Monthly Archives: June 2020

Thomas a Beckett and Henry II

I have a friend who does not like my fascination with history. On the local television show, he constantly asks me if I am in which century, the 19th. being the furthest-back he wants to travel. Most reportable history occurred prior to that. Most history was played out before that time, and for today’s story I travel back to the 1100’s, the time of Henry II, one of the most notable kings in English history, and Cardinal Thomas a Beckett. Both were notable, partially for their lifestyles, and partially for their deaths. After Henry II was successful with his murder of Saint Thomas, he subjected his body to multiple tortures at his own command. In addition to his tortures, he spent a long time having himself whipped by a real whip designed by the Roman Catholic church for use on monks who were somewhat errant. They were whipped on command, and Henry II had himself whipped on his own command in retribution for his crime of having his favorite Cardinal murdered by three somewhat misguided nobles.

Thomas a Beckett was a nobleman himself before he was named a Cardinal. In their famous dispute, Thomas was elevated from the King’s favorite nobleman and the Chancellor of England to being a deacon, which is not a place for the ordained of the church, to a Cardinal, whose position was bought by the King. The King, who had high hopes for a good relationship with the new head of the English church, instead found that the person he had elevated to the head position of the English church, was going to be difficult to manuever around. Thomas took his church duties with the same intensity he had given to his secular ones.

First, my interest in this struggle was augmented by the movie of the 1950’s, “Beckett,” starring Richard Chamberlain and Richard Burton. The two acted out the famous dispute incredibly well. Pieces did not review the chaos totally evenly, but the essence of the problem was there. Beckett was a powerful man who took into his charge his love of the clergy. He spent six years in abeyance, trying to avoid the end that seemed to be made especially for him. Henry II showed that he was indeed the King of England and he took it upon himself to rid himself of the pesky Cardinal. In a moment of drunken stupor, he gave his nobles the necessary permission to end Beckett’s life. Beckett was the most popular of all the clergy in England at the time, and the net result of the end of the famous feud was that Henry had to subject himself to severe punishments. The reported result of the feud was that Henry had to give himself up to the church for his crimes. It was not common for the monarch to submit his body and soul to the church for his crimes. But Henry, misguided about the severity of the role he had assumed would play over himself, subjected himself to incredible punishments. In some ways his body would never get over the punishments.

An interesting story, which can be treated as an aside, was the fact that people who worshipped at the Canterbury Cathedral, the church where Beckett was stabbed to death, cited a story that the church had a rivulet of blood that changed into water when the bloody mess went under the front entrance. People took the water and used it for bathing aching parts of their bodies, and many had old aches disappeared. A secular group of people formed a congregate, listening to these remarkable stories. The most inexplainable one was about a man without eyes. His eyes had been removed years before on the order of the King. There was documentation which cited his punishment of blindness for his previous crime and, looking at his eyes, it was determined that he did not have any. But he stated that he could see the men formed by the King. He looked around the church and started to describe anything that was new to the church, including those people who were washing in the stream started as a response to Beckett’s bloody death.

The civil authorities had to admit that the man could see, without eyes. This miracle was attested to by the men sent by the King. Another miracle was formed one hundred years to the day that Beckett was killed. A very human nightman saw a spirit in robes of a man with the rank of a Cardinal, approach the front door of the prison of the Tower of London. According to the nightman, the spirit rapped three times on the gates of the Tower, spoke something in Latin, and the entire Tower fell in the Thames River. He swore that his testimony was true. Exactly one hundred years later, another nightman looked up while he was standing next to the Tower, and heard a similiar spirit approach the gates of the new Tower of London, speak in Latin, rap three times on the gate, and the new Tower fell into the Thames. People thought it was the late Cardinal a Beckett and they prayed to him.

e King Henry was to have a relatively miserable life. His three sons, Lionel, the Prince; Richard the Lionheart; and John, who became one of the worst kings in English history; fought their father. He was against them in his own army, when his bastard son forged forward to their father and said that he would join him. In one of the most quoted sayings in English history, Henry looked at him and said, “You are the real son, the others, they are the bastards.”

So that is my lesson on Henry II. He died eighteen years later, very unhappily. Sorry to go back to another century, but this one was interesting.

A Few Good Words About a Good Man

I have spent years joking about my father, Dr. Wayne R. Peters which is not fair. George Anthes once pointed out that I poke fun at Dad and tell stellar stories about him on “City Life” television. George had a point, and much of that is true. Dad and I used to talk about his father, my grandfather, Albert Frederick Peters, and he was a very successful blacksmith with a second grade education. And that was true. But Dad always pointed out that his father was a better man than he was, and Dad relished the chances he had to talk about his father. There is a picture of my grandfather on my mantle with the inscription on the back, which says “He was a great blacksmith.” Despite his second grade education, his family was very proud of him, And I am very proud of my late father.

In the past few months I have written about my father, but not often enough. When he left Harvey, Illinois, which is next to South Chicago, to be in Lowell, he had an incredible career. Lowell diminished his record a bit. What mattered is that he came to Lowell with specifics that made his three year time period in Lowell important but Lowell tarnished his record. Dr. Joel Boyd, EdD. wants to serve more than the three years my father was given. He seems, to me, to admire Superintendent Vinnie McCartin more for his thirty years than he does for his record. When my father took over he had some huge problems to make the system credible. Close to one-third of the faculty consisted of Permanent Substitutes, including some wives of School Committeemen. Strangely, my father later became good friends with some of them. It was not uncommon to see these people at my house on Pine Street.

Dad had to rid the system of those Substitute Teachers who refused to return to colleges. It took him two years and cost him the Superintendency, But he did it, knowing he was never going to be a lifetime Superintendent like Vinnie McCartin. The Lowell “SUN” backed him for tenure but he never got tenure. The School Board uniformly dismissed it. He got some modicum of revenge, He was elected to the School Committee. I want to spend a little time talking, not poking fun at, Dr. Wayne R. Peters. Everybody called him Doctor.

I personally remember him visiting Lowell High School to find additional classrooms, to take pressure off of the classrooms. He found, as I recall, thirty three total. In two buidings.

Lowell’s educational system was in dire need of reform. One thing I remember clearly. My father was looking for classroom space and he stumbled on an overnight bedroom for the custodians. They were supposed to be cleaning up the building for the daily usage. What he found was a room used for sleeping by the custodians. The room was supposed to be used for an office. He had the beds ripped out that very day and reported what he had found.

He was doing the best he could, which was very good. He found over one hundred thirty uncertified teachers. School Committee members watched him try to get teachers certified by having them take part-time courses at local colleges. Many did not want to go back to college. He offered to help get certification and keep positions open if he could, but some Substitute Teachers just did not want to go back to school and he replaced them with teachers who had certification at the state, not the city level.

Many refused that avenue, and most wanted him to turn the other way when certification was the issue. The current Superintendent does not have to worry about one-third of his teachers being uncertified because of Dr. Wayne R. Peters. It cost my father his job, but he was very proud of his tough stand on this important issue.

I can say, if Dr. Boyd had to clean house to get rid of uncertified teachers. it might have altered his desire to be in Lowell. No Dr. Boyd, no Paul Georges, no UTL, and no state certification. The pressure on the Superintendent was incredible.

In his words, let’s look at what he did. In 1972, Wayne Peters notified this School Committee that his proudest moment was getting every teacher fully certified.

He wrote in his assessment, “…in the Lowell schools of which I am particularly proud,

  1. Complete certification of all Lowell teachers by September of 1972. Beginning in 1936 and until 1969 more than 130 uncertified, ill-prepared, and therefore illegally employed “permanent substitute” teachers worked in the Lowell School system each year,” His state contact was David Fitzpatrick of the Bureau of Certification at the Massachusetts Department in Boston.
  2. He wanted the rehabilitation of thirteen school buildings. The great majority of working school buildings were over one hundred years old. He wanted then demolished and replaced. You may not remember them, but I do. I have pictures of some of them. The person driving this at the state level was Mr. Lawrence Fitzpatrick, no relation to Mr. David Fitzpatrick above.
  3. He wanted to see the lowering of pupil-teachers ratios “throughout the Lowell School Department.”
  4. The adoption of a Ten Year Building Plan calling for the construction of an addition to Lowell High School,

This was a Superintendent who realized that the funding for the ten year building plan was not going to be paid for by the state, It was the responsibility of the school system at that time. He did not want to see the school system ‘break its bones’ on a building plan that was solely the responsibility of the city. He was only in Lowell for three years as Superintendent, but as a School Committee member he saw the state take baby steps in the massive building plan. I can say, as a father and Superintendent, he was very careful about money.

I remember one incident that infuriated the custodians. He enlisted a group of citizens, as volunteers, to rebuild the Library from scratch. I had the opportunity to help build that Library; and we did such a good job that it lasted through the superintendency of Dr. Karla Brookes Baer. The state gave the money to move the library to the basement of the 1893 building. Later, it moved to the current location. That is in the 1983 building, where one room is named after Dr. Wayne R. Peters.

So that is a somewhat small microcosm of the system. Dr. Wayne Peters was denied tenure despite the fact that the Lowell “SUN” endorsed him. He moved his superintendency to Holbrook, MA. He stayed there for seventeen years. It was Lowell’s loss. He commuted to Holbrook and lived in Lowell. He ran for School Committee, garnering a tremendous 5,000 vote total in front of the second-place finisher, Mrs. Kay Stoklosa. Kay and my father met frequently at our Pine Street house, as I recall.

I think Dr. Joel Boyd, EdD should not be inclined for Vincent McCartin’s thirty year legacy. McCartin was basically a politician, not an educator. Dr. Boyd should shoot to be like Wayne Peters, not surprisingly, but I believe that Peters did more in three years than McCartin did in thirty. I lived through those days and answered the phone when Mr. McCartin called my father to tell him he got the job in Lowell. It was a time of great excitement. I love going through my father’s papers and knowing his legacy. He was very special and he was right for Lowell.