In 1966 Brother Bede Van Duren was appointed Principal of Justin High School and Religious Director of the Brothers’ community. He had taught at other Christian Brothers schools in California since 1956; he also held administrative posts as Vice Principal and served as basketball coach at La Salle High School in Pasadena where he had been a student favorite.
Brother Bede and I formed a fast connection when he first came to Mont La Salle’s high school as a sophomore. Luckily we both loved sports and became life-long friends who would work, teach, and coach together at La Salle as well as Christian Brothers in Sacramento. He was excitable and passionate about everything he did—a trait that got him into some trouble from peers and administrators who were used to a more calm approach. However his enthusiasm delighted his students except when he occasionally got angry. Then, watch out.
It was always easy for students and friends to needle Br. Bede just to get a reaction. That is why, in 1978, he was the honoree at the second annual tennis tournament known as the Nice Guy Tourney. I wrote to many famous people, including Hollywood celebrities soliciting letters on Br. Bede’s behalf, and the responses were overwhelming. Frank Sinatra sent a picture with best wishes, as did other stars. Veteran actor John Wayne responded with a signed photo for Br. Bede, the new Vice Principal and Dean of Discipline at La Salle in Pasadena. John knew how Deans could be viewed by students and responded with this insightful note, “Brother Bede, Dean of Discipline and a Nice Guy...hard to believe, John Wayne.” [Editor’s note: Br. Bede served on the 1979 tournament committee and read in the event program “The 1978 Nice Guy, tennis hacker Brother Bede is Director of the Christian Brothers community. A little slow on the draw, Bede didn’t realize he was last year’s Nice Guy until the night of the tourney.”]
One evening near the end of Bede’s tenure at Justin-Siena, I was in the stands in the gym when he addressed the parents. He was emotional as he spoke, and could have had a tear in his eye when he stated, “I wish I could put my arms around all of you and hug you all.” This, to me, captured Brother Bede’s growth as a Brother and administrator, but especially as a human being in expressing such a touching emotion.
As we honor Justin-Siena in its 50th year, we should be so grateful to the school’s first Principal, Brother Bede Van Duren.Br. Bede Remembered
Remarks from Br. Conrad Kearney, FSC
Bede was so friendly and cheerful. He was deeply loved and respected by students, alumni, parents, and a host of prominent people in the Napa Valley. He was instrumental in securing a future for the Brothers’ Napa school in its tenuous early years by soliciting feedback for a Feasibility Report that paved the way for a merger with neighboring Siena High School, thereby creating Justin-Siena.
Remarks from Sr. Jeremy Carmody, OP
As we were colleagues when Justin and Siena High Schools opened in 1966, my memories of Br. Bede and our nightly meetings in the Christian Brothers Residence (now the Christian Brothers Center—CBC) are fun to recall. In the midst of needlepoint, knitting, and cigarette smoke, we—along with Sr. Carol, Sr. Theophane, Br. Richard, and Br. Adrian—opened a school, developed courses, and developed a plan for the eventual merger of the two schools. Those were challenging times, yet the warmth of friendship and camaraderie in our mutual goals to be more for the communities we served fueled our efforts and formed a foundation for Justin-Siena today. I was Dean of Girls at the time and Br. Bede was principal—a very giving, fair, and kind man always with the best interests of the students at heart. During one of those nightly meetings as I was knitting away, keeping my hands busy while we discussed curriculum and students, I remember Br. Bede abruptly saying, “Sr. Jeremy, why don’t you stop that knitting.” He was quite surprised when I fired back with, “I’ll stop knitting as soon as you stop smoking!” Needless to say, neither of us ceased, and he never forgot that story—often bringing it up years later. I very much enjoyed working with Br. Bede; we were good friends. As early leaders of the school we shared a bond. I remember Br. Bede, Sr. Carol, Br. Richard, and I making the rounds to various graduation parties—many in one evening. Taking a cue from Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s characters in a popular movie, “The Sting,” we used the ‘tapping-the-side-of-the-nose’ gesture to signal to each other it was time to say goodbye and head to the next party. Br. Bede understood that relationships meant so much and was always interested in what more he could do for the community. I learned much during my time at the school. It was a growth-filled time for me, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Brothers like Bede and Br. Bertram and my own Dominican colleagues as well as important members of the community such as Bob Zeller, who was instrumental in the merger of the school. I cannot even begin to describe how much he did for the school. I am happy for the years I was able to serve there.
“Br. Bede was a levelheaded person, funny, easy to approach, honest, and just plain caring… He was a good representative of a Teacher… He made the daily routine of school easier.” –Joe Rossi ’70
About the Author: Pat O’Brien taught, coached, and counseled at various Lasallian schools for four decades before taking a position as the Regional California Admissions Representative for Marquette University. Lucky for him several of his assignments were with Brother Bede Van Duren. Pat also is a founding member of Les Amis des Freres, former Brothers who continue to foster the Mission of the Christian Brothers.