Talking heads: Whitefriars College’s principal John Finn

Whitefriars College Principal John Finn. Photo: Mathew Lynn

Whitefriars College Principal John Finn. Photo: Mathew Lynn

The close connection Whitefriars College has with students and their families is one of the main reasons John Finn wanted to become the school’s principal.

Before he joined the school as principal four years ago, John was in a non-teaching role with Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) – helping to support Catholic school principals across Melbourne, after many years of teaching (and leading) schools.

“One of the schools I came to was Whitefriars. I was helping them with their leadership review and working with the college’s board.

“The college has a very strong family, community feel about it and has enormous respect for those who have moved on from Whitefriars. I felt a connection to the place.”


3 things I have learnt

1. Relationships are the most important factor in any school – between students, staff, parents and the community.

2. No matter what a person’s background or ability, there is a valuable place for everyone in society.

3. The closer the relationship between the values of the parents and the school, the greater the chance of success for the student.


It’s not surprising that connection to family would be a drawcard for John, given that he comes from a large family himself.

He has six siblings; four sisters and two brothers who all grew up together in Bentleigh in Melbourne’s south-east.

While teaching has become his lifelong passion, John says he almost didn’t choose a career in education.

Whitefriars College Principal John Finn. Photo: Mathew Lynn

Whitefriars College Principal John Finn. Photo: Mathew Lynn

After finishing high school, he started a science degree at Monash University and was planning to study medicine.

“Initially I decided to look into medical work. But then I actually met someone who was at teachers’ college and got interested in the whole idea of teaching,” he says.

So, while studying his science degree at Monash, John also studied his teaching degree at Australian Catholic University.

John’s first teaching job was at De La Salle College in Malvern where he had also been a student.


My Philosophy

“All children have the right to an education which will give them benefit – a strong social connection, be giving and feel a valued part of the community.”


He says it was a little strange returning to the school to teach.

“The bizarre part was, before the first day of [teaching] class, sitting in a staff room with people that had taught you and calling them by their first names, because when I went to school we called people by their surnames,” he says.

In his early years, John taught science, religious education and geography.

“I did have a couple of very astute older teachers, who used to wander by my classroom and duck in the back and say, ‘How are you going?’.

“They used to make some suggestions – at the time you just think it’s a conversation but it’s what’s now called mentoring.

“I realise I do the same thing now. It’s very important for a young teacher to have good, strong mentors.”

John’s career has seen him teaching and leading in several Melbourne schools including St James College and Xavier College and he is now the first lay person (non-priest) to lead Whitefriars College – Australia’s only Carmelite School.

At Whitefriars he has worked to revise the Mission and Values Statements for students, teachers and college leaders.

He’ has also been able to build on the close relationship the school has with the Carmelite order in East Timor and continue to teach students the importance of being socially aware; to be “gentle men” in the Carmelite tradition. “It’s been a great honour to tak on this role,” he says.

“I have a great sense of responsibility to ensure the school not only remains a good, Carmelite, Catholic college, but continues to prosper.”

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About Whitefriars College

  • An all-boys, Catholic Secondary College in the Carmelite tradition catering for students from years 7-12
  • Located in the leafy surrounds of Donvale
  • Includes a community that extends beyond the front gate




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