Interview with Bro. Joel McGraw, CBHS student and former CBHS Professor

Amber- “Hello! My name is Amber Campbell, and I am here with Brother Joel McGraw from Christian Brothers High School. We will be discussing the Kenrick Memory Project. What was it like going to Christian Brothers High School in Kenrick?”

Bro. McGraw- “I had come from Sacred Heart grade school which had been a smaller school. My cousin had brought me here in August 1959. I was fortunate because it was before school started. We worked in the bookstore. The bookstore was in the basement of Kenrick Hall. I was able to break in and meet people. I met Brother Luke, he was the first Brother I met. And coming in to Kenrick, it was so massive, it’s a big place. It’s beautiful. It was only 19 years old when I came here, and I thought it was ancient. But it’s such a solid, massive building. It was the main building on campus that you drove by. There is no building in Memphis like it, as far as I am concerned, as far as architecture. It is very distinctive. I felt like I was coming to the high school. I was coming in to the world of the Brothers. I loved the wooden floors and the bolted down desks. The whole atmosphere, the lockers, the insignia, the solid doors and everything had character, tradition and beauty. When I look back at those things, those were impressive to a kid. 

There was a sign when you came onto the first floor that said “Here is the place of my labor. Here will I work for I am chosen.”

I remembered that we have the same sign at the new high school because it is an important moto for the boys coming in. I remember seeing that, and I thought that was impressive.”

Amber- “What was your first thought when you entered Kenrick?”

Bro. McGraw- “How big it was. I’m in high school. This is a different world. I liked being here. The people were nice. The seniors were nice to you, and since I worked in the bookstore, it gave me a little in. I worked there at the beginning of every semester. Of course it helped on the books side. I was glad to be there. I begged my parents to go to Catholic High, and they said no. Most of the boys at the time were going to Catholic High and made fun of you if you were coming here. So that’s the reason why I asked my parents to go there. They said 'No. You’re going with the Brothers.' They were wise."

Amber- “What was your best Kenrick moment?”

Bro. McGraw- “My favorite thing wasn’t a particular thing. I enjoyed being here. I enjoyed school. I struggled with math and science every single year. I loved the Brothers, and I liked my classmates. I joined the band, and that became my life. That was good for me because I wasn’t an athlete. We were a good band. Our band director was very strict. It was the oldest high school band in the United States. I loved being part of the tradition. People always say they are proud to go to the Brothers. I felt that pride. I enjoyed being in Kenrick Hall. It wasn’t called Kenrick when I was here. It was just the high school building. It was later named Kenrick when it became a college. They named it after the Kenrick Brothers, Bro. Joseph Matthew and Bro. Luke Joseph. They were blood brothers, and their family name was Kenrick. They were from New Orleans. Bro. Joseph Matthew was the last superior of the school when it was on Adams. And because there were two of them, they decided to name it after them.”

Amber- “Why did you decide to become a Brother?”

Bro. McGraw- “Well in grade school, the Sister of Terrain Nazareth taught me. I was attracted to their community life. They taught and were devoted to God. People loved them, but they were women. And I thought that’s too bad, I’m out. I came here afterwards, and the Brothers were the same. They lived in community, taught school and were devoted to God. They were good men who gave their lives for a cause. They were simple. I loved them. I wanted to be with them. October of my senior year, Br. Kenneth called me over to the administration office and said “We think you should consider being a Christian Brother”. It was a Thursday because I remembered that my mother ironed on Thursdays. I told her that they want me to become a Brother. And she asked did I want to. And I said yes. She said 'don’t tell your father.'"

Amber- “Did you have any second thoughts?”

Bro. McGraw- “I didn’t want to leave home. I was a home body. The thought of leaving home and my family was very difficult. For that reason, my dad made me go to Memphis for a year to get away from the Brothers entirely. If I still wanted at the end of the year, he would let me do it. They thought that the year would change me, but I was still a home body. I left them on my 19th birthday.”

Amber- “How long have you been a Brother?”

Bro. McGraw- “Fifty years this year. I entered June of 1964.”

Amber- “What doors have CBHS (CBU as a whole) opened for you?”

Bro. McGraw- “As I said they interviewed me to be a Brother. Being a Brother put me in the corner of a lot of people’s lives. I’ve had admission to a lot of people’s families. I’ve taught 6,400 students. I have had a corner of their lives that I would not have if I wasn’t a Brother. I have this special relationship with them and their families. I love them, and they love me. Our founder St. De La Salle said work with gentleness because they will learn so much better.”

Amber- “Were there any places outside of Memphis that you were allowed to venture out to?”

Bro. McGraw-“I went on family vacations to New York, Detroit, Florida and Mississippi. So that night on June 21st, that was the first time I had been out of Memphis by myself. That was a big order. I was first assigned to Jefferson City, MO. Then they transferred me here. I think they forgot I was from Memphis because they never put you in your home town. I stayed here for 10 years, and then I was transferred to Tulsa, then back to Memphis after 3 years. Then I went to New Mexico, then back to Tulsa. I then came back to Memphis. I’ve spent most of my life in Memphis. The school uses me for campaigning and working with alumni. I teach in the morning, so I’m free in the afternoons to do that.”

Amber- “Any other interesting facts you would like to share?”

Bro. McGraw- “I think the demolition of Kenrick is necessary. I heard it was 11 million to renovate, and 8 million to rebuild. The building on the outside is beautiful. But the windows leak, it’s a technological disaster; the air conditioner doesn’t always work. The rooms are too large for what a college is. The air and heat leak out of the building. It is good for architecture but bad for the college. When you see the building that you went to high school in about to be torn down it’s sad. But sentiment is not what CBU needs. It’s need a technological building. I hope it will match the Kenrick building, architectural wise.”

Amber- “Is there anything in Kenrick that you would like?”

Bro. McGraw- “I would like a set of lockers. I would like to put them in CBHS’ history hall. There is no art or insignia in the school so I can’t think of anything else. I hope that they save the school seal.”

Amber- “Thank you!”