, was Headmaster from 1910-1937.

Saddled with such an onerous job, it is hardly surprising that he was not more well-known in the Parish, coupled with the fact that he was such an insignificant figure in himself. Little more than five feet tall, he has been described as a ‘mere bag of bones that a puff of wind would blow over.’

Humble, quiet, unassuming, he certainly was but an outstanding man of deep and wide learning, meticulous in his speech and caring nothing for worldly things. His dress was a fine example – green with age, frayed at the edges, his only good garment being a winter overcoat which remained in pristine condition because he so seldom wore it.

He invariably entered the school from the Church with his attache case, made of cardboard, held together with string, carried like a sandwich because the handle was too weak. But mention must be made of his large beautifully white handkerchief, which he carefully unfolded and trumpeted into with surprising gusto.

Despite his small stature and his genuine lack of self-importance, he was a truly great Headmaster. Always ‘the Boss’ and acknowledged as such by staff and boys alike, he gave himself completely to the school. He knew his pupils by heart and cared for them, as will all happily testify. He called us all ‘Dear Boy’, which made us feel at home and not just one in a crowd. Always readily available to parents, he would see them at any time of their own choosing.

As I said earlier, Fr. Vincent’s work in the school absorbed most of his time and energy, which meant that he was not as well known in the parish as some of his contemporaries, like Fr. Charles or Fr. Denis, but he actually spent 52 years in the Congregation of the Oratory, some of that time as the Father, the position occupied by the Provost.

Naturally stories about him abound amongst Old Boys, many of them probably apocryphal, but all of them underlining his kindness and devotion. Two typical instances come to mind. I had to tell him that I would be absent the next morning because I was due in Court over a minor traffic offence with my bicycle. As School Captain at the time I was filled with shame. Vinny said, ‘Well, isn’t that strange, dear boy? Last week I was lunching in Oxford with Professor Jones, and he had done exactly the same thing.’ How kind can you get?

And when I apologetically told him I’d managed only a Second Class Degree, he said, ‘Well, I must tell you, I also got a Second – and so did Cardinal Newman.’ Yes, F. V. R. was a truly great and holy man, and an excellent and much-revered Head.