by Joe Laufer
When I started this chronicle of my life, I indicated that I decided not to create it in chronological order, but to make themed entries as the spirit moved me. Earlier I described the first three years of my seminary life, initially in the Minor Seminary, St. Francis, at Staten Island from 1952 through 1954, followed by the Novitiate, Our Lady Queen of Peace, at Middleburgh, NY from 1954 to 1955.
(Link: Making Sense of Seminary – or “Seminary 101″ for Dummies – Part I )
The next phase of seminary life for me was a rather lengthy six-year stint at St. Anthony-on-Hudson, Rensselaer, NY, near Albany, from August 22, 1955 through May 28, 1961, when I was ordained a priest, a period I decided to pass over in my blog until a later date. In the blog, I jumped to my Ordination story and ultimately my decision to leave the priesthood. The two gaps in my story are the “Major Seminary” period and the post-Ordination phase when I taught at Canevin High School. In this blog, I intend to take care of the six-year “Major Seminary” story.
Panoramic view of St. Anthony-on-Hudson, located on high ground on the East bank of the Hudson River, directly opposite the city of Albany. Left to right are the Clericate (Seminarian residence), the Manor House (Faculty Residence) and Nun's Convent.
In Seminarian parlance, we divided the “Major Seminary” into two phases: “Philosophy” (the first two years) and then “Theology,” the final four years. I’m going to have to exercise some pretty strict self-discipline here, since there are so many things to relate about the six years of my Major Seminary experience.
Upon the conclusion of the Novitiate on August 16, 1955, we were given a week’s vacation at home, and then reported to the Major Seminary in Rensselaer, NY on August 22nd to begin our first year of Philosophical studies, the equivalent of the third year of college in a Liberal Arts Baccalaureate program. St. Anthony-on-the Hudson was located on the high ground on the East bank of the Hudson River directly opposite the city of Albany. The grounds were extensive and verdant. The site was steeped in history, and the main building on the property – the Faculty Residence – was the old historic Van Rensselaer Manor House known as “Beverwyck,” built in 1840.
NOTE: THROUGHOUT THIS BLOG, BY CLICKING ON MOST OF THE PHOTOS YOU WILL BE ABLE TO ENLARGE THEM.
Beverwyck, the Van Rensselaer Mansion, dating back to 1840 and purchased by the Conventual Franciscans in 1911.
It had been the family home of William Van Rensselaer, inheritor of almost 500 square miles on the Hudson’s East Bank from his father, Stephen Van Rensselaer. The estate was a victim of rent wars and settlers’ rebellions and was confiscated by the state, remaining vacant until 1850 when it was purchased and restored by Paul Forbes, a tea merchant. It was abandoned in 1880, left to the elements and vandals, until it was purchased by the Franciscans, along with 100 acres of land in 1911.
For more information on the History of Beverwyck before the Franciscans purchased it, go to: http://bathonhudson.blogspot.com/2011/05/manor.html
This Greek Revival Mansion is adorned with an elegant classic white marble stairway leading up to the second floor in a spacious foyer. This is where our Franciscan professors resided (except for the two or three who were directly responsible for overseeing us as Master of Clerics, Assistant Cleric Master, and Spiritual Director — who lived in suites in the “clericate,” the name by which our building was known). Two of the mansion’s ballrooms served as the seminary library. The Friars first occupied the renovated historic building in April, 1912, making this (2012) the 100th anniversary of their occupancy. Today, the Manor House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Clericate was occupied for the first time in 1917. It supplied living and clasroom accommodations for the growing number of seminarians.
In 1916, it was decided to build a separate three-story building for the students, adjacent to the Manor House, to the south. It was called the clericate (a residence for “clerics.” This building supplied the living and classroom accommodations for the seminarians. Our individual rooms were on the second and third floors, our classrooms on the first floor, and function rooms and a recreation room (with its own stage for theatrical and literary events) were located in the basement. There was a “music room” on the first floor, near the entrance, which was flanked by “visiting rooms” where our parents and families would come on designated visiting Sundays. The clericate was joined to the Manor House by a two story, unheated tunnel. The basement level of the tunnel led to the refectory or dining hall which was in the basement of the Manor House, and the second level of the tunnel led to the Library and priests’ quarters, as well as a small chapel. Our official seminary chapel – a rather stark and unadorned structure – jutted out from the back of the clericate, creating a cruciform.
To the north of the Manor House, a brick convent was built in 1935 to accommodate the Sisters of the Holy Infancy, a German order of nuns who serviced the kitchen and the laundry. When I was at St. Anthony’s there were six nuns in residence at the convent. The laundry facilities were in the basement of the convent.
There was also a relatively modern cinder-block gymnasium on the grounds (constructed in 1949), as well as a barn/garage complex which housed an electrical shop and a workshop which the Friars could use for hobbies and woodworking.
This complex would be my home for six years, between 1955 and 1961 (ages 20 through 26). It housed 6 classes of seminarians — average class size of between 8 to 10 — for a total enrollment of 52 in 1955 (ironically, that was the number of students in my high school graduating class in 1952). There were 13 Friars in my class in 1955, and 5 of that group were ordained with me in Albany in 1961 (4 had abandoned the seminary altogether, 2 had volunteered to complete their studies in Brazil, and 2 returned to Costa Rica for ordination). There were about 17 Franciscan priests and three Franciscan brothers assigned to the Seminary.
A holiday visit from my family in December, 1955. This was the first of many visits by them to Rensselaer.
The contrast between the elegant Manor House and the stark clericate was dramatic. Not that the priests lived in luxury and the seminarians in poverty. It just so happened that this abandoned magnificent and historic Manor House was a good buy for the Franciscans who were able to restore and preserve it for posterity. There were many such examples throughout the Catholic Church where religious orders purchased or inherited elegant estates for use as charitable institutions. However, it seemed especially out of character for a Franciscan community, dedicated as it was to the practice of biblical poverty, to inhabit a Manor House that was built for the high society of a prior generation.
One of the nice things about attending an institution of higher education with such a small enrollment was that we had some pretty good teachers who were able to dedicate a lot of quality time to our instruction.
A talented faculty, small classes, and strictly scheduled study time provided an intellectual atmosphere that motivated me to delve into my studies at St. Anthony-on-Hudson.
Over my six years here I was exposed to great scholars who had excellent reputations in the fields of Philosophy, Sacred Scripture, Theology and History. Some had studied and taught in Rome and highly reputable European Universities. Others had written books and were respected scholars in their field. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t draw upon the fountain of knowledge implanted in my brain during my seminary days. I was exposed to a broad liberal education, contrary to what one would think was the case, having been taught in a small seminary setting. Because of the tremendous Philosophical and Theological education I received at St. Anthony-on-Hudson, I find myself chuckling when I find myself in the middle of a conversation about religion with people who have barely read the bible or have no clue about the complexity of scripture or theology as they challenge and criticize religion or the Catholic Church in an intellectual vacuum. I generally refrain from entering such conversations or arguments, because the playing field is definitely not level, and the mind set of these individuals is such that they would never understand where I was coming from, having not had the educational exposure I had — so why even try to convince or change minds that are already made up based on such limited knowledge? I don’t say this in a spirit of arrogance or superiority, but simply because of the futility of a serious dialogue under such circumstances.
Here’s an overview of my six-year curriculum at St. Anthony-on-Hudson:
Year Class Courses My Age
||I Philosophy Junior Year
|Logic; Intro. to Metaphysics, Cosmology, Rational Psychology, Experimental Psychology; History of Ancient Philosophy; Franciscan History; Pedagogy, Liturgy, Music
||II Philosophy Senior Year
||Metaphysics; Natural Theology; Ethics; Hist. of Medieval Philosophy; History of Modern Philosophy; Experimental Psychology; Pedagogy; Sociology; Franciscan History; Liturgy; Music
||Fundamental Dogmatic Theology; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical Hist.; Canon Law; Moral Theology; Homiletics; Liturgy; Chant; American Church History; Gen Intro to Scripture
||Dogmatic Theology ; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical History; Hebrew; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Liturgy; Homiletics; Chant
||Dogmatic Theology; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical History; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Ascetical Theology; Liturgy; Homiletics; Chant; Oriental Theology
||Sacramental Dogmatic Theology; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Pastoral Theology; Mystical Theology; Liturgy; Special Moral Theology; Chant; Homiletic Seminar
This was not a cream puff curriculum. Many of our text books were in Latin, so in addition to the heavy material, we had to translate a lot of what we studied. I don’t know whether it was pure grade inflation, but I didn’t get a grade below a B – in fact, on my transcript I count 12 As and 42 Bs. At the end of the 4 years of Theology we were given Comprehensive Oral Exams, and I earned a B in each category: Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology and Canon Law. I was awarded a Bachelor of Sacred Theology Degree (STB) in June, 1961 by The Catholic University of America- with which our Seminary was affiliated.
This is my room in the clericate in 1955. I was in First Philosophy and 20 years old.
A typical day at St. Anthony’s was pretty much structured the way the Novitiate was arranged, except that where physical labor and chores were emphasized there, education was emphasized here. We began the day with Divine Office and Mass, followed by breakfast, then chores, then classes. Everything was carefully structured. The chores after breakfast were aimed at taking responsibility for our environment — cleaning and organizing public halls, rest-rooms, class rooms, etc. There were certain “plumb” jobs. For much of my Major Seminary life I had the job of making up the Cleric Master’s room every day (Father Germain). After morning classes there would be formal lunch. Then a brief recreational period — where we would generally walk the grounds — then back to classes or once a week an afternoon of major chores or formal recreation (for exercise). Then, before dinner, we would have Chapel for the coral recitation of the Divine Office (Matins and Lauds) — which took about an hour. Then dinner, followed by a mandatory rec hour or so, then a quiet study period (in our rooms) , communal night prayers and then bed.
One of the first Friars to take me under his wing when I arrived in Rensselaer was Simon Mohr, a IV Theologian about to be ordained in 1957. His family lived in Albany, and on holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, "locals" were allowed to spend the day with family -- and bring a friend with them. Simon's family welcomed me in their home. Later we would both be assigned to Canevin H.S. in Pittsburgh. I maintained contact with him after I left the Order for almost 40 years until his death a few years ago.
Six years may seem like a long time for this very structured routine, but this is another case where I had a tremendous advantage over those who had to cope with the distractions of regular college life — the distractions of television, parties, drinking, “just hanging out” and all those things that prevent one from total immersion in studies and research. I realize that my kids are probably thinking how crazy I am to call these “distractions.” However, there is a lot to be said for a structured learning environment in a college setting.
It wasn’t that we didn’t have fun during our “off time.” Throughout the regular school year there were a variety of activities that provided an escape from the routine. Most holidays – both secular and religious – were celebrated with parties and activities. Major feast days were marked by a special dinner in the refectory, followed by a party in the rec room. For the big feasts, beer was on tap in the rec room accompanied by snacks. Priest’s feast days and special anniversaries were excuses for a party. When I first arrived at St. Anthony’s I was shocked at some of the liberties we were granted.
Left to right: Jonathan Currie, Terrence Pescatore, Alvin Somerville, me, Declan O'Malley and Venance Harkness, enjoying an event on May 1, 1957 in Troy, NY.
More than once (and more frequently as I moved up in seniority in the seminary culture) I crossed the line at a party with a little more beer than my system would tolerate — as did a few other classmates and colleagues – but never to the point of abusing the privilege. Another thing which may shock people is that we were allowed to smoke. Father Conan, the Assistant cleric-master kept the cartons of cigarettes in a closet in his room. When you needed a fresh pack, all you had to do was ask him for it. We could smoke during recreation in the rec room or outside on the grounds. Many of the Friars, including myself, were pretty heavy smokers. If we were involved in special projects and worked out of special purpose rooms, like the Stamp Room (where a group of Friars collected and sorted stamps which were sold to support the foreign missions) you could smoke there. Whenever you opened the door to enter, you would be overwhelmed by the heavy smoke. This included the project that I worked on, the Friars Correspondence Course, which I’ll explain later. It, too, could become a very smoky room.
The creative and artistic talents of the Friars were encouraged. A popular area for recreation was the Music Room. It was equipped with an excellent sound system and a nice collection of classical and semi-classical music. One Friar, Bruno Midili of the Bronx, was a great classical music aficionado and pretty much dominated the room. Depending on your musical tastes, you either resented him or admired him. I have to admit that Bruno expanded my taste and appreciation for classical music, and also how to enjoy it — with the volume turned up full blast and totally transfixed by it. At Christmastime, I am always reminded of Friar Rufino Maloney. He was the first member of the community to hear “The Little Drummer Boy” when it was popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. — and he would excitedly take us to the Music Room to hear it for the first time.
This picture was taken during my first Christmas season in Rensselaer in 1955. We were entertaining a group of Christian Brothers who taught at CBA, the pre-eminent Boys School in Albany. There were numerous opportunities to sing, and I was always a part of it. I'm fourth from the right, and we were the group that sang German carols at this event
Depending on what kind of musical talent was enrolled, the seminary hosted its own orchestra. During my time there we created a group called “The Troubadour Band” (as a youth, St. Francis of Assisi was nicknamed “The Troubadour” because of his love of music and frivolity in and around Assisi). The group consisted of Fr. DePaul on piano, Fr. Cajetan on violin, Fr. Gavin on drums, and Fr. Declan on Sax. I played first clarinet, and Fr. Augustine Capinus played second Clarinet. In April, 1956, we put together a show for the elderly at St. Joseph’s Home in Albany (operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor). In addition to the band, we had a Barbershop Quartet, a group called “The Do-Mi-Sol Trio, and one called the “Musicanti”. Written in the program, next to “The Musicanti” was this caveat: “They prefer to remain anonymous. After you’ve heard them, you’ll know why”. The group, under my leadership, consisted of Friars Simon, Canisius, Pacificus, Declan and Tobias — and our song was the German sing-along: “Schnitzelbank.” An event at the Friary without a “sing-along” was a rarity.
A rare picture of Bill Curzie (Friar Albert) and me. He and I celebrated our birthdays within days of each other. I was the youngest in our class and he was second youngest. He left the order before final profession, but we have maintained contact for over 50 years. He lives nearby in Delran. While an administrator at Burlington County College, I hired Bill as an Adjunct Professor. He also serves on a Volunteer Board with me. Notice the cigarette in my hand.
While all the Friars were expected to get involved in liturgical music as a part of their general education, I also belonged to the choir. We would rehearse at least once a week and participated in special programs. Each year a local Albany radio station would come and record us singing a series of Christmas hymns which they would play over the air during the holiday season. I especially enjoyed the music we performed for Holy Week and for the Feast of St. Francis. There was a special Latin version of “The Canticle of the Sun” — a prayer of St. Francis — that we sang for special occasions. Groups of us would also go out to local parishes or convents to provide the music for special events, mainly during Holy Week. I was honored to be a part of a small group of Friars that was invited to travel to Bordentown, New Jersey in August, 1957 to sing at the Solemn Profession of a Poor Claire Nun (Sister Mary Isabel Fitzgibbon) who was the sister of one of our colleagues, Friar Seraphin, who was studying in Europe at the time . Little did I realize that 50 years later, that convent would be included on historic county tours I provide as Official County Historian.
Our Halloween parties were always elaborate. This picture was taken on Halloween, 1960. That's me on the left, and Friar Mel Madden on the right. Lying on the table with his arm hanging down is Friar Barry Angelini. I had performed the old magic trick of simulating Barry's beheading (I'm holding up the severed head!).
In addition to music, our cultural activities included literary events and theatrical performances. There were many plays and variety shows performed throughout the year by different classes. I remember when my friend Bill Curzie (Friar Albert) wrote a parody on the musical “My Fair Lady.” We performed it on the stage which was a part of our spacious recreation room on lower level of the clericate. Our Halloween parties were elaborate and fun — held in the gymnasium. Friar Mel Madden and I came up with an African tribal routine where we dressed up in black tights as Aborigines and I did the old magician’s trick of simulating cutting off a person’s head during a tribal war dance. In December, 1956, the Second and Third Theologians put on a traditional Minstrel Show. Friar Zachary was the interlocutor; the end men were Friars Donatus, Venance, Theophane and Regis, and there were 16 Friars in the Chorus. I think it was a politically correct version, but I can’t recall the details.
Here I am with one of our most revered faculty members, Fr. Raphael Huber. He was the author of the definitive history of the Conventual Franciscan Order and taught in Rome for 10 years. He was Associate Professor of Church History at Catholic University, Washington DC for 15 years. That's St. Anthony looking over us. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Fr. Raphael was created a Kentucky Colonel in 1953, a title which he considered an unprecedented honor.
There were also more serious events, like the annual St. Thomas night sponsored by our own “Literary Academy. ” Each year on March 7, two Friars were selected to present papers at a forum in honor of the great theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas on his feast day. One was a Philosophical paper, the other, a Theological paper. I was selected to give one of the papers in 1957, during my second year of Philosophy. My topic was “The American Catholic Family Today.” The description in the official program reads: “A short expose of the ideal Catholic family — followed by a survey of this same family in a culture almost completely alien to these ideals. The survey includes a glance at the father, mother, and child respectively as they react in a materialistic and highly competitive society
.” Four years later, in 1961, my fourth year of Theology, I was asked to deliver another paper on St. Thomas night, this one called “The Mystical Body and the Ecumenical Movement.”
My public presentations were not limited to St. Thomas Night. On November 12, 1959, during my third year of Theology, I was selected to represent the Seminary at a convocation at prestigious Russell Sage College in Troy, New York (an all girl college). The convocation was a part of the college’s “Religious Emphasis Week” program. I gave two talks in the school’s Little Theater, one to the upperclassmen and one to the Freshmen. I was one of three speakers, one, a Jewish writer by the name of Robert Schenkerman and the other a Protestant, the Student Body President of Union Theological Seminary.
Field trip to Fonda and Auriesville, May, 1956. I was in First Philosophy - 21 years old. That's Rufino on the left (cigarette in hand; Friar Theophane is next; then comes Bruno (the guy who introduced me to classical music); Johnathan Currie next;, Marus Duarte, a Friar from Costa Rica, and finally, me.
We also had opportunities for field trips. The Conventual Franciscans operated a shrine in the Mohawk Valley dedicated to Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American maiden who led a saintly life among the Mohawks. Ironically, as I write this, it has been announced by the Vatican that she will finally be raised to the status of Sainthood in October of this year. In May of 1956, all of the Friars went on a pilgrimage to both Fonda, the location of the Kateri Tekakwitha shrine, and Auriesville, the famous Jesuit shrine nearby honoring Father Isaac Jogues and other martyrs who served the Indians.
We also participated annually as a group in two major public community events on the streets of Albany, proudly wearing our black Franciscan habits for all to see.
The Seminarians marched in the May Day parade each year on May 1. The parade ended on the steps of the State Capital in the City of Albany. This was one of the rare occasions when we would wear our black Franciscan habits in public.
On May 1, May Day, the diocese sponsored a May Day march through the streets of Albany, ending with a rally on the steps of the State Capital. All Catholic organizations and parishes participated. The event was our cold war answer to similar May Day rallies in Communist countries in those days. I recall that it was always chilly, since Albany Springs generally arrived late. Later in the year, we would attend the “Red Mass” in the Albany Cathedral, heralding the opening of the State Supreme Court — an event attended by politicians, attorneys and court judges, including Governors Averell Harriman and Nelson Rockerfeller, at the time I was there.
Friars Francis Xavier, Cajetan, me and Maximilian plugging Franciscan Vocations on the cover of our Province Magazine.
During the summer before my final year at St. Anthony’s, (August, 1960) I had the privilege of being selected for a panel of Seminarians at a youth congress held at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was the annual Third Order of St. Francis Youth Congress and I accompanied Fr. Hugh DeCicco and a number of high school students from the Third Order group at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany via train to South Bend. This was a special event for me — just getting to see Notre Dame and sleeping in one of the college dorms there.
Speaking of Christian Brothers Academy, Father Hugh was the Vocation Director for our order in the Albany area and a chaplain at CBA. When they commemorated Vocation Month there, he would have a bunch of Friars participate in presentations on behalf of our Order.
Friars who came from the same regions of the country were grouped together for publicity releases sent to their hometown newspapers. Here are Regis Rodda, me, and Canisius (Bill) Thornton, each of us from the Wilkes-Barre area, doing our bit.
I had the honor of being the Master of Ceremonies for a program we did there in 1960, introducing various Friars who spoke on different aspects of the Franciscan vocation. At that event, we also put on a short play on the life of St. Francis written by my classmate, Friar Canice.
We would participate in a variety of other efforts to recruit new members for the Order, including press releases to our hometown newspapers featuring local boys who joined the Franciscans, and I was one of four Friars featured on the cover of “The Companion” our Order’s International magazine published in Canada.
Extra-curricular activities at the Seminary began almost immediately upon our arrival on campus after Novitiate. There were several ways to become involved. It seemed that as soon as you arrived in Rensselaer from Middleburgh you were pounced upon by some older Friar who wanted to recruit you for his particular pet activity. There were the outdoor guys who wanted new seminarians for their interests — like running the tractor and working on the grounds. That’s how my buddy Bill (Friar Albert) Curzie got involved. He and Constantine Kapinus, having been recruited by Friar Maseo Baldoni were soon driving the tractors, plowing the roads and fixing the cars. Anaclete Squirut more or less transitioned to what he already had done at the Minor Seminary and Novitiate and became a sacristan — taking care of the altar in the chapel, laying out the vestments and making sure everything was in place for the liturgical ceremonies. That became his “job” all through the seminary. Friar Canice, our class scholar, leveraged his literary talents from writing to publishing and then printing, and ended up in charge of the print shop. I give him a lot of credit for being able to pull off a raffle for a “Weekend at the Waldorf” to fund a new printing press.
This is an example of Francis Anthony's art work on the St. Francis altar in the chapel for the Feast of St. Francis, October 4. He taught me some of the skills (I think I cut out some of those Franciscan logos around the arch). We spent a lot of time decorating the Friary for Christmas and other events.
For whatever reason, a Third Theologian (Ordination Class of ’58) by the name of Francis Anthony Haryasz approached me to help him with his craft skills in making elaborate holiday displays and special altar arrangements for feast days. The most elaborate productions were the altar for the Feast of St. Francis and the Creche for Christmas in the chapel. But it didn’t end there. He also was a good friend of Father Kieran Patnode, the Choir Director and Chaplain to a little country church about 22 miles from Rensselaer, St. Joseph’s Church in Malden Bridge. Every Sunday morning, Friar Francis Anthony would accompany Fr. Kieran to help out with Sunday Mass and teaching Catechism to the kids. Francis Anthony was able to convince Fr. Kieran that he needed help and that I should be the helper.
Thanks to Friar Francis Anthony, I was assigned to teach Catechism at St. Joseph's Church in Malden Bridge. It was an assignment I held for most of my six years at St. Anthony's
It was really a great gig. I ended up doing it for almost my entire Seminary career — graduating from assisting Francis Anthony, who soon was ordained and moved on, and taking over the job completely. I ended up assisting Fr. Kieran’s successors, first Fr. Conan, and then Fr. Bruce Ritter – who later went on to fame and infamy with Manhattan’s Covenant House.
The Malden Bridge job was almost an all-day Sunday job. It was a package deal. Primarily, my job was teaching catechism after Mass to the kids. But the first thing I had to do was to drive the car and its priestly passenger the 22 miles to Malden Bridge. None of the priests assigned to that job particularly liked to drive. So I would be the chauffeur. Once we arrived at the tiny country church, I would make sure everything was in order — the altar was prepared, the vestments laid out, the wine and water and hosts in place and the announcements prepared and on the pulpit — all the duties of a sacristan. Then, I would pick the songs for the Mass. I would generally then lead the singing from the last pew in the church. Also, since Vatican II had not yet taken place, we had what was called the “Dialog Mass”. That meant that as the priest read the Mass in Latin, I would lead the congregation from a Father Steadman Missal in English. Then, after Mass, I’d teach my Catechism class in the church proper. I’d then gather up the Mass materials in to take back to Rensselaer.
This is a painting of St. Joseph's little country church in Malden Bridge. It was a great part of my Seminary experience to help out there every Sunday. This print was given to me by the parishioners. The artist, Louis Bouche, donated the original which was valued at $1,200 to be auctioned off at the parish Lawn Festival in 1960.
After Mass, the fun began. Each Sunday we would be invited someplace for breakfast. As guests of honor in the home of a parishioner, we could be guaranteed a fabulous breakfast. People would fight over hosting us. But there was always one stalwart — we called Ma Bailey — the mother of one of the priests in our Order — who would host us every week if she could. No matter where we were to partake of breakfast, it was early afternoon by the time we got there — after completing all the tasks we had to do after Mass. Eventually, we’d arrive back at the Friary to attend the late afternoon session of the choral recitation of the Divine Office, then dinner.
I think Malden Bridge was the best assignment in the entire seminary — and thanks to Friar Francis Anthony gravitating to me upon my arrival at Rensselaer in 1955, I would never have had that plum gig. Incidentally, Francis Anthony became a Military Chaplain after Ordination and I came across his obituary recently. I made numerous friends of the parishioners at Malden Bridge and later in life on one or two occasions when I was driving through New York, I made the effort to drive off my main route to check out Malden Bridge – an idyllic rural New York community. One of the nearby towns that was serviced by Malden Bridge’s St. Joseph’s church was New Chatham. It was there that I met the famous Virginia O’Hanlon of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” fame – the now-aging little girl who wrote the classic letter to the NY Sun lamenting the revelation of a friend that there was no Santa Claus. She attended Mass at St. Joe’s in Malden Bridge. I always considered meeting her as one of those “brushes with greatness.”
The Friars’ Correspondence Course
As if one “plum job” wasn’t enough, I also found myself inheriting a job that became another diversion from normal seminary routine. Here again, it was a circumstance based on a chance connection with another Friar.
This is me at the typewriter in the office of the Friars Correspondence Course. I probably spent as much time at that typewriter as I do now at the computer. Over the 3 years I coordinated the program, I wrote hundreds of letters to inquiring Catholics and potential converts.
This time it was Friar Antone Kandrac, an upperclassman who happened to be from my home town of Wilkes-Barre. He was the coordinator of a popular and very successful extra-curricular program at the Seminary called the Friars’ Correspondence Course. It was a mail order course in the teachings of the Catholic faith for both Catholics and non-Catholics. St. Anthony’s was one of the first seminaries to inaugurate such a program and when I got involved, they had boasted of about 150 converts since its inception in 1943. Several thousand had enrolled by 1957 when I took over.
Here I am with fellow Wilkes-Barrean Bill O'Donnell (Friar Cormac) and Ed DeBono at work in the Correspondence Course office. Ed would take over for me when I "retired" at the time of my ordination as a Deacon.
The project consisted of sending out a book called “Father Smith Instructs Jackson” to people who requested it. The recipient would read a chapter of the book and then take a test, mailing it back to a Friar who was assigned to him or her. He would correct the test, write a letter explaining whatever errors were made, and attaching an appropriate pamphlet or leaflet to expand on the corrected answer. Upon completion of the series of tests, they would receive a certificate, and, if they were a non-Catholic interested in learning more about the faith, would be referred to a local parish. My job as Director of the FCC was to assign a Friar to the inquirer, and to oversee the correspondence, and order the supplemental materials to have on hand to provide additional instruction to the correspondent. We had a bank of typewriters in the our own office in the basement of the Seminary. It was a nicely furnished office, and there were many “perks” associated with the job. In addition to managing the program, I personally handled quite a few of the clients. I attribute a surge in my writing skills to the extensive writing required in this project. Often my letters were as many as eight to ten pages long. It was very gratifying work, as evidenced by the numerous testimonial letters we received from the correspondents. It also helped all of us hone our writing and counseling styles and our ability to prepare better for the priesthood by practicing those skills necessary to engage in dialogue with people attempting to understand the faith.
Although not one of the more athletic guys on campus, I enjoyed an occasional intramural game of soccer or volleyball. I'm standing 5th from the right here. The second and third guys in from the left are Father Conan Lynch and Father Hugh DeCicco, Assistant Master of Clerics and Master of Clerics, respectively. I think it was 1959 or 60 near the end of my time at St. Anthony's. .
Also, the office was a nice “get-away” spot. Many of us “hung out” there — and it was a fairly comfortable break from the routine. On the down side, I spent an inordinate amount of time there — just about every spare minute in my day — time that could have been spent meditating, praying, reading books, doing research, studying, getting exercise and just plain relaxing. It became of feeder for my compulsive work ethic and I became pretty much preoccupied with it. I held the position for a little over three years, relinquishing it in October, 1960 at our annual meeting. I turned over the directorship to Friar Rufus DeBono at a farewell ceremony, with Father Shawn Nolan of the Franciscan Mission House delivering an appropriate message to those in attendance about the good work we were doing and the collateral benefits to us as future priests.
Steps Along the Way
This is my class (of 1961) -- the picture that appeared in our Deacons' Day Program.
In the blog about my Ordination I wrote fairly extensively about my final year at St. Anthony-on-Hudson. However, before I close this one out, I’d like to mention that during the six-year period here, there were several major decisions made in the midst of the immersion in studying Philosophy, Theology, Scripture and all the other related subjects mandated by the Vatican for future priests. First, by the very fact that we were living lives as Franciscans, we were practicing a basic monastic routine. An essential part of that routine was the daily recitation of the Divine Office in a choral setting. After arriving in chapel in the morning we had a half-hour of silent meditation. That was followed by the official recitation of “Prime and Terce” the first two segments of the Divine Office (psalms and prayers). We were seated in the chapel in choir stalls facing one another. Each side alternated the verses of the psalms. There was a podium in the middle of the aisle between us where a lector would more or less lead the ceremony. After Terce we attended Mass, followed by two more of the segments of the prayer called “Sext and None“. We then went to breakfast, then had chores and classes. After lunch we recited “Lauds and Compline.” Later in the afternoon we had the lengthier segments of the Divine Office known as “Matins and Lauds” — taking from 45 minutes to an hour.
The Divine Office, recited entirely in Latin was an integral and lengthy part of our daily routine. Having begun reciting it in the Novitiate, we had pretty well mastered it by the time we arrived at Rensselaer. However, we discovered that the Rector of the Seminary, Father Owen Bennet, had a unique style of conducting the Divine Office. In order to control the natural tendency of the Friars to speed up the recitation, he slowed it down dramatically by his high-toned, cadenced style, creating a tension, as a majority of the Friars resisted his cadence. To the outsider this may not mean anything, but because it was such an integral part of the daily routine, it became an unpleasant experience for most of the Friars whenever Fr. Owen was present and one of my least pleasant memories of my days in Rensselaer.
Minister Provincial, Very Rev. William D'Arcy presides over my Solemn Vows as a Franciscan on September 27th, 1958.
September 27, 1958 marked one of those milestone dates in the life of a Franciscan. It was the date of Solemn Profession for my class. Three years and three months earlier while ending our Novitiate year we professed our “Simple Vows” of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience for a “test period.” The due date for “Solemn Profession” should have been July 31, 1958, but since several of us were still in Washington, DC for Summer School on that date, we had to take make a temporary renewal of vows in DC until our class was reunited in Rensselaer at the end of September.
As I flaunt my Roman Collar for the first time as a Deacon, my brother Bill and his fiance share a visit on the day of my Deaconate ordination in September, 1960.
Now the time had come. This was the occasion when a Friar made a lifetime commitment to being a Franciscan. It was a very serious occasion. First we had to send a letter to the Minister Provincial indicating that we were interested in taking our Solemn Vows. We then had to sign several legal documents, one a contract between ourselves and the Franciscan Order, turning everything we had over to the Order, and agreeing to relieve the Order of any responsibility to provide compensation for any of the work we would do over our lifetime, and pretty much agreeing to a life of total obedience to the order and our superiors. We also had to execute a last will and testament. There was also a 19-point interrogation we had to sign to make certain that we were entering this way of life of our own free will and without coercion (worded in numerous ways throughout the document). The 19th point is worth quoting verbatim: “Is there anyone in your family who told you as a little boy or later that it would be wonderful if you grew up and became a priest, and you are continuing in religious life to please that person?”
This event took place in the Seminary Chapel at the hands of Very. Rev. William M. D’Arcy, the Minister Provincial of the Province of the Immaculate Conception of the Franciscan Order. He was headquartered in Syracuse, NY.
The Bishop of Albany, William Skully, ordains me a Deacon on September 24, 1960. That's Barry Angelini to my right (the guy whose head I cut off on Halloween) and Friar Phillip Blaine on the far right.
I was among the remaining eight Friars in my class who survived the last three years of Seminary Life. Twelve of us had arrived here from the Novitiate three years earlier. Four had left for various reasons. We were now just beginning our second year of Theology and had three more years to go before Ordination. As I knelt before Father Provincial and pronounced my solemn vows, I felt that I was ready and willing to spend the rest of my life as a Franciscan Priest. There would be two more intermediate steps on the road to Priestly Ordination: becoming a Sub Deacon on April 2, 1960 and then becoming a Deacon on September 24, 1960.
Each year in May or June the Friars celebrated a very special event honoring the current year’s senior class. It was called Deacon’s Day.
That's me in the striped shirt on top of the car, celebrating Deacon's Day, 1959. It was like May Day, Field Day, and Seniors' Day all rolled into one.
The event was held all day, starting with a solemn Mass at 9:00 a.m. The schedule for the day was fairly consistent from year to year. At 10:15 there was a Softball game between the Deacons and the rest of the Friars. At 12:45 there was a Toast to the Deacons and at 1:00 p.m. there was a Banquet, followed by after dinner eloquence: a main speaker (usually the Rector, Master of Clerics, or Guest), the Dean of the Subdeacon class, and a response from the Dean of the Deacon’s class. After an afternoon break there was a Picnic Supper at 6:00, and then a Movie at 8:00, followed by refreshments.
This was the program cover for our Deacons' Day in 1961.
The Programs for Deacons’ Day were elaborately and creatively printed. The pages were interspersed with Poetry , Scripture, words of wisdom, art work and pictures of the Deacons. Deacons’ Day for my class was held on April 26, 1961 — and the weather was inclement, forcing us to change the softball game to an indoor series of Volleyball games in the gym, of which we lost three out of the five games. Our Picnic Supper was moved inside to the Rec Room, and the movie was the George Sanders’ picture, “The Village of the Damned.”
Special Visits Home
While we weren't allowed to go home during our seminary days, our parents and family came to see us on scheduled "Visiting Sundays." My family never missed a visiting day. Here's the whole family picnicking outside the gymnasium in the Spring of 1959. That's Friar Regis Rodda visiting my family. He was a resident of Mountain Top, near Wilkes-Barre.
Over my six years at St. Anthony-on-Hudson, I was able to return home to Wilkes-Barre on only six occasions. Except for one break before Solemn Vows, there were no vacations or scheduled visits home — only emergencies and special occasions. Three visits occurred in 1958: October 31 – The Centenary Celebration of my home parish, St. Nicholas Church; February 17 – The 25th Wedding Anniversary Celebration of my parents; August 21 – Pre-Solemn Vows visit. Three visits occurred in 1959: May 25 – The First Mass of a home-town fellow Franciscan, Regis Rodda; August 7 – My sister Loretta’s Wedding; November 5 – The Funeral of my Grandmother Laufer.
A local Albany newspaper, The Kinickerbocker News, ran a regular column called "The Voices of the People." Six of us were interviewed and asked why we decided to become Franciscans. These are our mug shots and our answers.
Summer School in Washington and Vacations in the Adirondacks
This is St. Bonaventure Friary at the intersection of Michigan and Monroe Avenues in North West Washington, DC. where I spent six weeks every summer studying for my Masters Degree. It was right at the edge of the campus of Catholic University, practically across the street from the gym and the pool, which I frequented during the hot Washington summers. We were also in the neighborhood of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
I’m simply going to mention how our summers were scheduled but I’m going to save for a separate blog some of the stories related to these venues. Our academic year in the Seminary coincided with a typical academic year, with classes beginning in September and ending in late May or early June. I was selected for post-graduate education via a summer school experience at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. This was because I was slated for an educational career as a teacher and had to get a Masters Degree. As a result, in the summer of 1958 (the summer between I and II Theology) I headed to Washington for courses. I went every summer through 1961, the year I was Ordained, and then continued each summer I taught at Canevin High School through 1963, and finally worked on my Master’s Dissertation the following summer two summers (1964 and 1965) and was awarded my M.A. in Secondary School Administration on June 5th 1966 at CUA’s 77th Annual Commencement. My Master’s Dissertation was entitled: “An Analysis of the Provisions for Individual Differences Based on Sex in Co-institutional High Schools.”
This is the chapel of Camp St. William at Long Point, Raquette Lake in the NY Adirondacks. We spent several weeks there every summer. It was a fantastic place. The chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was commissioned by millionaire William West Durant,
Those seminarians who did not attend Catholic University in the Summer spent a part of the summer at the Friar’s Summer Camp in the Adirondacks. This was a fantastic place on Raquette Lake called Camp St. William. It was a former estate of William West Durant, the son of Dr. Thomas Clark Durant, a railroad tycoon. As a young man, William was charged by his father to help develop the Adirondacks for tourism. William is known for having created a unique series of Adirondack camps for the rich and famous, including the Vanderbilts, Melons and others. He built a church on Long Point, Raquette Lake, for the Catholics of the area, which eventually was staffed by the Conventual Franciscans. Because the location became a little too remote for vacationers, the parish house was moved to the main village and a new church was constructed in town and the property and church at Long point was used as a summer camp for Franciscan Seminarians. The church on Long Point which we used as our chapel has recently been restored and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was a great place for Seminarians to unwind in the summer. There is another camp on the point, more inland, operated by The State University of New York at Cortland.
Yes, that's me with a friend on Raquette Lake.
Those of us who attended Summer School got to go up to Raquette Lake at the completion of our classes in Washington at the very end of August, when things were cooling down (literally) in the Adirondacks. I had the extra good fortune of having been selected to stay on after my vacation there to help close down the camp — a bonus week, which included a bit of work, but well worth the extension. More about this in another blog.
The Rest of the Story
I have already written about the last year of my seminary career and my ordination in 1961. Here’s the link: Commitment – Conflict – Decision: Abandoning the Plow.
Ordination Day, May 28, 1961 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany.
It is hard to determine whether I have conveyed a sense of the six years I spent at St. Anthony-on-Hudson and communicated enough of the experience to allow the reader to both understand and feel what it had meant to me. Because of the uniqueness of the location, the people there, both seminarians and faculty, the education, the extra-curricular activities, the fantastic opportunities and the life overall, I feel I was blessed and enriched beyond anything a poor lower middle class kid from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. could have anticipated or deserved. From a below-average grade-scchool and high-school student with limited social skills and low self-esteem, I was able to not only survive a complex educational program, but excel in it. I was exposed to the highest level of cultural and intellectual experiences in a setting which emphasized spiritual and moral values that would serve me for the rest of my life.
Memories of the Albany area include many a cold and snowy winter. We would also ice skate on a small lake down a side road from the seminary.
I owe an immense debt of gratitude to the Franciscans for providing this to me, and regret that I was unable to maintain my lifelong commitment in the fashion that I was expected to. However, as one of my former colleagues once wrote, “once a Franciscan, always a Franciscan,” and I firmly believe that I have spread the Franciscan message to the people I have mingled with throughout my life. Several of my classmates are exercising their Franciscanism as active Priests in various forms of ministry. I am exercising my Franciscanism as a husband, father and layman. And having chosen a career in the social and educational services field, I feel I am making a difference in society using Franciscan principles to infuse my work. I owe a debt of gratitude to those Franciscan Teachers who selflessly shared their faith, knowledge and wisdom with me during those six years I spent on the banks of the Hudson River near Albany.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: SUMMERS AT RAQUETTE LAKE!