(This column first appeared in the Belen Jesuit Alumni Magazine, Winter 2021 edition)
There is a popular book written by educator Robert Fulghum titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten” (1989). The author claims the world would be a better place if adults put into practice the lessons learned as children in kindergarten. I do not disagree, but, based on my personal experience, would add a chapter to the book about the eleventh grade. Why this academic year in particular? Because of Patrick Collins.
This issue of the Alumni Magazine highlights one of the most important members of the Belen Jesuit community in Miami. On the occasion of his golden anniversary, we dedicate this periodical appropriately to a man whose life has been focused on the education of men. For 50 years he has faithfully served our school as a teacher, department chairperson, Close Up and Founding of a Nation founder and moderator, tennis coach, and co-founder of the Overseas Study Program. Personally, his impact on my life as a student, priest, and educator has been significant.
I was a junior in high school and one of the most important classes I had on my schedule was U.S. Government. The teacher, of course, was Mr. Patrick Collins. My classmates and I had heard about one of the few “gringo” faculty members on the Belen staff. Already a veteran teacher at the time, he had started walking the hallways of the school and dominating the classrooms when it was located in a warehouse in Little Havana. Mr. Collins was a bit intimidating, to say the least. Teachers like Mr. Nuñez and Mr. Rodríguez, who were great teachers in their own right, spoke with the typical Cuban accent that reminded us of our parents back home, but Collins was different. His soft-spoken articulation of the English language was unlike
anything we had heard before and it automatically made us realize he meant business.
I remember we were asked to read a book titled “Nuclear War: What’s in it for You?” by the Ground Zero War Foundation. The reading had to be followed by an extensive essay expressing our opinion of the book. The grade was important because, I believe, it was worth two test grades. I wrote my essay quickly the night before it was due. As you can imagine, my grade was less than stellar. What Mr. Collins returned to me was my essay filled with red pen marks indicating incomplete sentences, misused punctuations, and misspelled words (remember, this was before the world of computers and spell-check). I was devastated.
I met him in his office in order to plead my case and ask for an opportunity to make it better. He agreed and I got to work. I rewrote the essay with more care and turned it in only to get it back a couple of days later with other corrections. He asked me to write it again. Three essay versions later, he finally agreed it was a great paper. When I asked him what my grade was, he informed me it was the same as it was before. Flustered, I asked why he would make me rewrite it so many times if he never intended to change the grade. His response was simple, “Young man, what should motivate you in life to do better is to be better, not the grade.” Lesson learned.
I believe I speak for thousands of alumni in recognizing Mr. Patrick Collins as one of those teachers who impact, not simply the amount of information we carry in our brains, but profoundly impact the formative component of being men. His pedagogical goals were not ultimately our understanding of the workings of American government, but our growth in the virtues of citizenship, patriotism, responsibility, and leadership. Who we are as men is more important to him than what we know as students.
Many years removed from being a student, ordained and beginning my ministry at Belen Jesuit, I was asked by the school’s administration to give a lecture to the faculty on Ignatian pedagogy. The day after the presentation, I found a small sheet of paper on the desk of my office. On it was a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: “Wretched is the student who does not surpass his teacher.” It was followed by a signature that read, “Willie, you are not a wretched student... Pat.” Faded and creased, that slip of paper is framed and on my desk. It is a constant reminder of the true purpose of education. A purpose taught by Pat Collins.