Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Damien teacher relishes life, whether real or Renaissance

By Michael Tsai


Hark, good sirs and mistresses. Prithee tell where a godly Renaissance man might go to find a Renaissance fair -- er, faire -- in Hawaii?

Brother Bernard Samp -- Damien Memorial School's newly arrived math teacher, cross-country coach, computer genius, weightlifter, golfer, bowler and role-playing medievalist -- has been a-Googling, but the closest he can find is the annual Scottish Festival and Highlands Games. And, no offense to the Scots, Samp is a bit more at home in breeches than kilts.

Samp, a native Chicagoan who spent his young adulthood playing "Dungeons & Dragons" and other role-playing games, started attending Renaissance fairs a quarter-century ago. But it wasn't until he moved to California and friends sprung for a natty set of Renaissance-era threads that he began dressing the part.

"I like the dress and the talk and the way people interact at these fairs," says Samp, 53. "You greet other people you see in a way that you wouldn't outside of the fair. It draws you out of the real world and into a sort of fantasy."

Not that Samp has any quibble with the real world. Since joining the Christian Brothers in 1975, he has enjoyed a life of enviable intellectual, athletic and spiritual balance.

A mostly self-taught computer whiz, Samp progressed from crude programming experiments in the misty punch-card age to a 13-year stint as the go-to technology expert at Palma High School in Salinas, Calif. His formal education took him from Lewis University (Ill.) to Creighton (Neb.) to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he earned a degree in educational technology.

Tall and lean, Samp has proved equally adept on various fields of play. He bowls in the 180s, averages 86 or so strokes over 18 holes of golf and pulls, presses and pumps his fair share of iron in the weight room.

He's also spent the better part of three decades teaching young track and cross-country athletes the finer points of self-propulsion. While he eschews road races (he doesn't like running on pavement), Samp averages a highly competitive 7 minutes per mile. His Damien charges call him a "phenom."

While Samp's interests are many, his schedule leaves him little time to explore his new home.

A relative embryo in an order where most of his fellow brothers are well beyond retirement age, Samp devotes most of his waking hours to teaching students in the classroom and on the track, saving the quiet hours at the start and end of each day for reflection, meditation and prayer. The rewards, he says, are great.

"I'm really loving it here," he says. "Everyone here is so nice. The students come by to shake my hand. They thank me after some lessons. I've never had that happen. This is just an environment that lends itself to hospitality."

A sort of fantasy, perchance?

Reach Michael Tsai at

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