The Day the Music Died – November 22nd, 1963

by Joseph Laufer

One of JFKs Memorial Cards distributed widely after his assassination. I've had this on my desk for most of the past 50 years.

One of JFK’s Memorial Cards distributed widely after his assassination. I’ve had this on my desk for most of the past 50 years.

On Friday, November 22nd, 1963, I was a 28-year old high school teacher in my second year of teaching at Canevin High School in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I had been finishing up a combination lunch period and free period, getting ready for a 1:15 p.m. class when one of my colleagues, Father Charles Nelipowitz, saw me in the hall and simply said, “Kennedy’s been shot.”  Incredulous, I made an about-face and headed back to the main office, which I had just left.  My administrative responsibility at the High School was as Student Activities Director, which included making the public address announcements and coordinating public and extra curricular events for the students.   I had spent my lunch hour preparing the Friday Afternoon Announcements, which usually included information about the weekly football game, and on this particular Friday, about a scheduled Saturday night dance in the school auditorium. I had the typed announcements laying on my desk in the office, because after my afternoon classes and home room assignment, I had to rush down to the office to make the announcements.

My purpose for rushing back to the office before that 1:15 class was to turn on the office radio to verify that what Fr. Charles had told me was true. By the time I got there the office staff had received the word and were glued to the radio.The time between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. on that day pretty much stood still, as no one, not even Walter Cronkite, knew whether the President was dead or alive. That announcement didn’t come till shortly after 2:00 p.m. As a teacher, I was a few minutes away from confronting my class, and wanted to be sure that what I shared with them was accurate. Others in the school had no information at all — if Fr. Charles didn’t get the word to the teachers yet.  It was premature for the Headmaster, Fr. Gervase Beyer, to make any announcement until the facts were clarified.

This is the reverse of the Kennedy Memorial card.  The prayer is a traditional Roman Catholic prayer for the dead.

This is the reverse of the Kennedy Memorial card. The prayer is a traditional Roman Catholic prayer for the dead.

Meanwhile, I went to my class, a Sophomore Religion Class, (members of the future class of 1965 — all boys) and told them what I knew.  We all agreed to kneel alongside our desks and say the Rosary for President Kennedy, whom, as we understood from the sketchy news reports, was still clinging to life.  It is impossible for the present generation of students to imagine how little we were aware of what was going on in the absence of smart phones, computers, texting, i-pads and all the other electronic devices that are available to them these 50 years since.  All we could depend on was the radio console in the Principal’s Office being broadcast on the school PA system.  At a little after 2:00 p.m. when it was officially announced that Kennedy had died, Fr. Gervase directed the School Secretary to broadcast the bulletins live throughout the school for the final hour of the school day.

After my class (I don’t remember whether I tried to teach

This is me with some of my students. These guys were seniors in 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated, graduating in June, 1964.

This is me with some of my students. These guys were seniors in 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated, graduating in June, 1964.

anything or not — or whether all we did was pray throughout the period), as Student Activities Director I had to meet with the Headmaster to discuss what information we would provide in the concluding announcements.  It sounds dumb that we should have discussed whether to cancel the football game and the dance — but since there was no precedent for a mourning period for an assassinated president, we did just that. Little did we realize at that moment that all of us, and all of the world with us, would be glued to our TVs for the next week or so, through the Thanksgiving break dealing with the assassination and the presidential transition.

As I try to recall the things I did for the subsequent week, I find it is all a blur.  I know I went to a local parish to offer Sunday Mass — a weekly assignment all of us who taught at Canevin did — but I don’t recall what kind of homily I gave.  I remember returning to the Friary after my assignment and being told that Oswald was shot.  I don’t recall whether classes resumed before the Thanksgiving break or after it — all I know is that I was numb, watched a lot of Television, and kept asking why?

I entitled this essay, “The Day the Music Died”.  Today I realize that this particular song really had nothing to do with the death of President Kennedy – although for most of the 50 years since 1963 I mistakenly thought it did.  After I left Canevin H.S. in 1967 and became a disk jockey in Fairmont, West Virginia, I used to play Don McLean’s “American Pie” — and would joke that because of its excessive length, I could play it to catch up on my studio chores, like get the news bulletins off the teletype machine, go to the bathroom, make a phone call and still get back to the mike for the next song.  Yet all that time, I always felt I was paying tribute to John F. Kennedy, not Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, whose deaths five years earlier, on February 3, 1959, were the actual inspiration for the song.  For me, however, the music stopped at 2 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 1963.  I was a major fan of Jack Kennedy and had “High Hopes”  (as in his campaign song) for his second term.  As a Roman Catholic, I was proud of his breaking the barriers for his fellow Catholics. I still remember the bitter anti-Catholic leaflets and pamphlets that circulated during his first campaign.


This is a ceramic figurine of John John Kennedy created shortly after the Kennedy assassination. It has been in my family for 50 years. My brother Bill also has one. I got them through one of my colleagues at Canevin High School back in 1964.

One of my colleagues at Canevin High School, my classmate, Father Pacificus Costello, had a relative who made porcelain images of John John Kennedy saluting on the day of his Father’s funeral.  Today, he goes by his baptismal name, Edward Costello and is stationed at a parish at the Jersey Shore,  I still have one of the John John Kennedy images I bought through him back in the sixties.  I got one for my brother Bill, too, and see it on his mantle when I visit him in Bucks County.  It is a good memory of “Camelot” for me.  Also, I saved the Kennedy Memorial card, which I’ve had in a prominent place in my home for all these 50 years. It has a traditional Catholic prayer for the dead on the reverse.  These were distributed at Catholic Churches throughout the country after Kennedy’s death.

It is hard for me to believe that it has been fifty years since those events of November, 1963.  It was such a different world back then.  My own kids can never understand nor appreciate, no matter how much they try, and no matter how vividly I describe it,  how we felt about Jack Kennedy. Whoever came up with the Camelot analogy hit it right on the head.  Every now and then I try to imagine what the world would have been like today if my idol hadn’t been in Texas on November 22nd, 1963!

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Tuesday & Wednesday, November 5 & 6, 2013 – First Two Days on San Miguel Isalnd, Azores.

by Joe Laufer

It has been non-stop since Tuesday morning when we boarded our 2-hour Sata International Airlines flight from Lisbon to San Miguel Island in the Azores.  It was like flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, except that we flew over the Atlantic to a time zone one-hour closer to New York. We landed at 1:45 p.m. on San Miguel, the largest of the 9 Azorean Islands.  We did not go to our hotel immediately, but our bus dropped us off in the center of Porta Delgado, our seaside home base for the next four days in the Azores. We took a walking tour of the quaint old City with its black and white sidewalks and buildings and monuments in the same black and white decor.   We had been warned that the weather in the Azores was unpredictable and that within one twenty-four hour period we could experience all four seasons intermittently.  My small backpack contained a sweater, a fleece vest, a jacket, a plastic poncho, umbrella, and sunglasses to cover any weather eventuality, and I used all of them during our afternoon of exploration.  When the sun came out intermittently, it was warm and beautiful.  Even when it rained, it was delightful.  Just being here was very exciting, no matter what the weather.

Several remarked that the Azores had qualities of other special places we had visited  – like the 40 shades of green of Ireland and the excitement of port cities whose claim to fame was fishing, water sports and unique restaurants.   Although low hanging clouds almost prevented us from seeing some of the most magnificent mountain and valley vistas and ocean seascapes, we followed the advice of our tour manager to have patience and leave it to the Azorean angels to lift the clouds, and miraculously, they parted as predicted, to reveal some of the most awe inspiring vistas we had ever seen.  So we got to see a unique blue and green lake created from a Vocanic crater at Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), stood on the rim of another crater, had a capuchino in a small story book farm village, and were awed by seaside vistas of cliffs, rocks and crashing waves and capped the day with a view of a magnificent sunset.

We arrived at our modern 4-star hotel at 6:30 p.m. to check in and within a half hour were back on the road to a special restaurant for our welcome meal in the Azores, consisting mainly of seafood delicacies and local wines.

The pace continued today, Wednesday, when we visited fires, a pineapple plantation (taste samples included), then a seacoast overlook, a tea plantation (more free samples), a traditional Azorean volcanic-heated lunch stew, (ask me about it when you see me), a visit to Caldeiras (hot springs), a walk through Terra Nostra Botanical gardens, and a few other scenic stops before returning to the hotel. Thus ended day 2 and the first half of our Azorean adventure.

Tomorrow we get up early for a Whale and Dolphin watching excursion, 7 miles out into the Atlantic.  More about that in the next entry.  Hope Ím not boring you – but I just wanted to share the highlights of this multi-faceted adventure.


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Witness to History: Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge – Memories of the 1963 Centennial

By Joe Laufer

Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Shaara probably described the reality and emotions of Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg better than anyone in his 1975 historical novel, “The Killer Angels.”

1963 Pickett's Charge

1963 photograph of July 3, centennial re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Rebel’s who survived the mile march across the open field arrive at the Union defense above Emmitsburg Road at the wall along Cemetery Ridge.

At the very end of the novel Shaara places 34-year old Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the apex of the carnage below the wall overlooking the site of Pickett’s bloody charge. The hero of the July 2nd Union rout of the Rebels at the Battle of Little Round Top reflects on the day’s battle:

In the evening he left the regiment and went off by himself alone while the night came over the field.  He moved out across the blasted stone wall and down the long littered slope until he found a bare rock where he could sit and look out across the battlefield at dusk. It was like the gray floor of hell.  Parties moved with yellow lights through blowing smoke under a low gray sky, moving from black lump to black lump while papers fluttered and blew and fragments of cloth and cartridge and canteen tumbled and floated across the gray and streaming ground.  He remembered with awe the clean green fields of morning, the splendid yellow wheat.  This was another world.  His own mind was blasted  and clean, windblown; he was still slightly in shock from the bombardment and he sat not thinking of anything but watching the last light of the enormous day, treasuring the last gray moment.  He knew he had been present at one of the great moments  in history.  He had seen them come out of the trees and begin to march up the slope and when he closed his eyes he could still see them coming.  It was a sight few men were privileged to see and many who had seen it best had not lived through it.  He knew that he would carry it with him as long as he lived, and he could see himself as an old man trying to describe it to his grandchildren, the way the men had looked as they came out into the open and formed for the assault, the way they stood there shining and immobile, all the flags high and tilting and glittering in the sun, and then the way they all kicked to motion, suddenly, all beginning to move at once, too far away for the separate feet to be visible so that there seemed to be a silvery rippling all down the line, and that was the moment when he first felt the real fear of them coming: when he saw them begin to move.

Chamberlain closed his eyes and saw it again. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  No book or music would have that beauty.  He did not understand it: a mile of men flowing slowly, steadily, inevitably up the long green ground, dying all the while, coming to kill you, and the shell bursts appearing above them like instant white flowers, and the flags all tipping and fluttering, and dimly you could hear the music and the drums, and then you could hear the officers screaming, and yet even above your own fear came the sensation of unspeakable beauty.”

The Centennial – July 1, 2, 3 – 1963


1963 centennial re-enactment photo showing Rebels at the starting point of the charge, one mile from their target across the open field,:  the wall and clump of trees occupied by the Union troops along Cemetery Ridge.

On July 3rd, 1963, fifty years ago this coming  Wednesday, I stood practically in the same spot that Chamberlain sat and witnessed the centennial re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge, minus the blood and the guts of the real thing.  I was 28 years old.  My reaction, however, was quite similar to that described by Shaara through Chamberlain. And the memory remains clear to this day.

Fifty years after attending the re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge , one of the most dramatic events of the Civil War, in the very place that it had taken place exactly one-hundred years earlier, I still marvel at the fact that I had that most amazing opportunity in the summer of 1963 and I still remember vividly the emotions I felt as the Confederate re-enactors emerged from the wooded area almost a mile away across Emmitsburg road and the open farm field that lay between us.  As we celebrate the Sesquicentenary of this same event this week, I am compelled to pen my Gettysburg stories, as they are so much a part of my life.  At age 78 I wish I had the same energy I had in 1963, because I would probably venture to attend this year’s re-enactment in Gettysburg.   I’ll come back to the circumstances and details of my July 3, 1963 experience, but first would like to begin at the beginning.

My First Gettysburg Experience – May, 1952

This is the first page of my handwritten journal of my Senior Trip in May, 1952 when I first visited Gettysburg.

This is the first page of my handwritten journal of my Senior Trip in May, 1952 when I first visited Gettysburg.

The most solid memory I have of my first encounter with the Gettysburg Battlefield is when I was 17 years old, on May 5, 1952.  It was the first day of my Senior High School trip, and I still have a written record of it.  I kept my hand-written journal of the St. Nicholas High School Class of 1952 four-day Senior trip , May 5 through May 8, 1952.  On Monday, May 5, we left Wilkes-Barre at 7:45 a.m., arriving first at Harrisburg, the Capitol of Pennsylvania,  at 11:10 am, where we toured the domed Capitol building and the State Museum for about an hour and then headed to Gettysburg, arriving there at 1:00 pm for our hour-long tour of the Battlefield.  I remember seeing the impressive Pennsylvania Monument – a dome-covered pavilion – one of the largest monuments in the park.  I also remember the on-bus tour guide pointing out Little Round Top and Big Round Top, and stopping at the wall and the “angle” along Cemetery Ridge while pointing out the open field where Pickett’s Charge occurred.  You couldn’t see or learn a lot during a quick one-hour bus tour on the way to Washington, DC., but for a guy like me, it sure made me want to come back again.

This is me at age 17, outside the bus we took to Washington, DC via Gettysburg.  (We all wore the same kind of hat) as a part of the St. Nick's HS Senior trip.).

This is me at age 17, outside the bus we took to Washington, DC via Gettysburg. (We all wore the same kind of hat as a part of the St. Nick’s HS Senior trip.).

Despite the brief visit, I was quite impressed by Gettysburg, and I feel that the thing that most got to me was the fact that this was real – that I was on hallowed ground.  Something really important took place on this spot — men died here in a brutal battle — it just stuck with me, and I firmly believe that my love of history was born here on May 5, 1952.  The seed was planted for my return some day to explore the site more carefully.

My discovery of Gettysburg (and the corresponding  love for history it engendered) arrived at a very critical time in my life.  At this point I was about to graduate from High School, with a decision to enter the Seminary to study for the Priesthood already having been made, and a budding love of history spawned by a brief visit to Gettysburg.  What it meant was that my interest in the Civil War would become more or less a sideline — a sideline “hobby” as I pursued my primary vocation in a Franciscan seminary.

My first Civil War “history teacher” became author and historian Bruce Catton, the popular history writer who focused on the Civil War.  He wrote his first trilogy on the Civil War in 1951, 1952 and 1953.  I read his first book, “Mr. Lincoln’s Army” during my Freshman and Sophomore Years of Seminary.  He wrote his second trilogy leading up to and during the early years of the Centenary of the Civil War, 1962 to 1965, the years that I began my ministry and my High School teaching career — but not as a History teacher.  So during those years, I considered myself a “Civil War buff”,  and my destiny to attend the re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge on its 100th anniversary in 1963 was building.

The Centennial – Revisited

Gettysburg_Centenial_1963-5cThe circumstances that allowed me to easily attend the Centennial event at Gettysburg had to do with my post-graduate studies at the Catholic University of America in nearby Washington, DC.  Because of my September through June teaching schedule, all my work for my Master’s Degree took place during successive summers.  During the summer of 1963 I attended classes at CUA from the end of June until the end of August.  I was enrolled in two classes — “Secondary School Supervision” and “The Coinstitutional High School.”  (I completed my dissertation in 1965 and received my Master’s Degree at the CUA Commencement in June, 1966).

Washington is only an hour and a-half away from Gettysburg (85 miles).  I was able to commute to Gettysburg and not have to find lodging there (which would have been next to impossible because of  the number of people attending the centennial commemoration).  On July 3, I arose early in the morning and drove to Gettysburg for a full day of participation.  No reservations necessary — just a lot of gumption to bully my way to the pivotal viewing spot — a post near the Union position which is known as “the angle” – a clump of trees and a stone wall, above the Emmitsburg Road.  The spot I occupied gave me a complete view of the open farm across which the Confederates were forced to travel to attack the Union forces. What an eerie feeling it was to see the rows of men marching in step to the beat of drums — flags waving sporadically through the carefully lined troops.    I like to compare it to the moment that the Nazis at Normandy looked out of the slits in their bunkers and saw for the first time the hundreds of ships emerging over the horizon on the morning of June 6.  An awesome and frightening vision!

Major General George Pickett, age 38, "Gaudy, and lovable, long-haired, perfumed. Last in his class at West Point.

Major General George Pickett, age 38, “Gaudy, and lovable, long-haired, perfumed. Last in his class at West Point.”

As the Rebels who survived the march across the field got very close to “the angle” – they broke rank, shouting the eerie rebel cry — and all hell broke loose.  Seeing it up close, as I did, caused chills to go through my body, imagining the actual chaos, fear, pain and bloodshed experienced by the soldiers who clashed at this very spot one hundred years earlier.

The re-enactment ended with the blue and gray joining ranks around a flagpole at the angle while patriotic music played.  Among the other events (which I did not attend) at the Gettysburg Centennial  was a ceremony in which ten north and south state governors participated, including George Wallace of Alabama.  Governor William Scranton spoke representing my home state of Pennsylvania.

Picture1And here I am, 50 years later, as a new generation of re-enactors  do it again, keeping it real for a new generation of “Civil War buffs.”  I was 28 at the time of the centennial – younger than any of my four children are today.  Locally, as Burlington County Historian, I have been informing my fellow citizens about New Jersey’s role in the Civil War as a part of the Sesquicentennial and have been most impressed by the role played by my county and my home town of Vincentown during the war between the states.

A Family Affair

During the years from 1961 through 1967 I was a high school teacher at Canevin High School in Pittsburgh.  History was not one of my subjects, but I may have visited Gettysburg at least one or two times beyond my 1963 centennial visit.  I have written about the intervening years in my life and career in other sections of this blog, but it all comes back to Gettysburg as we get into the mid-years of my marriage.  My four children were born between 1970 and 1976,  As a history “buff,” I would joke that my fourth child, Kristopher, was born in 1976, as a part of my celebration of our Nation’s Bicentennial.  Fact is, on July 3, 1976, a made it a point to bring my two older children, Kurt and Kerry (6 and 5 at the time) to Independence Hall as a part of Penny’s and my personal celebration of the Bicentennial. The next day, July 4th,  President Gerald Ford addressed the nation from a platform in front of that very same Independence Hall!

Kevin (13) and Kris (12) in September, 1989 on Little Round Top

Kevin (13) and Kris (12) in September, 1989 on Little Round Top

But back to Gettysburg.  As my children grew, my wife and I brought them to Gettysburg on several occasions in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  We would spend two or three days each summer at the Quality Inn Motel in the heart of Gettysburg.  We always got the same room — I think the kids thought it was our own personal retreat.  They loved going there, and I would conduct my own personal family tours of the battlefield.  The kids would climb the rocks of the Devil’s Den and Big and Little Round Top, and they learned to distinguish the various monuments – north or south; how to tell whether the rider on horseback was killed in battle or not; and even some of the military strategies employed by each side.  I introduced them to Pickett’s Charge from both ends of the July 3rd march.  One of our featured spots was the Wax Museum, where we enjoyed the  arena mechanical re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, and where we were challenged to spot the live impersonator posing as a wax Union Soldier who came to life after being stared down nose to nose — frightening the daylights out of his latest victim.

Kris standing at the mustering area at the far end of the field where the Rebels gathered before Pickett's Charge

Kris standing at the mustering area at the far end of the field where the Rebels gathered before Pickett’s Charge

Kris at the general location where Lee watched the events the afternoon attack on the Union lineof July 3rd.

Kris at the general location where Lee watched the events on the afternoon of July 3rd.This was one of numerous family visits to the battlefield.

The Orange and the Blue  – The Gettysburg Bullets

At the end of Kurt's Freshman year, he becomes the cover boy for the Gettysburg Baseball recruitment pamphlet

At the end of Kurt’s Freshman year, he becomes the cover boy for the Gettysburg Baseball recruitment pamphlet

But there’s more.  Fast forward to the spring of 1989.  My oldest son Kurt, a senior at Holy Cross High School in Delran, is in the process of sending out applications for college.  He was hoping to attend a college where he might be able to play baseball, having had a relatively successful High School  experience under the school’s legendary baseball coach, former Philadelphia Philly, Greg Luzinski.  Among his choices were the University of Scranton and Gettysburg College.  He received his acceptance letter from the University of Scranton, and accepted.  Everything was in place, as he returned all of his papers and received his dorm assignment and orientation schedule.  Then, at the very last-minute, just a week or so before classes were to begin, an unexpected acceptance letter came from Gettysburg College and he eagerly accepted the invitation, informing the University of Scranton of his change of mind, much to the disappointment of my 79-year old mother, who lived in nearby Wilkes-Barre and who was hoping for a more active relationship with her grandchild.

I felt that because of all that Gettysburg meant to me, it was a truly fortuitous happening.

September 3, 1989 - Kurt's first day at Gettysburg College - Orientation Day

September 3, 1989 – Kurt’s first day at Gettysburg College – Orientation Day

It meant four years of dropping off and picking up my son, multiple events and happenings in Gettysburg, an occasion for my other children to get more exposure to Gettysburg as a historic landmark, and a place at which Kurt would by necessity gain more insight into the history of the Civil War.

From September 3, 1989 through May of 1993, we made numerous visits to Gettysburg as Kurt studied there, with a brief hiatus in the Fall of 1992, when he took his Fall semester abroad in Cologne, Germany.  His baseball career, however, was short-lived because of an arm injury suffered during his Freshman year.  He did, however, become the cover boy for the baseball team recruitment flyer.

In May, 1993, Kurt receives his Bachelor's Degree from Historic Gettysburg College!

In May, 1993, Kurt receives his Bachelor’s Degree from Historic Gettysburg College!

His sister, Kerry, began college at Swarthmore the year after Kurt enrolled at Gettysburg, preventing her from participating in many of the visits to Gettysburg.  However, younger brothers Kevin and Kris  had numerous tours of the Gettysburg battlefield during Kurt’s attendance there.  In fact, during one of the summer’s, only Kris and I went to Gettysburg to attend one of the major re-enactments there.

Kurt has maintained strong bonds with many of his Gettysburg school mates, most of them members of the SAE Fraternity, of which he was a member.  He still returns to the Gettysburg campus for reunions these 20 years since graduating from there.

And thus the saga of the Laufer family affinity to the town of Gettysburg has continued through the years.  We’ve attended Sunday Mass in the small Catholic Church in the middle of town, eaten in a variety of restaurants, an I even disagreed with the purists who advocated the tearing down of the battlefield observation tower (1974-2000) which, as an educator, I found to be a great teaching tool in providing a shortcut to a more visual understanding of the details of this complex and magnificent military engagement.  Obviously, I lost that battle, and exactly 13 years ago this Wednesday, on July 3, 2000, it was demolished with explosives on the 137th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge!

(You can see the actual implosion of the tower  on You-Tube – Cut & paste: )

A Direct Family Connection

Our only direct family connection to the Civil War is through an ancestor on my father’s side, by the name of George Spindler (1831-1872).  George was my great, great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side.  A German immigrant, he entered the army at age 33,  George was a member of Company I, First Regiment of the New Jersey Cavalry. He served from February 25, 1864 until July 24, 1865.  Thus, he would not have participated in the Battle of Gettysburg. (However, there is a monument to the First N.J. Calvary at Gettysburg).   He died only 7 years after the war at age 41, and his wife was provided with a war pension, based on an illness George contracted while in the Army.  Growing up, in our home, we had a Civil War rifle re-fabricated into a floor lamp which came from George, as well as a silver Civil War saber.  These tokens instilled an awareness in my mind of the reality of the Civil War from a very early age.


Kurt and Kevin at the battlefield during our visit for Kurt's graduation in May, 1993, 20 years ago!

Kurt and Kevin at the battlefield during our visit for Kurt’s graduation in May, 1993, 20 years ago!

This week, as we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, my thoughts primarily go back to July 3, 1963 when I observed the Pickett’s Charge re-enactment. But when you put my lifetime experiences which involve Gettysburg together, they span 61 years, from that May day in 1952 when I took an hour bus tour of the battlefield during my Senior Class trip, and then, as a parent made sure my kids got to experience it as a part of the life lessons my wife and I tried to impart.  If and how that filters down to the next generation is now in their hands.

Some Related Vignettes, Related to 1963

1963 was one of those world-changing years.  While attempting to relate the Gettysburg Centennial events to other events, I discovered some interesting facts during my research:

President Kennedy, Jackie and Caroline drive from Camp David to tour the Gettysburg Battlefield on March xx, 1963.

President Kennedy, Jackie and Caroline drive from Camp David to tour the Gettysburg Battlefield on March 31, 1963.

John F. Kennedy was President at the time, yet had made no speeches at Gettysburg.  He did, however, privately visit Gettysburg on March 31, 1963 with his wife and Carolyn.  They drove up from Camp David on a Sunday after Mass in a convertible.  Their guide asked the President if he might return in November to speak at the Centennial of the Gettysburg Address.  Kennedy is said to have responded, “I’d like to, but I can’t.  I have to go to Dallas to mend fences.”  The anniversary was scheduled for Tuesday, November 19th.  Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, the 22nd.  Later, after his funeral, Jackie Kennedy indicated that she wanted an Eternal Flame memorial for her husband at Arlington, she told adviser Jack Valenti to check the one out at Gettysburg!

Lyndon B. Johnson despised his role as Vice President.  However, when asked to give the Memorial Day speech at Gettysburg earlier that year on May 30th, he agreed.  His speech at that event was prophetic in that it focused on his ultimate legacy as a champion of Civil Rights.  Historians claim that it is arguably one of his greatest speeches.

At the Centennial  of the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1963 the speech that  Kennedy was privately asked to deliver during his Gettysburg visit the previous March, was delivered by former President Dwight Eisenhower then a resident of the town of Gettysburg.  Hardly anyone ever got to read the reviews of the speech because of the press preoccupation with the Kennedy assassination.

Also during 1963, Kennedy gave his “ich bin ein Berliner” Speech and Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream “Speech.  And, of course, as stated before, John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd. It was a rather memorable and tragic year.

I started this blog with a quote from Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels” to describe Pickett’s Charge.  Today, there is a Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction established by his son, and awarded yearly at Gettysburg College.

Photo Gallery

Class52b Class52aMembers of St. Nick’s Class of 1952 gather in front of the school to board the bus for their senior class trip in May, which will include stops in Gettysburg, Harrisburg and a stay in Washington, DC.

St. Nick’s seniors waiting for their turn for a class photo with the Capital dome in the background.

St. Nick's seniors Louise Murray and Mary Theresa Baloga pose in Gettysburg in front of the Pennsylvania Memorial.

St. Nick’s seniors Louise Murray and Mary Theresa Baloga pose in Gettysburg in front of the Pennsylvania Memorial.

Another shot of Kurt moments after receiving his Gettysburg diploma

Another shot of Kurt moments after receiving his Gettysburg diploma

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Pope-pourri – 70-plus years of Papal Memories

by Joseph M. Laufer

The recent Papal Conclave and installation of Pope Francis provided an opportunity to get back to writing another chapter in my life adventure. My take on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is probably a little more intense than that of an average person, or even an average Catholic, for that matter. Having experienced Catholicism from an inside, institutional perspective during the early years  of my lifetime, I had a tendency to pay a little more attention to the role of the Pope in Catholic life and to measure my personal life events against the backdrop of the Roman Papacy. And having traveled to Rome several times in my life and visited both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel — both before and after the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes there, you might find the answer to the question, “Joe, why are you so interested?” after reading this essay. So let me share my memories of the 8 Popes whose reigns paralleled the successive periods of my life.

The only Pope I have no memory of is the one who occupied the See of Peter when I was born in 1935, namely, Pope Pius XI, who reigned from 1922 till 1939. I was born in the 14th year of his 17-year pontificate, so he was Pope for only the first four years of my life. I remember seeing pictures of him during my school days, but my first ever recollection of a Pope is that of his successor.

Pope Pius XII – Eugenio Pachelli – 1939 – 1958

Pope Pius XII was the first Pope I remember growing up and during my seminary years.

Pope Pius XII was the first Pope I remember growing up and during my seminary years.

The first Pope I really remember was Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pachelli, who became Pope in 1939 and died in 1958, having reigned for 19 years, from my fourth till my 23rd birthday. His picture hung in many of my classrooms as I progressed through St. Nicholas grade and high school in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and he was Pope when I entered St. Francis Seminary, Staten Island, which I attended from 1952 to 1954, and through my Franciscan Novitiate in Middleburgh, NY  through 1955 and on through my 2-year Philosophical and first year of Theological Seminary training at St. Anthony-on-Hudson, Rensselaer, NY. He died in 1958, as I entered the second year of Theology. That was a long 19 years, and through the most critical formative years of my life — grammar school, high-school and college. During the recent Conclave, I learned that one of the Cardinals on the short list for Pope also attended St.-Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer for part of his seminary training a few years after I did.  He was Cardinal Turkson of Ghana!

In addition to the portraits that hung in all Catholic institutions, I remember seeing him in numerous MovieTone News films that preceded Movies in theaters, as he met with world leaders, and conducted Holy Week and Christmas services in Rome (there was no television during most of his reign as Pope).  I remember that he was referred to as “the prisoner of Rome” — because once he became Pope, he never traveled outside of Rome as modern Popes have.  His portraits were very unique, almost always taken from the profile position, which accentuated his unusually shaped “Roman nose.”

This is the Papal Blessing from Pope Pius XII that  I was able to obtain from the Vatican in honor of my parents' 25th Wedding Anniversary in February, 1958.

This is the Papal Blessing from Pope Pius XII that I was able to obtain from the Vatican in honor of my parents’ 25th Wedding Anniversary in February, 1958.

Today, in my home, I have a special memento of Pope Pius XII.  In 1958, the year in which he died, my Mom and Dad celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary (February 22nd).  At the time, I was in the seminary, and I requested, through one of my Seminary Professors, Father Raphael Huber, who had served as a confessor at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a Papal Blessing from Pope Pius XII to give my parents for their Anniversary. It as a very ornately decorated scroll, with a profile picture of Pope Pius XII, dated December 23, 1957 and issued by the Vatican.

Pope Pius XII became more or less the “standard” against whom I would judge all future Popes.  I guess you could say he was the last of the typical Popes of the 20th century – Italian, traditional, low-keyed.  He died on  October 9, 1958 while I was in the Seminary at St. Anthony-on-Hudson in Rensselaer, NY.  Because of his really long Papacy, the whole  idea of a Conclave and selection of a new Pope was a novelty and uniquely monumental in the Church, especially since he was really the only Pope who I had ever experienced.  There were some who challenged the way he dealt with Nazi Germany and the persecution of the Jews, but for the most part, he has been exonerated and commended for the many whose lives he and the Vatican saved during and right after the War. .

POPE JOHN XXIII – Angelo Roncalli – 1958-1963

John XXIII, the popular reformer who convened the Second Vatican Council.

John XXIII, the popular reformer who convened the Second Vatican Council.

The “sedes vacante” period between the death of Pius XII and Coronation of John XXIII was 19 days — a full week longer than the recent 13 day lag time between the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis.  Roncalli was elected on the 11th ballot (on the 4th day of the Conclave) at the age of 77.  Because of the number of ballots and his age, and the fact that he wasn’t one of the “popular” candidates, everyone considered him a compromise selection and an interim Pope. I personally was disappointed when I first saw him, hoping for a much younger, stylish and  modern Pope.  Little did I, nor anyone else, know how young in spirit he would turn out to be, and how much of a reformer he became, especially by summoning the Second Vatican Council, which opened in 1962, the year after I became a priest.

I was extremely interested in the Coronation Ceremony of the new Pope.  Partly because of my love of history, and partly because of the fact that I have always been fascinated by ritualistic symbolism, there were several facets of the ceremony that dated back to the 14th century and that had only been performed for about 30 times in history that caught my attention.  Three elements of the ceremony are no longer a part of the ritual — which makes me happy that I paid attention to them in 1958.

Pope John XXIII was one of the last Popes to be crowned with the Papal Tiara at his coronation in 1958.

Pope John XXIII was one of the last Popes to be crowned with the Papal Tiara at his coronation in 1958.

First, the ritual was called a “Coronation” back then.  Today, it is referred to an “Installation Ceremony.  The coronation consisted of the placing of the “Tiara” on the Pope’s head — the three-tiered, beehive-looking crown that was long the symbol of the Papacy.  Pope John XXIII and his successor, Pope Paul VI, were the last two Popes to be “Crowned” using the Tiara.  There are several interpretations of each of the three crowns, the most common being that one represents temporal power (over Vatican City), one, for the Bishop of Rome and one for his power over the Universal Church.  There are other interpretations (for example, priest, king and prophet) but nonetheless, it was an interesting symbol.  The Tiara was last used in 1968, when at the end of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI laid it on the altar of St. Peter’s as an act of humility, after donating the amount of its value to the poor. No Pope has used it since. One of the “used” papal tiaras was purchased by American Catholics and is on display in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

Related to the opulence of the Tiara was the fact that the Pope was carried through St. Peter’s on the “Sedia Gestatoria,”  that portable throne placed on the shoulders of tuxedo-clad men, or Swiss Guards and attended to by altar-boys bearing those huge feathered fans, ala Cleopatra. You haven’t seen a Pope on one of those for over 50 years.

And, finally, during the ceremony, as he processed through St. Peter’s on the “Sedia Gestatoria“, it stopped 3 times as the Papal Master of Ceremonies lit a piece of flax on a pole and, as it burned, held it before the Pope, reminding him “Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi” (Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world”).

While I am really glad that I experienced these historic rituals which are no longer and never will be performed again, I am glad these elaborate trappings have been discontinued and I look forward to Pope Francis modifying some of the current ritual excesses in the modern church.

The story of how I experienced these rituals and remember them is worth telling. Not only was television relatively new in 1958, but as Seminarians, we had very little access to a TV.  Neither did we have radios in our individual rooms, and since the events in Europe took place during the middle of our night, the only chance I had to experience the events surrounding the coronation of Pope John XXIII was by using earphones and a crude crystal set I had set up in my room.  Even for a seminarian and radio nut, that was evidence of an extreme and unorthodox interest in the  history of the Papacy. But there I was, at three or four in the morning on October 28, 1958, wide awake in my room in Rensselaer, NY, listening to a live broadcast from Vatican City of the Papal Coronation on my home-made crystal set.

Pope John XXIII got right down to business and  called the Vatican Council, which, as a young priest, gave me new hope for the future of the Church. I followed the Council events in Rome and I read all the documents and declarations as they were published.  I lectured on the Council to local parish organizations, and I even published an article in the prestigious Priest’s Journal, “The Homiletic and Pastoral Review”  on  “The 24 Seed Ideas of Vatican II” based on a series of lectures which I attended, given by John J. Wright,  the Bishop of Pittsburgh. He was pleased with my summary and analysis of his series and endorsed its publication.  He later became a Cardinal and was assigned to Rome.  Ironically, it was he who five years later intervened with the Vatican for me to obtain my dispensation to leave the active Priesthood and marry.

The Second Vatican Council meets in St. Peter's Basilica.  It consisted of 2 sessions over a period of four years - 1962-1965.

The Second Vatican Council meets in St. Peter’s Basilica. It consisted of 2 sessions over a period of four years – hope for the Church.

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on June 3, 1963 when I received the news that Pope John XXIII had died.  I was at Kennywood Park, near Pittsburgh with several bus loads of Canevin High School students who were participating in “Canevin Day” at this popular amusement park which served the people  of the Steel City.  As Student Activities Director at this new Catholic Diocesan High School, I coordinated our annual school outing at Kennywood and participated in the event with the students.

After only five years as Pope, John XXIII had unleashed a major reform in the Catholic Church, called “aggiornameno” (updating) – and even though the Vatican Council was still in session, did much to bring about dramatic changes that continue to inspire successive Popes to re-think the mission of the Papacy and the role of the Catholic Church in society.  This time, with the aid of Television, I was able to follow the events of the Pope’s funeral and the Conclave to select his successor.  It was almost a foregone conclusion who that successor would be.  In a Conclave that lasted three days and after 6 ballots  Cardinal Montini of Milan, who became Pope Paul VI, was elected the 262nd successor of St. Peter,  whose job would be to continue and complete the Second Vatican Council and to implement its decrees.

POPE PAUL VI – Giovanni Battista Montini – 1963-1978

Cardinal Montini, Pope Paul VI was given the task of implementing the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Montini, Pope Paul VI was given the task of implementing the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Montini really had his work laid out for him.  First, at age 66, he inherited the Papacy from a very popular and relatively jolly predecessor.  Montini didn’t have the buoyant personality that  Roncalli had.  He also had the daunting task of closing out the Vatican Council, which he did in 1965, and then implementing its decisions.  The latter task would be very demanding.

He would be the last Pope to have a “Coronation;” the last to use the Tiara at his coronation, as he made the gesture of endorsing more simplicity for the Papacy by placing the Tiara on the altar of St. Peter’s at the formal closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, donating its value to the poor while he didn’t eliminate the possibility of future “coronations.”  His successor, Pope John Paul I, voluntarily decided against coronation when he accepted the Papacy.  Paul VI was also the last to use the sedia gestitoria at his coronation.

This is a photo of Pope Pius XII on the "Sedia gestitoria." Pope Paul VI was the last to use it.

This is a photo of Pope Pius XII on the “Sedia gestitoria.” Pope Paul VI was the last to use it.

My personal connection with Pope Paul VI is that he was Pope during all but the first two years of my priesthood, and was the Pope whose name officially appears on my formal dispensation to marry within the Catholic Church, issued by the Vatican in 1970.  He was the Pope when I married, and when Penny and I had each of our four children – not that it necessarily means anything — it is simply a historical fact.

When Pope Paul VI died on August 5, 1978 after 15 years in the Papacy, I was at the height of my career at Burlington County College, and living in Vincentown, New Jersey (where I still live).  I don’t recall having paid as much attention to the Conclave of 1978 as I had earlier or have since.

Pope John Paul I, called "The September Pope" because of his short 33-day reign in 1978.

Pope John Paul I, called “The September Pope” because of his short 33-day reign in 1978.

POPE JOHN PAUL I –  Albino Luciani –  Aug. 26, 1978  – Sept.  28, 1978

“The September Pope”

The selection of Cardinal Albino Luciani as the 263rd Pope at age 66 gave us another opportunity to witness the historic transition ritual from one Pontiff to another.  Little did we know that we’d be doing it again in a month.  As I look back, I recall that we reacted to his smile, simplicity and humanity during the initial weeks of his Papacy as a refreshing change and we anticipated good things from him, much as we do of our new Pope Francis.  For whatever reasons, that was not to be.  His sudden death 33 days later on September 28th shocked the world — and spawned all those rumors about Vatican intrigue and espionage. However, the Holy Spirit apparently needed the time to prepare Karol Wojtyla for his long 27-year reign as “The People’s Pope.”  God summoned the “September Pope” home prematurely after only one month – the last of the modern Italian Popes.  Maybe the Holy Spirit simply wanted to provide a few “firsts” to the Guinness Book of Records: 1978 – the year of three Popes; John Paul I – one of the shortest Papacies in history and John Paul II, the second longest Papacy in history (27 years).

POPE JOHN PAUL II –  Karol Jozef Wojtyla – 1978 – 2005

Pope John Paul II, "The Polish Pope" had the distinction of the second longest Papacy (27 years) in history.

Pope John Paul II, “The Polish Pope” had the distinction of the second longest Papacy (27 years) in history.

“Who? a POLISH Pope? It can’t be!”  I still remember all the unbelief surrounding the announcement that we now had a Pope who was not an Italian — but not only that – he’s from Poland!  I am glad I had the opportunity to live through the reign of John Paul II, the  264th Pope.  He was only 58 when elected Pope and he served for 27 years, the second longest papacy in history.  During his prime years, his visits to all parts of the world brought out the crowds and inspired youth to chant “John Paul Two – We Love You”  to which he joyfully responded, “John Paul Two Loves You Too.”

Invitation to the Papal Mass at Logan Square, Philadelphia

Invitation to the Papal Mass at Logan Square, Philadelphia

John Paul II is the one Pope I can honestly say I “encountered,” – albeit from a bit of a distance.  I refer to the fact that when he came to Philadelphia in  1979 – I was there on Broad Street, across from the Academy of Music as his Popemobile drove by on October 3, 1979. I was there, along with my wife, Penny, and two of my children, Kurt and Kerry.  We waited patiently for several hours to witness the Popemobile whisk the waving and smiling Pope to the Cathedral and then to Logan Square for the Papal Mass, which we had the pleasure of attending. For me, it was a most memorable experience.  I recall that as we rode to Philadelphia on the High Speed Line from Lindenwald Station, where we had parked our car, a woman on the train asked why we would want to take a day to do this — totally oblivious to the Catholic cultural and spiritual reasons which made me almost want to simply answer “Why not?”

Penny, Kerry and Kurt await Pope on Broad St., across from the Academy of Music.

Penny, Kerry and Kurt await Pope on Broad St., across from the Academy of Music.

The Pope can be seen standing in the open car partly hidden by the motorcycle.

The Pope can be seen standing in the open car partly hidden by the motorcycle.

We spent several hours standing at our post on Broad St. across from the Academy of Music until the Popemobile arrived.

This picture was taken by me during the Papal Mass at Logan Circle in Philadelphia.

This picture was taken by me during the Papal Mass at Logan Circle in Philadelphia.

Kurt displays his Pope T-shirt after a long day in Philadelphia

Kurt, with his dad, displays his Pope T-shirt after a long day in Philadelphia

I also have a vivid memory of the day that Pope John Paul II was shot by a would-be assassin in St. Peter’s Square. It was Wednesday, May 13, 1981. I was scheduled to meet with the Vice President of Burlington County College over lunch.  When we arrived, we had each just learned  the news about the assassination attempt on the Pope’s life.

The meeting was called because I had applied for the position of Director of Community Services at the College.   Up until that time I had been the Division Chairman of Arts and Humanities and was ready for a change, having had my eye on the Community Services job which had recently been vacated.  The VP set up the meeting to inform me that I had been selected for the position. I was elated, because I considered the job  a major career move for me at the time   Funny how we associate milestones with world events!

This is the Sistine Chapel after its restoration.

This is the Sistine Chapel after its restoration.

Four times during the papacy of Pope John XXIII I had the opportunity to travel to Rome

Statue of Pope John Paul II at location he would stay when visiting Poland as Pope.

Statue of Pope John Paul II in Krakow  at location he would stay when visiting Poland as Pope. Taken during our 2012 visit to Poland.

to see the places directly associated with the selection and installation of the Pope, principally The Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome and the Sistine Chapel.  My first visit ever to Rome was in March of 1984.  I was overwhelmed when I first entered St. Peter’s and recalled the images of previous Papal Coronations and Installations.  More dramatically, when I first entered the Sistine Chapel, my emotions were on overload at being in the place where the Holy Spirit performed his periodic miracles of perpetuating the See of Peter in the persons of the Popes.  This first visit was during the first phase of the restoration of the art work of Michelangelo on the ceiling of this magnificent Church.  I visited again, 9 years later in 1993, and then again the following year, in December, 1994 with my son, Kris. The restoration work had been going on from 1980 – with the ceiling completed in December 1989, the Last Judgment in April, 1994.  I was privileged in my lifetime  to see the “before and after” views of Michelangelo’s great work – but during the early years, always with scaffolding in place.

I had a fourth opportunity to visit Rome, the Basilica of St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel on my “Grand Tour of Italy” in March of 1999.  This time, they were finishing up the restoration of the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. On December 11, 1999, Pope John Paul II “Unveiled” the complete restoration of the entire 3-phased restoration that took from 1980 to 1999. Michelangelo’s frescoes had finally been totally restored – the ceiling, the “Last Judgment”, and the wall murals – and they were like new renderings of the classical masterpieces.  During the recent Conclave,  the spectacular TV views of the frescoes in High Definition  were almost better than seeing them “live.”  As a “Pope-a-phile,” my opportunities to have visited these historic venues more than once made watching the recent Conclave on Television a double blessing.

This just happens to be a fun photo of my daughter-in-law Sara and son Kris in the lobby of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Moorestown at the Baptism of one of theiir neices.  That's Pope John Paul II between them..

This just happens to be a fun photo of my daughter-in-law Sara and son Kris in the lobby of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Moorestown at the Baptism of one of their nieces. That’s Pope John Paul II between them..

During the 27 years of the Papacy of Pope John Paul II I was proud to say I was a Catholic as he did so much more than impact my Church.  I agree strongly with the authors and commentators who attribute the collapse of the Communist empire to the influence and encouragement of Pope John Paul II, starting with the Solidarity Movement in Poland, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany and on through the dissolving of the Soviet Union, and everything in between.

This fact came home vividly during my recent pilgrimage to Eastern Europe, and most particularly, Poland, in October, 2012. On our visits to Krakow and Warsaw, images and statues of John Paul II peppered the landscape — in parks, on walls, in Churches, everywhere.  He is already venerated as a Saint and the Polish people are rightfully proud of the fame of their favorite son.  The Polish tour guides gushed in their praise for the Papacy of their native son and his contributions to destruction of Communism.

Several times during his waning years as Pope, as he became less and less mobile, I used to think to myself that it would be merciful if an ailing Pope could retire.  Yet there is something to be said about the way John Paul carried on, doing whatever he could, despite his infirmities, serving as an example of how to deal with personal pain and suffering. Thankfully, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI has made it easier for future Popes to make the decision to step down if they feel incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities.

POPE BENEDICT XVI – Joseph Ratzinger – 2005-2013

Pope Benedict XVI, the first Pope to resign in 700 years.

Pope Benedict XVI, the first Pope to resign in 700 years.

Before he was elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had a public reputation as being the “Pope’s Rottweiler,” alluding to his rather unbending application of Church doctrine and his German lock-step style of management.  However, I feel that contrary to these predictions, he turned out to be a fairly gentle and sensitive leader of the Church.  Although he was a bit stiff in demeanor, and a bit dull in personality, I would say he was the right man for the times (transitioning from John Paul II to Francis). I’ve read some of his writings, and admire him for his intelligence and spiritual insights. He was a true intellectual and I’m sure that much that he has written will guide the Church well into the future.

In November 2006 I had one more opportunity — my fifth – to visit Rome.  This time, there were absolutely no scaffolds in the Sistine Chapel. I can never get enough of the splendor, the beauty and the history of the Eternal City.  God willing, I may yet again get to see the Vatican and everything it represents for the Catholic Church.  They say if you touch the foot of the bronze St. Peter in the front section of St. Peter’s you’ll someday return.  I’ve done it five times so far, and may yet get a sixth such opportunity.

Because of his scholarship and erudition, Benedict XVI is the first Pope in modern times that I’ve heard mentioned as a possible candidate for elevation as a Doctor of the Church —  in a class with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.   That’s quite a tribute. As far as I’m concerned, his best contribution to the modern Church was his decision to resign for the good of the Church for the reasons he gave.  Hopefully his example will guide future Popes to know “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”

POPE FRANCIS – Jorge Bergoglio – March 2013

Pope Francis, the first Pope from Latin America and from the Southern Hemisphere.

Pope Francis, the first Pope from Latin America and from the Southern Hemisphere… and a Jesuit who gets inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi.

It’s a long way from a crystal set radio in the middle of an October night in 1958 to streaming video of the Conclave chimney on a computer, breaking news from the Vatican on TV and a dedicated Catholic Cable TV network called EWTN broadcasting live from the Sistine Chapel..  I saw more “insider” interviews, scenes of the conclave in action and politics among Cardinals than in any of my previous 7 Papal vigils.  The ironic thing about this one is that the only guy who brought up Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as a possible Papal frontrunner was newsman Chris Cuomo on CBS.

Among the contenders, I was rooting for either Cardinal  Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, mainly because of  the good work he had done in cleaning up the clergy scandal in Boston and because he is a Franciscan and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, because of his association with the growing Church in Africa and the 2 degrees of separation between us based on the fact that each of us attended St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary near Albany, even though our paths had never crossed.

I sort of suspected a second day decision and had been actively following the predictions, deliberations and commentary on the Catholic Channel, EWTN (they did a good job throughout the three weeks of Vatican hype). So on Wednesday, the 13th of March, while at my desk at the County Library (don’t tell my boss), while I was, however, working on a county history project, I had the TV streaming video fixed on the Sistine Chapel smokestack, and a set of earphones tuned in to a live broadcast on EWTN Radio.  As soon as the commentators mentioned that “it looks like white smoke” after the fifth ballot, I checked the computer screen to see the live feed.  Of all five of my previous Pope watches, this was the closest I’d ever been  to being there live  – from white smoke right on through to first Papal Blessing.

What a surprise when a complete stranger walked out on that balcony after the announcement: “Habemus Papam!” — and what a delight!  There was the name – FRANCIS!; the country – ARGENTINA; and the SMILE and the WAVE.  The biggest surprise was the age — he’s only a year younger than I am.  I really thought they’d  go for a younger man — but now that I’ve seen him in action, and comparing him with how I feel about age now that I’m approaching 80 – I feel that it really doesn’t matter.

Cardinal Begoglio's selection of Francis as his name, after St. Francis of Assisi is most symbolic  and an augur of the tone of his Papacy.

Cardinal Begoglio’s selection of Francis as his name, after St. Francis of Assisi ,is most symbolic and an augur of the tone of his Papacy.

The most exciting things for me are  Pope Francis’ affinity to St. Francis of Assisi and all that he stands for in Church reform, love of the poor, respect for nature, humility and simplicity.  As a Franciscan myself, I have a deep appreciation for all that he stands for and have confidence that he will truly make a difference.  Incidentally, he was ordained a priest in 1967, the same year that I left the priesthood (having been ordained six years earlier in 1961)

The other affinity I have to Pope Francis is his relationship to Latin America.  Over my lifetime I have had numerous opportunities to see the Latin American Church in action.  My most intimate connection is through the my service to the Church in Ecuador.  I had the privilege of visiting Quito to do some volunteer work at St. Jude’s parish there, through a friendship with Fr. Bob Thomas and the Society of St. James quartered in Boston.  My parish, Holy Eucharist in Tabernacle, NJ had a long “Sister Parish” partnership with St. Jude’s.  My son, Kris, spent a month there as a volunteer in 1997.  We got to see first-hand the vibrant spirit of the Latin American Church.

As a member of the Conventual Franciscans, many of my classmates and colleagues served in Costa Rica and Brazil, and some of my seminary classmates were from Costa Rica.  I spent a summer as an exchange professor at The Catholic University of Puerto Rico in 1991, and also had the opportunity to visit Caracas, Venezuela and several locations in Peru in 2012. I experienced Latin American Poverty first-hand and have a sense of where Pope Francis gets his compassion for the poor and will hopefully be able to identify with the mission of our new Pope.

I guess I can hope for one more shot at Conclave watching, considering that Pope Francis and I are about the same age and I hope to be around a while longer. However, if you believe the prophecies of St. Malachy, it appears that Pope Francis will be the last Pope. If I might be given the liberty making my own prediction, based on the first days of his Papacy, I predict that Pope Francis will be the FIRST Pope of a new breed of charismatic Popes who will instill new life into the Church and bring renewed hope to the world.  He said it best in one of his first addresses: The church is all about Truth, Beauty and Goodness – and should identify with the poor.  That’s a pretty good mission statement.

This picture of the Sistine Chapel was taken just before the recent Conclave began on Monday, March 11, 2013.

This picture of the Sistine Chapel was taken just before the recent Conclave began on Monday, March 11, 2013.

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Beyond the War, the Holocaust, and the Wall: My 2012 Eastern European Odyssey

NOTE: 54 pictures have been integrated into this narrative.  Most pictures can be enlarged for viewing by clicking on them one or more times.

by Joe Laufer

For 12 days at the end of October, 2012, I had an opportunity to process historic events that took place during various phases of my life in the actual locations they originally occurred.   These were not just ordinary events — but, rather, events that are recorded in history books and which had an impact on society overall.  As I was growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, playing kick-the-can in the alley behind my house, children my age in the country of my forefathers were being herded into cattle cars and transported to concentration camps.

Just inside the main gate of the Auschwitz compound not far from the first experimental gas chamber on September 25, 2012.

As I entered 2nd grade at age 7  at St. Nicholas Grade School in September, 1941, the Germans were experimenting with their first gas chambers at Auschwitz.  71 years later, on October 25, 2012, I would be standing inside one of these gas chambers at Auschwitz. And on January 17 1945, as the Soviets captured Warsaw, I was a mere 5th grader, unaware that 67 years later on October 26, 2012 I’d be standing before the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in the Jewish ghetto of this historic Polish town.

Standing at the last remnant of the Berlin Wall on October 16, 2012.

On October 3, 1990, at age 55, at the height of my career at Burlington County College, I watched on TV the exuberant celebrations of the re-unification of Germany after 45 years of division — and now, on October 16, 2012, 22 years later, I was standing at the last remnant of the wall that divided East and West Berlin near Checkpoint Charley.

During this travel adventure, I visited countries whose destinies were decided on my tenth birthday in 1945 at Yalta by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin and that led to years of oppression and suffering which forced them to ultimately fight for their freedom  while I placidly enjoyed the prime of my life in tranquil Vincentown, New Jersey during the late 1980s as my children embarked on their teen years.

I have always proclaimed the inherent educational value of world travel as a catalyst for reflection on and appreciation of the benefits of a life lived in 20th century America.  Visiting Europe during life’s sunset years and comparing my life with that of the people there who survived World War II and the Cold War is an exercise in values clarification and gratitude adjustment.  This trip was much more than a venture into history.  It provided insights into the determination of the human spirit to overcome suppression and appreciate freedom.  I walked away with a special admiration for the Jews who survived the Nazi menace and the Poles who held steadfastly to their faith throughout their persecution.  This is not to take away from the Czechs and the Hungarians who demonstrated their metal throughout the occupation — but after my visit to Auschwitz and Warsaw, I am in utter awe of the Jews and the Poles.

All that being said, the tone for this entire travelogue should now be set, which,  although focusing on the places and events of historical significance along the route, exudes of the human emotions released by  a heightened awareness of the struggles of the people affected by the events in their history.

Simmary calendar of our tour itinerary.

Eight hours after leaving Philadelphia on Lufthansa Airlines , on Monday morning, October 15th we arrived first in Frankfurt and then a short time later in Berlin – a city that seventy years ago as a child seemed to me to be in another part of the galaxy.  We were driven to our hotel, the Arcotel John F,  in the central Mitte district of Berlin, which in the 1930s was a Nazi hotspot.  We learned that we were there at a special time – the Berlin Festival of Lights – during which time all the major public buildings are illuminated with special light shows.  Since several major landmarks were near our hotel, we took the opportunity to walk through the neighborhood to the enjoy the spectacular light shows.

Underground memorial of empty bookshelves in cobblestoned plaza commemorates Nazi book burnings of 1933.

Our hotel was within a short walking distance of “Bebelplatz,” the place where SA Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels orchestrated the infamous book burning bonfires near the campus of Humboldt University on May 10, 1933.  In the cobblestone quadrangle there we viewed the glass-covered underground memorial to the event — a small cubicle walled with a series of empty bookshelves.

Our visit to the beautiful Palace of San Souci in the historic town of Potsdam.

A major Berlin thoroughfare, “Unter den Linden” bisects the neighborhood leading to the Brandenburg Gate.  The following morning, Tuesday, October 16, we headed to Potsdam for our tour of the elegant San Souci Palace of Prince Frederich Wilhelm and his wife Sophie Charlotte. Returning the 20 miles to central Berlin, we had our official guided tour of the city, which included stops at the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall memorial, Checkpoint Charley and lunch in the famous 7th floor, glass domed Wintergarten Food Court of the KaDeWe Department Store (generally classified in the same category as Harrod’s in London).  A small group of us had dinner in a traditional German restaurant near our hotel, emerging in a light rainfall for the short walk to the hotel.

Penny at the Brandenburg Gate

Before we knew it our whirlwind stay in Berlin was ended, with only one casualty, a first day fall by one member of our group that required a trip to the hospital. Prior to this visit, I had been to Berlin once – in early August, 1999.  Then, it was one huge construction site (10 years after the wall came down in November, 1989 and Germany was reunited in 1990).  Now, 13 years later, there was still a lot of construction taking place, but it was a much different city than it had been on my last visit.  Berlin is a classic city.

Early Wednesday morning, October 17, we rose for a breakfast buffet and an early boarding of our bus for the 100-mile ride to Dresden — our lunch stop — and then on for another 75 miles to our destination, the “Golden City” of Prague.  This would be our first full travel day with our very competent Polish bus driver, Richard.  He would be with us throughout the tour.

Ralph Pearson, our Collette Tour Manager, photographed here at our Potsdam, Germany visit to San Souci Palace.

This is a good spot to introduce our Collette Tour Manager, Ralph Pearson, a seasoned Collette employee of more than 20 years who hails from the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and originally from Albany, NY.  Ralph was responsible for shepherding us through the peaks and valleys of Central and Eastern Europe and the centuries of historical knowledge that seasoned the landscape.  He was our international financial adviser, our nurse and pharmacist, and our guide to alternative dining experiences along the way.  Ralph was very  sensitive to the special needs — physical, psychological and social — of our group throughout the tour.  En route from country to country he would provide us with nuggets of knowledge about the geography, history and customs of the  regions we traversed.  He was very skilled at his craft and worked very well with our driver, Richard.

Penny with our bus driver, Richard, who resides in Poland

A word about our group.  We were 45 people in all, 25 of them from all parts of the country traveling individually or in couples; the remaining 20 were members of my New Jersey group.  By the end of the tour we had pretty well become a travel family, tolerating one and others idiosyncrasies (as much as possible) and sharing our life stories and experiences like old friends — and helping one another, whenever necessary.  As with any family, there were issues — but with the help of Ralph, our leader, we survived two weeks  of pretty intense travel activity within the confines of a 50 passenger bus that traversed almost 1,000 miles through six countries.

Joe’s Group: First Row: Cheryl Friedman, Charlotte D’Autrechy Scott, Judy Blango, Tammy Kessler, Debbie Hodgson, Edith Serio, Penny Laufer, Arlene Baldwin, Joyce Jones, Annmarie Monahan.
Second Row: Kathy Clark, Sam Blango, Fred Horner, Joe Laufer, Hans Rottau, Dick Jones.
Back Row: Ralph Pearson (Tour Manager), Richard (Bus Driver), Doug Ghaul, Gus Haines, Marc Baldwin.
Absent: Helen Myers.

Dresden in ruins after the RAF bombing in February, 1945.

On our third full day (October 17), we were headed to Dresden, Germany, on the way to Prague.  Dresden was a magnificent city before World War II.  Unfortunately, in February, 1945, less than two months before the end of the war, it was unmercifully bombed by the RAF.  It had no real strategic military value, and analysts claim that it was bombed purely for retaliatory reasons as the war wound down — to punish the Germans for the London blitz.  Others say that the strategy behind the bombing was to hasten the end of the war with a demoralizing blow to Germany.  No matter what the strategy, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities was completely obliterated — reduced to complete rubble.  This was my second time in Dresden, the last visit having been in 1999.  At that time, it was one big construction site — with the cathedral completely off-limits to tourists as it was being reconstructed.  Today, 13 years later, the city has been completely restored to its pre-war glory and has been recently listed as one of the top ten most popular tourist destinations in the world.  Members of our group regretted having only a few hours in Dresden to experience its greatness.  Several would have preferred at least one overnight here.

Restored dome of the once destroyed Dresden Cathedral.

Ralph Pearson gave us a brief guided tour of the highlights of the old city, and we were free to choose a lunch venue and shop for a few souvenirs before boarding our coach for the continuation of our scenic route to the Czech Republic and the beautiful city of Prague.  My main objective was to get to see the inside of the restored Dresden Dom or Cathedral which I couldn’t see on my last visit.  It was certainly worth the wait.  I have the greatest respect for those who insisted that so many of Europe’s treasures were restored to their pristine state, and I marvel at how well it was accomplished.

A hurried lunch in Dresden.

Our lunch bunch was forced to gobble down our sausage and sauerkraut and leave behind half a glass of Dresden beer, but Prague beckoned.

It wasn’t far from Dresden to the border, but we still had almost two hours of travel within the Czech Republic to arrive at Prague, which is pretty much in the center of the country.  One thing becomes fairly obvious on a tour like this — how small, and how closely related the various European countries really are.  As we crossed the border it was easy to see how the Sudetenland was a factor in Hitler’s decision to invade Czechoslovakia at the end of 1938 and fully obliterate it in 1939 — with the proximity, the makeup of the population and the vulnerability.   It is like New Jersey annexing Delaware.  Not that it was right, but it was so easy!

Penny in the Old Jewish Cemetery during our tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter.

We arrived in Prague in the late afternoon.  We did not go directly to the hotel, but rather to the old town for a brief introduction and walking tour.  Those of us who had opted for the tour of the old Jewish Quarter were taken by our guide for a partial  tour of that area, to be followed the next day with the completion of the tour.   Most of us were introduced to the new travel technology used by tour guides: “the Whisper” — an electronic transmitter with an earpiece for each participant that allows the guide to speak without shouting as she tells her story.  Collette recently introduced these and they enhance the tours dramatically.

The Pinkas Synagogue presents a sobering listing on its walls of almost 80,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

This being my second visit to Prague, I learned a lot more from our very knowledgeable guide.  Because we arrived later than anticipated, the Jewish Quarter (Josefov)  tour had to be truncated because of the closing of the venues.  I was especially impressed by the Pinkas Synagogue, which is dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia.  Their 77, 297 names are inscribed on the walls of the main nave and adjoining areas.  The old Jewish Cemetery with multiple layers of graves was also impressive.  During the Nazi occupation, the area was preserved in order to provide a site for a planned “exotic museum of an extinct race.”  This meant that the Nazis gathered Jewish artifacts from all over central Europe for display in Josefov.

Dinner entertainment in our intimate restaurant on our first night in Prague. That’s Doug Ghaul and Debbie Hodgson in the foreground.

Interrupting our tour until tomorrow, we joined our colleagues in the square for a short jaunt to our cave-like, basement level restaurant for our first dinner in Prague.  After dinner we boarded our bus for the drive to the Diplomat Hotel on the outskirts of town.  Most of us were disappointed by the fact that our hotel wasn’t located closer to the town center.  However, in most other cases throughout the tour our hotel was conveniently located.

Penny and Joe on the Manesuv Bridge over the River Vitave in Prague. on our way back to the old town square from Hradcany Castle.

After breakfast on Thursday, October 18, we boarded our bus for our formal city tour of Prague, which began at Prague Castle and took all morning, on foot, ending in the Old Town Square.  Prague is often called the “fairy tale” city, because of its medieval charm, and it definitely merits the title.  We were most impressed by the amazing Hradcany Castle and its overwhelming neighboring St. Vitus Cathedral — one of the most beautiful in Europe.  A leisurely (but long) walk to the old town square ended at the  astronomical clock where, with hundreds of other tourists (and pick pockets),  we watched the mechanical figures perform, the bird sing and the live trumpeter play his hourly ditty from the tower.

Every hour tourists gather for the show at the Astronomical Clock.

Penny took the rest of the afternoon to shop while I resumed my guided tour of the Jewish Quarter and had a nice quiet solitary lunch coupled with people watching from an outdoor restaurant on the old town square, near where Tom Cruise blew up the aquarium in Mission Impossible #1.

The Czech Folklore Dinner and Show was a hit with all those who attended.

We returned to the hotel where we prepared for our Czech Folklore Dinner Show which was held in a quaint old stone barn/restaurant on the outskirts of town.  The family operated restaurant and show, with a really fabulous three-man folk band, was first-rate and extremely entertaining.  As a bonus, we had the place all to ourselves!

Stalin’s statue stood on the bluff behind these two pillars. It has been replaced by a metronome, ticking out every second of precious freedom that succeeded the terror.

Even though I had visited Prague once before, I walked away from this second trip with new knowledge about how bitterly the Czechs hated the Russians.  Thanks to the fact that our local guides shared their personal experiences and feelings with us, we learned how deeply oppressed they felt during the occupation.  One of our guides pointed out the former location of a statue of Josef Stalin which dominated the landscape, and how it is now replaced by a large metronome that clicks away the time second by second to illustrate how sacred their time in freedom actually is. She also shared with us newspaper photos of the toppled statue with Stalin’s face in the mud.  His downfall brought utter joy to their lives.

We had a refreshing lunch stop at a pleasant Czech amusement area just short of the [Czech-Austrian border.,

Once again, we all agreed that two days in Prague was insufficient, and lamented the fact that we had to move on — this time, to Vienna, Austria’s capital.  After a hearty European breakfast, on Friday, October 19th,  we headed south for our 156 mile trip to the musical city of Vienna.  It was a relatively long trip, but because of an accident on one of the major highways – a beer truck overturned and spilled its precious golden cargo all over the road – we were forced  to take the scenic  route through a winding, fall-foliage festooned mountain road.  Most of the route was through the beautiful Czech countryside.

We arrived at our Viennese Hotel, the  Arcotel Kaiserwasser, late in the afternoon.  The relatively modern hotel is conveniently located across the highway from a subway station and along the Danube.  Ralph, our tour manager, offered to take us to see a famous Viennese landmark, the Hundertwasser House, before dinner.

Penny, Debbie and Ralph at the Hundertwasser House, Vienna.

Penny in front of the Hundertwasser House

The architect Hundertwasser set out to create a building that defied the common use of straight lines and symmetry, but rather followed the non-linear flow of nature in its design. Many of us joined Ralph on a short bus trip to the section of Vienna offering us a view of this architectural phenomenon with its colorful pillars, multicolored adornments, wavy floors and crooked walls.  After freshening up, we headed for our dinner at one of the area’s most unique tourist restaurants, “Marchfelderhof” whose menu proclaimed: “Welcome to Austria’s most historical and traditional restaurant visited by the most famous celebrities”.

Marchfelderhof, the acclaimed Austrian restaurant.

We were greeted at the door by the flag-waving staff, walked over a red carpet through the entrance where musicians were serenading us, and ushered to our elaborately  decorated tables where our “Aperitif “Jonathan”  (a test tube bottle of homemade apple schnapps) awaited each of us.  We were fed a great meal, entertained throughout and were treated to the house desert “Curdcream & Nougatmousse with marinated woodberry roaster.” It was truly and elegant meal in an elegant (but slightly tacky) setting. After a long day we were ready to hit the sack, which brought us to the half-way mark on our tour, Saturday, October 20th, when we had a tour of the city of Vienna on what turned out to be our 6th consecutive sunny day in Europe.

This was Penny’s first visit to Schoenbrunn Palace – my third.

The tour included the summer retreat of the Habsburg dynasty,  the lavish Schoenbrunn Palace, a rival of Versailles  and most of the elaborate European Royal palaces. This was my third such visit, the others being in 1999 and 2010.  We also took a tour of the City of Vienna, ending in the pedestrian area around the magnificent St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  For lunch, several of us sampled the elegant chocolate cake of the Hotel Sacher.  I also sampled a sausage from one of the many street-corner vendors.

Sampling the chocolate cake at the Hotel Sacher.

Our final event in Austria was an opportunity that most of us availed ourselves of, to attend a musical concert at the Orangerie at Schonbrunn Palace. The “optional” included dinner at a charming Viennese neighborhood restaurant called Burgerhof.  Contrary to the sound and look of its name, it was not a burger joint — but a nicely appointed family restaurant, where we were able to sit on the glass-enclosed porch for our pre-theater dinner.  The concert consisted of favorites by Mozart and Johann Strauss – performed in the same setting where Mozart debuted many pieces and where he competed against court composer, Antonio Salieri.

On Sunday morning, October 21st, after breakfast we boarded our bus for our fourth city destination, Budapest via a southeasterly route of approximately 133 miles. Encountering a few traffic jams along the way, we still arrived in mid-afternoon in this most beautiful of cities, known as “the Queen of the Danube.”

Penny on Fisherman’s Bastion located on the bluff above our hotel.

Our hotel, the very “artsy” Art Otel Budapest, is located right on the Danube, almost directly across the river from the Parliament Building, one of the most delicately crafted government buildings in the world — modeled somewhat after the British Parliament building.

Heroe’s Square, location of several memorials, including the tomb of the unknown soldier and several major buildings.

Upon our arrival we did some exploring on the “Pest” side of the Danube, having lunch in a small outdoor restaurant near Market Square. We also did a preview visit of Fisherman’s Bastion, which provided a beautiful panoramic view of the city – especially the Parliament Building.   We made a special stop at Heroes Square, a large area with monuments dedicated to military heroes of Hungary – taking on special meaning during our visit because of the celebration of their national holiday.  Nearby we drove past the zoo, the public baths and other historic sites.

Monument along Danube near Parliament. 60 pair of iron shoes memorialize Jews shot into the river by Arrow Cross Socialists.

One of the memorable sites we saw along the Pest side of the Danube was a monument to Jewish victims of a Nazi-like Hungarian Socialist group called the Arrow Cross Militia who would line up their victims along the Danube River bank causing their dead bodies to fall into the water.  The monument, located near the Parliament Building,  consists of 60 iron pairs of period-correct (1944-45) shoes abandoned at the waterfront.

I took this picture of the Parliament from the promenade just outside the front entrance to our hotel on the “Buda” bank of the Danube.

We had dinner in the hotel that night, and then walked along the Danube waterfront viewing the brightly lighted white Parliament building and light-strewn bridges reflecting in the water.

Our schedule was slightly altered because the folks in Hungary were celebrating a national holiday while we were there — much like our Fourth of July — they call it “Freedom Day” –  celebrating the October date in 1956 when they conducted a rebellion against their Russian Occupiers.  It started as a student march on parliament on October 23.  But after the loss of 2,500 Hungarian lives and with the intervention of Russian troops it was crushed by mid-November.  Yet it lit a light for the quest for freedom which eventually resulted 33 years later in the 1989 creation of a free Hungarian Republic, when October 23 was proclaimed a National Holiday.

Bullet-ridden former Ministry of Defense on Castle Hill, Budapest. Damaged in 1945 when the Soviet army laid siege to the city, with German and Hungarian forces fighting from the hill.

While we were sitting in the bar of our hotel on Monday, Oct. 22nd, we witnessed a candle light parade pass our hotel window:  men, women and children marching with torches and flags along the banks of the Danube across from Parliament. I was a 21-year-old college student in 1956 when these brave students rose up against their oppressors.  It was good to have been there to celebrate their freedom with them.

View of Budapest from Castle Hill.

We spent Monday, October 22nd,  pretty much on our own.  Penny decided to stay with Debbie and do some shopping.  I went off on my own and bought a ticket on the “Hop On – Hop Off Budapest City bus tour.”   It gave me a chance to visit on my own any of 14 historic sites for as long as I wanted, and hop back on the bus when I was finished.  The bus would be at any one of the 14 locations every half hour all day long.  I took advantage of re-visiting some of the sights we had seen the day before.  I ended up at the Parliament building and then took the subway back to our hotel in time for dinner.

Entrance ramp to our boat for the “Budapest by Night” Danube Cruise.

We had dinner at a local restaurant not far from the Boat Launch from which our “Budapest By Night” tour was to embark. This narrated boat tour on the Danube gave us a wonderful night-time view of all the brightly illuminated bridges and buildings along the Danube.  It was truly spectacular and a fitting conclusion to our stay in Budapest – the eighth night of our 12-day tour of Central and Eastern Europe.

We started out early on Tuesday, October 23.  It was our longest travel day that would take us through the country of Slovakia en route to Poland.  Our destination was the historic city of Krakow, a distance of 182 miles.   The day was rainy, but it really didn’t matter, because we were on the bus most of the day.  We went through some pretty nice countryside.  For most of us, it was our first time ever in Slovakia.  By the time we reached central Slovakia for our lunch stop, the sun had come out.

Our lunch stop at the ski resort in central Slovakia.

We stopped at a beautiful ski resort in a town called Dona Vale, a bit north of the city of Banska Bystica.  I had mushroom soup for lunch and we relaxed a bit in the sunshine before heading north to Poland.  It was dark when we arrived in Krakow and we went to dinner in our very elegant hotel called “Andel’s Hotel” in a centrally located area just outside the walls of the old city.  After dinner, led by Ralph Pearson, we took the short walk to the old town square to get a sense of the lay of the land.

The Wawel Dragon spewing fire at the Wawel Castle in Krakow.

Wednesday, October 24 was set aside for a guided tour of Krakow’s historic Old Town.  Our male tour guide with excellent — full of knowledge and humor.  We started at Wawel Castle, the former residence of Polish kings and the location of the famous Wawel Dragon who spews fire – and then worked ourselves through the University area, where we saw sites related to Copernicus, viewed the historic mechanized clock and then visited several historic churches, including one where recently canonized Friar Maximilian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan, was once assigned.  He offered his life in exchange for that of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz.

That’s the Krakow Cathedral in the background.

Sites related to the life of Pope John Paul the II were pointed out to us, and we visited the Cathedral from which the Pope once administered the Diocese of Krakow.  We ended our tour in Market Square.  Penny and I didn’t have the greatest lunch experience at a recommended restaurant across from the Opera House, but we managed to survive the day – returning to the hotel for a brief rest in advance of our afternoon optional tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Wielieczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It has been functioning since the Middle Ages and consists of nine underground levels.   Our guide, who is also a mine worker at the site, took us down into this spectacular maze of unique rooms, tunnels, chapels and salt statues.  I was most impressed by the large hall with multiple salt chandeliers and religious salt sculptures, including one classic image of Pope John Paul II.  It was a long and arduous walk for us, but well worth it.

Great underground hall and chapel decorated with religious salt sculptures.

After our salt mine tour, we headed back to the hotel where we decided to have dinner, and where I had my first ever taste of cold cherry soup.  And so ended our visit to Krakow, Poland.

Statue of Pope John Paul at location where he would stay on visits to Krakow after becoming Pope.

We found Krakow a beautiful and historic city.  Our local guide was especially good at explaining the role of the Catholic Church in the ultimate fall of Communism.  He was eloquent in his analysis especially of the role played by Karol Woytyla , Pope John Paul II in first rallying to Polish people to abandon Communism and then pushing the dominos throughout the other countries of Eastern Europe.

Which brings us to Thursday, October 25, an important travel day which included visits to Auschwitz and the Shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa before we arrived at our final tour destination, Warsaw.  We started out early for the first stop on our tour, the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz.  The city of Oswwiecem, or Auschwitz, is about 40 miles due west of Krakow.

At entrance to Auschwitz I.

The concentration camp actually consists of two separate facilities, Auschwitz One, a former Polish military barracks made up of a series of two-story brick structures, established in 1940 and which held between 12,000 and 20,000 prisoners.  The other, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, begun in 1941 and which held more than 90,000 prisoners in 1944. This is where most of the Jews were exterminated in the gas chambers.

Our Thursday morning tour started with an extensive guided tour of Auschwitz I, starting at the notorious “welcome” sign which reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work Will Set You Free.”  Our group of 45 was broken into two groups for the narrated tour.  We were shown dioramas  of mounds of actual human hair, thousands of shoes, prisoners’ shoe polish, shaving brushes and tooth brushes, suitcases and other possessions.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr at Aushwitz, – Exterminated, August 14, 1941. Canonized a Saint of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II, 1981.

I have a personal interest in Auschwitz because of my past association with the Conventual Franciscan Order during the 1950s and early 1960s and the story of  Friar Maximilian Kolbe, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz with several other Franciscans from May through August, 1941. During my seminary years I was introduced to the life of Friar Maximilian and his work of spreading devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at his “City of Mary,” Niepokalanow in Teresin, near Warsaw.  He helped establish one of the largest Polish Friaries there.  He was martyred at Aushwitz on August 14, 1941 when he offered to substitute his life for another prisoner who had children and who was among 10 selected to die in retaliation for the attempted escape of a prisoner. Forty years later, in 1981, Maximilian was canonized a Saint by Pope John Paul II.  While in Krakow, we visited the Franciscan Church there where Maximilian once served.

This poster inside one of the Auschwitz cell blocks illustrates the arrival of Conventual Franciscan priests from the City of Mary Immaculate, Niepokalanow in Teresin, near Warsaw. While in the Seminary in the 1950’s I had been taught about these Friar-colleagues who were incarcerated by the Nazis for harboring and assisting Jews in their Monastery.

People in background were members of a contingent of Israeli visitors to the camp.

We saw walls lined with prisoner mug shots, posters of life in the camp, displays of empty Cyclone B gas canisters, cells of prisoners, the infamous Wall of Death where the Nazis executed thousands of people by shooting, and a gallows where escape plotters were publicly hung, among many other things.  At the end of the tour we were taken to Gas Chamber No. 1 now serving as a memorial.

The Wall of Death, where thousands were shot to death.

AuschwitzII – Birkenau.

After this almost two-hour tour, we were taken by bus to Auschwitz II – Birkenau, about two miles distant for a much shorter tour of the wooden one-story prisoner blocks, showing the three levels of sleeping platforms (one could hardly call them “beds”).  One block was an extensive latrine with dozens of open lavatories.  The area where most of the crematoria were located was pointed out to us.The tour was a sobering experience and one which we will never forget.  The silence on the bus on the way to our next destination was evidence of the  emotional impact of the information we received and the sights we had just experienced.

Entrance promenade to Czestochowa.

We then traveled north for approximately 35 miles to the spiritual center of Poland and the shrine of the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czesttochowa, where we saw the famous Black Madonna, the sacred icon dating back to early Christianity when the Evangelist St. Luke purportedly painted it, and to its arrival in Poland 630 years ago in 1382 where more than 5 million pilgrims from all over the world visit each year.  We arrived at the chapel of the Madonna to the strains of a melodious hymn being sung  in the midst of a Mass being concelebrated by dozens of Catholic priests and attended by a crowded chapel of pilgrims.

Priest at podium in Chapel of the Black Madonna, hanging above altar to the right.

Immediately after the Mass we were able to walk within a few feet of the sacred icon as some of the pilgrims honored the Madonna by penetentially traversing the area on their knees.  After doing homage at the sacred relic, Penny and I visited the beautiful basilica adjacent to the chapel and then the museum on the monastery grounds.  It was inspiring seeing the many pilgrims representing various organizations doing homage at the shrine.  A troop of uniformed scouts performed a ritual at the shrine while we were there.  Penny purchased a number of religious souveneers at the site.

Pilgrims gather for procession into the Basilica at Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa.

This is the skyline of the “New” Warsaw. Our modern Westin Hotel is among the newer members of the Warsaw skyscraper family.

After our visit, we continued north on our way to Warsaw.  We stopped for a traditional Polish lunch of soup and pirogues at a pre-designated restaurant along the way.  It was late, damp and cold when we arrived in Warsaw and our elegant, centrally located Westin Hotel – a high-rise hotel (we were in room 911 on the ninth floor).  This ultra modern hotel had one of those external, glass-enclosed elevator shafts that would give anyone who feared heights a definite case of vertigo.  Our tour director indicated the modern Warsaw had the nickname of Poland’s Manhattan!  Because of our late arrival, Penny decided not to have dinner, but I joined Joyce and Dick Jones and Hans Rottau for a light meal in the hotel restaurant.

A stop in a historic park during our morning guided tour of Warsaw,

On Friday morning, October 26, our twelfth and final tour day, we embarked on a guided bus tour of Warsaw which included several stops and ended with a walking tour of the Old City.  Our tour guide took us to Lazienki Park, adjacent to the Presidential Palace.  She described the iconic art-deco Chopin monument which can be interpreted as a willow tree,  a hand and an eagle’s head.  The Charles De Gaulle Monument was pointed out to us, as was the Ronald Regan Monument, honored here for his 1987  Berlin challenge: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

The park was a temporary construction site, but we were shown the Chopin statue, with a stylized willow tree over Chopin’s seated figure which echoes a pianist’s hand and fingers and doubles as an Eagle’s head. The Nazi’s had destroyed this statue, but it was restored after the war.

Monument in the heart of the former infamous Warsaw Ghetto, now demolished. A major Jewish museum is being built nearby.

The highlight of today’s tour for me was a dual stop — one at the Warsaw Uprising Monument and the other at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in the heart of the former ghetto and soon to be the site of a major World War II Museum.  We walked through the nicely restored Old City with its quaint buildings and had lunch there. While Penny and Debbie shopped, Hans Rottau and I toured the Royal Castle in Warsaw — a building with a deceivingly plain exterior, but lavish interior.  Because the Russians refused to restore it after World War II, the Polish people themselves raised the money for the restoration.

Inspirational monument memorializes the brave and bloody Warsaw Uprising which lasted from Aug. 1 to Oct, 4, 1944.

Joe and Penny in the center of the Old Town Square in Old City, Warsaw. This whole area was restored after WW II,

Our final day in Warsaw was sunny and a bit brisk — but was a perfect ending to a great overall tour.  We returned to the hotel for our “Farewell Meal’ — which included a few remarks by Ralph Pearson, myself and one or two other members of our group.

We retired early, recognizing that an early rising was required on Saturday, the day of our journey home.

We had to leave the hotel by 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 27th for the Warsaw airport.  The Westin Hotel provided us with bag breakfasts.  Our plane from Warsaw to Frankfurt had to be de-iced before we left in a smattering of snow flurries.  After navigating Frankfurt airport for our Lufthansa flight to Philadelphia, which also had to be de-iced, we took off a bit later than scheduled.  The flight home was pretty flawless, but arrival in Philly was marred slightly when two members of our group separated from the core to take care of a baggage issue which unfortunately resulted in  only 18 of our 20 participants taking the shuttle to Vincentown.  Eventually the two lost members made it home via Rapid Rover.

The general consensus was that this was a very aggressive but comprehensive tour.  We saw everything we anticipated seeing and learned a lot more than we anticipated.  I personally came away from the experience with a much greater appreciation for the freedoms I have as an American citizen.  I also have a much greater respect for the people of Central and Eastern Europe of my generation who endured so much suffering at the hands of the Nazis and the Russians.  I have a deeper understanding of the horror and evil of the perpetrators of the crimes of the holocaust and of the need to keep the memory alive so that these crimes will never happen again.  Everyone who can should visit the scenes of these crimes as we have in order to get a sense of their reality.

NOTE: My complete photo album for this tour has been posted on Snapfish. 

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Seminary Summers: Raquette Lake and Washington, DC -1956 to 1960

By Joseph M. Laufer


Raquette Lake – in the heart of the Adirondacks, about 135 miles or a three-hour drive from Albany

The first time I laid eyes on Raquette Lake was in the Summer of 1956.  I had completed my first year of Philosophy at St. Anthony-on-Hudson.  Upperclassmen had talked it up during the previous school year.  I had even received a Raquette Lake Post Card while I was in the Novitiate (post-marked Raquette Lake, June 23, 1955) from my hometown friend Bill Thornton (Friar Canisius) advising me: “You really have something to look forward to next summer. Our camp up here at Raquette Lake is really wonderful.”

Raquette Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Adirondacks, with a 99-mile shoreline. St. William’s Camp is located on Long Point in the lower third center of the map designated as Pine Knot Point on the map. The village of Raquette Lake is designated as such in bold text on the lower left area of the map.

I didn’t know much about the Adirondacks prior to my 1956 vacation.  As I write this, it has been 57 years since  my first trip there, and some of the details are a bit foggy.  For instance, how long was our yearly vacation there – one, two or three weeks?  (I think it was two weeks).  How many of us were there at a time?  I’m going to guess about 20, inclusive of the permanent work crew of about 5 or 6.  While I was there experiencing the camp, I was never fully aware of its history.  I have since done some research on it — especially the chapel — and the way the Conventual Franciscans acquired the use of it, and consider it a rare privilege to have been able to be a part of that history.

For my 1956 and 1957 vacations there, the dates and duration of my stay were scheduled as a part of the regular student rotation, since I didn’t have any other summer obligations.   Then in 1958, when I was selected to attend a summer school program in pursuit of a Master’s Degree at the Catholic University  in Washington, DC, I couldn’t join the Raquette Lake vacation rotation until the very end of the summer. This end-of-summer schedule was repeated again in 1959 and 1960.  Overall, I only vacationed at Raquette Lake five times while in the seminary.  These all too brief vacations were definitely fun-packed and left an indelible imprint on my life.

Shown here in the foreground is the main building of the camp which was once the rectory for the parish. The kitchen, dining room and sitting room were on the first floor. The priest in charge and the work crew resided here. The long building to the left was the bunkhouse or dormitory building.

The Friars were organized into about 4 or 5 groups of about ten each for their time at Raquette Lake.  One group of upper class men “worker bees” spent the entire Summer there — they arrived a week early to open up the camp and remained an extra week at the end of the summer to  “winterize” it and close it down.  During the camping season they were responsible for the maintenance of the buildings, grounds, boats, generators and water system.  They were also responsible for supplies and food, including the cooking.  In addition, they had responsibility for  special ongoing projects there — like dealing with the repairs, and upkeep and expansion of the buildings. The groups were generally transported to the camp when their scheduled vacation time rolled around in 4 or 5 cars of about 5 passengers each.  The group finishing their vacations would return in the same cars. The distance from Rensselaer was about 130 miles and took about 3 hours on Routes 9 and 28 through Saratoga Springs, Glens Falls, Lake  George, Warrensburg and Blue Mountain Lake, arriving finally in the Village of Raquette Lake.  Here, from the main town dock we would take boats over to the dock at Camp Saint William.

St. William’s Shingle Adirondack-style church at Long Point  built in 1890 by financier William West Durant and donated as the parish church for the Catholics of Raquette Lake. After another church was built in the village, this Church was used as a retreat for priests and seminarians of the Conventual Franciscan Order.

There were four basic structures on the grounds of Camp St. William: the chapel, the main house, the dormitory or bunkhouse and the boat house. The historic chapel dates back to 1890 when it was built by William West Durant (who was not a Catholic) to serve the Catholics of the small community which had developed on Long Point on Raquette Lake.  Durant donated the land, and the church to the Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.  It would serve the Catholics, many of them Durant’s employees, in and around Camp Pine Knot, the first of dozens of camps Durant would build in order to promote tourism in the Adirondacks. Camp Pine Knot was created in 1876 and is located inland from Camp St. William.  Today it is operated by The State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland as a small branch campus known as Camp Huntington.  When I vacationed at Camp St. William, Phys Ed majors attending SUNY’s Cortland campus participated in summer session classes there.  Cortland still offers programs there today.  When we were there in the 50s some of the Cortland students attended Sunday Mass in our chapel.

Plaque located above the door inside the church, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. It reads: Saint William’s Roman Catholic Church, Raquette Lake erected anno domini 1890.  The land designs and the funds for building were generously given by Mr. and Mrs. William West Durant.

William West Durant was commissioned by his father, Dr. Thomas C. Durant, a Railroad tycoon who had extensive land holdings in the Adirondacks, to promote tourism by building camps in the region for the rich and famous (Vanderbilts, Mellons, Whitneys, Rockefellers, etc.).  In addition to St. William’s Church, he built the Church of the Good Shepherd, a Protestant Church on St. Hubert’s Isle in the middle of Raquette Lake in 1880.

Interior of the church. There are eight rows of pews. The wooden adornment is of cherry wood.

Back to St. William’s!  It was initially the Catholic parish church serving all of Raquette Lake.  A house was built near the church a short time later and would serve as the parish rectory — and during the years we vacationed there, it was the main house for Camp St. William that served as the headquarters for the priest in charge, and the residence for Friars on the summer work crew.  It was the location of the kitchen, the dining room, the sitting and game room and the general gathering place for the Friars.  It was a two-story dwelling with an enclosed front porch.   It was the place where we hung out, read, played cards and board games, and ate.

View of the church from the lake.

To round out the brief history of the place — eventually Durant’s community at Long Point (Post Office, small store, saw mill and worker’s houses) moved across the lake to the present location of Raquette Lake Village.  Eventually a new Catholic Church was built in the village, giving it the rare distinction of having two Catholic Churches.  In 1911, the Bishop of Ogdensburg invited the Conventual Franciscans to administer the parish. (Incidentally, 1911 was the same year that the Friars purchased the Manor House in Rensselaer to serve as a Seminary).   By 1922 the Franciscan pastor, Father Henry Thameling,  moved into a house in the village, and the church at Long Point was no longer used for services (except for tourists in the summer).  Once the Church was built in the village, the Franciscans, having administrative responsibility for both properties — Long Point and the Village Church — began using the Long Point real estate as a summer retreat for the friars and visiting priests and it came to be known as the Friars Camp.  During the summer, Franciscan priests, brothers and seminarians vacationed at the camp and assisted in serving the increased numbers of summer visitors to the lake.

When groups of Friars would arrive from Rensselaer for their vacations at Camp St. William, in addition to being portaged in the boats belonging to the Friary, to facilitate the transfer to Long Point from the town dock, local businessmen would take us classic Cris Craft boats for the short trip across the lake.

During the post-World-War-II period, the property in front of the church was extended out into the lake, a bunkhouse was built next to the main house, a boat house was built in 1949, and a dining room addition was added to the main house.  The annual Fair, a major fundraising event for the parish, was still held on Long Point in the 1950s and 60s and was the only remaining tie to the parish.  In 1958 and 1959, because I was vacationing there in mid-summer, I remember working the Fair.  It was a major event for the people of Raquette Lake.  A long shed was built by the Friars on the lawn next to the church to house games and refreshment booths for the Fair.  All the Friars pitched in to make the fair a success.

Friar Gavin Murray, a member of the elite work crew, about to drive over to the village to pick up either a Friar or some supplies.

The bunkhouse which was built sometime after the war was a long, one-story trailer-like structure with about eight 9′ x 6′ cubicles on each side, each with its own exterior window.  Each cubicle contained only a single bed, a small dresser and a chair and strung across each cubicle’s opening onto the long hall running lengthwise down the middle of the building was a basic shower curtain to provide privacy for the occupant.  The cubicle was simply a place to keep your stuff and bed down.

The total camp atmosphere was rustic and austere.  Down a fairly long pathway along the shoreline from the two residences was the historic chapel.  It was one of the most uniquely constructed  rustic chapels I had ever seen, both inside and out.  Years later I saw one like it in a remote area of Russia.  Its shingled exterior and conical lines reminded me very much of the Raquette Lake chapel.  The interior of St. William’s  was adorned in cherry wood,  and the exterior was totally shingled.  It was designed  by prominent New York architect J. Cleveland Cady  at the height of Shingle Style architecture fashion.  It is a rectangular shaped, one story Shingle Style church with a steeply pitched roof.  The main facade features a two-story cylindrical tower capped by a conical roof and flanked by a pair of open porches.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The sanctuary is adorned with a cherry wood altar and reredos. The walls are decorated with elegant stenciling, and there are two stained glass windows on each side of the altar. The remaining windows in the chapel are of clear glass to permit ample natural lighting and visual observation of the natural outdoor beauty surrounding the church.

The interior is plain, but absolutely beautiful in its understated simplicity. The upper walls are plaster, and the lower part is fitted with clear cherry-wood tongue-in-groove wainscoting, a little under 3 ft. high surrounding the entire worship space.  There are seven clusters of three window units, clear glass for adequate natural lighting and providing an inspiring view of the splendid Adirondack foliage which surrounds the church outdoors. In the sanctuary itself, there are four beautiful stained-glass windows, two on each side of the wooden altar piece (reredos). The walls  in the sanctuary are tastefully stenciled.  The architecture creates an atmosphere which exudes peace and promotes prayer and meditation.

The only access to the camp is by boat. This large dock leads to the bunkhouse and the main house on the property.

There was one other structure – a dock that provided access to the camp via water.  We also used the sturdy dock for sun bathing and fishing.  The only access to the camp was by boat from the main town dock.  When a whole group of Friars arrived from Rensselaer, we would have access to one or two classic Chris Craft wooden boats owned by local businessmen.  For daily use once we settled in, we would use one of the two or three aluminum outboard boats that the Friary owned.

Here I am in one of the canoes on the lake just off the dock.  That’s the boat house off to the right, and  in the far distance  the canoe slips were located in a land strip near the chapel.

We had several canoes which we could easily board from two canoe slips that were located at an area near the chapel.  The boat house, located between the canoe slips and our dock outside the bunkhouse, was where we stored the outboards when not in use — and where we sequestered all the boats and canoes for the winter.  In the summer of 1955, the year before I first visited the camp, one of the Seminary professors (Father Hubert Dunphy) acquired a sail boat for the Friars.  It was a classic “Lightning” and a very popular item for enjoying the lake.  Most of us learned the art of sailing from the more experienced Friars.  We named the sailboat “The Debbie” (don’t ask me why a bunch of celibate Franciscans named it after a woman!).  Friar Adam Keltos and I had the honor of re-painting the name on the back section of the boat.

Here are four Friars rigging up the Debbie, the only woman allowed at the camp.

On one occasion, Friar Mel Madden and I were out on the lake in the Debbie when a storm blew in (a common occurrence).  The sailboat flipped because of our lack of experience in handling a sail boat in stormy situations.  Raquette Lake could be treacherous during wind storms. We were eventually rescued, righted the sailboat, and returned to the camp shaken, but determined to tackle the challenges of wind and water again.   I got caught more than once in storms while paddling a canoe in the middle of the lake on the way to Golden Beach — our favorite picnic and sunning haunt.

A picnic day at Golden Beach. L – R: Tony Cavone, me, Francis Xavier, Nicholas, Alvin, Canisius, Pacificus – and that’s Duane standing high over all.

Hanging out at the popular “Golden Beach” was one of our favorite activities.  There were two ways of getting there: one by canoe and the other by hiking through the woods on one of the nature trails.  Raquette Lake had one of the longest shorelines in the Adirondacks (99 miles), and you could spend hours on the lake in a canoe visiting various coves, camps and beaches.  It could take well over an hour just to canoe to Golden Beach — and a lot longer on foot.  We would pack our picnic lunch and head out in our bathing suits in the canoe.  In addition to swimming and sunning ourselves, we would play volley ball, badminton, quoits and other games in the sand in a remote area away from the sun bathing vacationers on the beach.  The excursions to Golden Beach could last an entire day.

Another shot of the same group at Golden Beach. That’s me, third from the right.

Another activity would be to canoe to some of the various trails and mountains in the area and climbing them to greet the Forest Ranger.  Several of the mountains were capped by a fire tower, and if you climbed the tower, you would get a card verifying that you made the climb and attained your goal.  I was among several of the Friars who made these hikes regularly.

This is the Blue Mountain Fire Tower from which, at 3,759 feet, you could see all the way back  to Raquette Lake past Eagle Lake, Lake Utowana and the Marion River.

Some destinations could be other lakes connected to Raquette lake by rivers or streams.  One popular all-day canoe trip would be between Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake via the Marion River.  It was the old Steamboat Route and quite a physical challenge.  A group of us took these excursions several times each year.  We would leave Camp St. William very early in the morning, paddle along “the Point” and then enter the Marion River, canoeing for a long distance, and then enter Lake Utowana, a long, narrow lake. This was followed by a stream, which, as I recall required some portage of the canoe.  Then we arrived at Eagle Lake, and after paddling that one, arrived at our destination, Blue Mountain Lake.  Then we’d climb the mountain and fire tower to view  the awe-inspiring Adirondack vista, identifying the waterways we had just traversed.  We had to then head right back in order to arrive home before darkness fell.  It was really a great adventure.

Here’s certification of my climb up the forest fire tower at Blue Mountain – elevation 3,759 feet on August 24th, 1959.

This card certifies that I climbed the tower to an elevation of 3,000 feet at West Mountain, which was fairly close to Camp.  I made this climb on August 20th, 1959, my brother Bill’s 24th  birthday.

Depending on what priest was in charge during your week or two at Camp St. William’s, you could get a group together for “off campsite” auto tours of the Adirondacks.  My all-time favorite auto excursion was to the Blue Mountain Adirondack Museum.  It opened for the first time in 1958, my first year there.  Even back then I had a great interest in local history — and the Adirondacks are rich in history.  The museum tells the story of the rich and famous who had summer estates in the Adirondacks.   Several of the luxury Pullman cars of the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts were on display , as was a variety of historic luxury boats.  There were dioramas of winter activities and the flora and fauna of the region.  We would also be able to visit some of the actual camps of the Vanderbilts and other moguls of past Adirondack history. A favorite was Sagamore, the Vanderbilt estate, now a major resort and conference center.

This is the West Mountain Tower. West Mountain wasn’t too far from our camp, on the other side of the Village. We could take the short canoe ride past Uncas Camp (a luxury camp also built by William West Durant) and then take the trail and climb the tower. It wasn’t as long an adventure as the Blue Mountain excursion.

Father Conan in particular liked to take these field trips, and I always took advantage of his interest by offering to drive (since he was not a driver). At different times we would drive to Lake Placid (about 80 miles north of Raquette Lake) – – the site of the 1932 Winter Olympics.  Twenty years later, in 1980, it would again host the games.  On the way we would pass through other scenic lakes, like Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake as well as other remote places to get different perspectives on the region.  With each passing year I fell more in love with the Adirondacks the more I explored.  Years later, when I settled in Burlington County, New Jersey on the staff of Burlington County College, I discovered that one of my faculty colleagues, Tom Lord, who grew up in Mt. Holly, was an Adirondack aficionado and had written a book on the Adirondacks.  He would have been vacationing in and around Raquette Lake as a young college student around the same time I was there as a seminarian.  Small world!

My son Kris and my wife Penny on the lake in front of St. William’s Church on a nostalgic visit (for me) to Raquette Lake.

After I left the Franciscans, married and settled in New Jersey,  I took several trips to Raquette Lake with my family .  I have movies of my kids camping at Golden Beach and of our family at a cabin along the lake.  On these family excursions, I would rent a boat and take the family to see Camp St. William and especially the Shingle Chapel. I have to confess that their enthusiasm about Raquette Lake never rose to the level of mine.  Since we would always go to Raquette Lake via Lake George, they found Lake George with its many amusements and diversions more appealing than the stark natural beauty of rural and rustic Raquette Lake.  I made sure to take them to the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake for a primer on Adirondack History.  Is it any wonder that when I purchased my first and only house in Vincentown, New Jersey, (in which I still live) it was located on a lake, and that one of  the first “appliances” I purchased was a red Lincoln canoe!

Relaxing on the dock in a warm Raquette Lake breeze.

I enjoyed doing things around camp, too.  Friar Adam Keltos and I made a few totem poles that became fixtures on the property during the years we were there — and long after.  Adam was the best totem pole maker of the bunch, however. Using a small hatchet and a sharp carving knife we would mold pieces of soft Adirondack wood into works of art, colorfully painting them and placing them at strategic locations along the shoreline and around the camp.  I also liked the late-night bonfires we would ignite on the shore of the lake.   We had created a little pow wow area, with logs placed in a circle around the location of the camp fire.  We would conduct the traditional hot dog and marshmallow roasts accompanied by stories and singalongs and marvel at the myriad stars and constellations in the dark Adirondack skies.

Arial view of Camp St. William.

There was one ghost story that we saved every year for first-time vacationers at the camp.  It was a true story about one of our own — verified by the older priests of the Order who would be among our special visitors during the summer.  When the Diocese of Ogdenberg’s Bishop Gabriels invited the Conventual Franciscan Fathers to assume the spiritual care of the people of Raquette Lake and its missions in Inlet, Big Moose, and Blue Mountain Lake, Father Henry Thameling was the first Friar to be assigned here.  He arrived in Raquette Lake on July 11, 1911 to take charge of St. William’s and St. Paul’s in Blue Mountain Lake.  During his eighteen years here, he was responsible for much of the growth and success of the parish and was much-loved and admired by the community.  One of our senior priests who knew him said he was a die-hard outdoors man — and “his body resembled a human wedge” – huge and muscular at the top and tiny, thin legs at the bottom. In 1922 he purchased a cottage in the village for $1500 for a winter residence and, in 1929, he continued to use  the house on Long Point as a summer residence.  Winters at the lake were brutal — and the lake froze solid for most of the winter – solid enough that it was common to drive on the ice to the various points along the lake in cars and trucks.  Raquette Lake was a major source of retail ice during the winter.  Ice cutting businesses abounded.  Father Henry was driving across the ice on January 26, 1929 when his car went through an unmarked hole in the ice on Raquette Lake.  The story is told that he escaped from the car, but could not find the opening in the ice to save himself — thus he died tragically by drowning despite his struggle to survive by clawing on the unforgiving ice above him.  Of course, his story was always told around a camp fire late at night, sending chills up and down the spines of the listeners who had been warned of the ghost of Father Henry haunting the lake.

The William West Durant steamboat provides tours of Raquette Lake’s many camps.

There were numerous camps on Raquette Lake.  Nearby was Camp Echo, a girl scout camp.  Then there was a Boy Scout Camp across the lake from Camp St. William.  There was also a Jewish Boy’s Camp in the vicinity.  We already mentioned Cortland’s Camp Huntington on Long Point. Throughout the summer each group of vacationing Friars would challenge the guys at the Boy Scout Camp and the Jewish Boys’ Camp to a softball game.  It was always an enjoyable diversion – and the kids of various religious faiths were always amazed at how well those stereotyped Catholic seminarians  could play ball.

K-9 passenger with me on a canoe ride.  Our print shop at Rensselaer turned this picture into a post card.

All of these excursions had to be made by boat. On Sundays, we would enjoy hosting the campers at Mass.  While there was a regular Sunday Mass in the Village, the kids – girls and boys – and college students from Cortland –  preferred coming to the Friar’s Chapel at Long Point to see all those handsome guys in their black robes who gave up sex and money and all the fun things in life to serve God.  We were definitely “curiosities” to behold.  And we enjoyed watching the flotilla of boats arrive at our dock and canoe  slips every Sunday morning.

A rare occasion at camp when I had my habit on. That’s my classmate, Matias Cambronero on the dock with me.. I’m probably headed over to the village for some special occasion at the parish church.

We were also seen as “celebrities” in the village (or to be more accurate, as “curiosities”).  We didn’t wear our habits in town, unless we were helping out at the parish church on Sunday (at least once in the summer we would all go over to the parish church in our habits to take up a special collection for the foreign missions). But habit or not, everybody knew we were Friars when they saw us.  The Dillon Family operated the company store and hotel in town.  It was a classic country store, where you could buy just about anything — IF you could find it.  Also, there was a Bake Shop that was operated by a jovial woman named “Bertha”.  Bertha was a friend of the Friars — and she would pride herself on remembering our names from year to year — and would reminisce about former Friar vacationers who had long moved on as Priests and were scattered throughout the northeast and in mission outposts in Costa Rica and Brazil.  On one of my trips to Raquette Lake after I left the priesthood, I remember paying a visit to Bertha in her bake shop.  She was very welcoming!

Friar Matias on the left and me on the right installing  new shingles on the bunkhouse. I had learned this skill at the Novitiate under the guidance of Father Raynor.

After the first two years of spending my vacation at Raquette Lake, as I indicated earlier, my schedule became a little bit complicated as I spent the first part of the summer in Washington, DC, at Catholic University,  having to postpone my Raquette Lake vacation until the end of August.  But as I soon learned, it became a blessing in disguise.  On the down side, Fall came early in the Adirondacks.  Near the end of August the nights got pretty chilly — and the water of the lake remained chilly all day.  That may have interfered with the swimming, but it didn’t inhibit the hiking and boating (unless your sailboat or canoe capsized in a storm).  The good news for me was that because of my ability to schmooze with the upper class men, I got invited to stay on for an extra week with the work crew to close down the camp.  I was kept on as the cook — of all things — so the work crew could spend their time battening down the hatches for the winter.   One summer, in addition to doing the cooking, they had me put a new roof (shingles) on the bunkhouse.  My classmate, Friar Matias Combronero (from Costa Rica) assisted me on this project (or was it the other way around?).  My old carpentry skills learned in the Novitiate came to the rescue on this project.

1960 would be my final vacation at Raquette Lake, as the following summer I would be given my first priestly assignment at — of all places –  Seaside Park, New Jersey — before heading out to Pittsburgh for my first major assignment at Canevin High School.

This postcard illustrates the most public recreational area on Raquette Lake. It was several miles from Long Point, accessible from our camp by canoe or a trail through the woods. We would usually stake out an area in the forefront of this photo, with the beached boats separating us from the public in order to have some privacy and to have space to play games on the beach.

To say that I liked my five summer vacations at Raquette Lake would be a gross understatement.  I really loved being there.  I fell in love with the Adirondacks — their history and their natural environment.  Besides the pure R and R value of the experience, I learned a lot about this great wilderness and natural resource.  The Adirondack Preserve rivals the Pinelands Reserve for its beauty and history.  I was really fortunate to have had this experience at that stage of my life, and will always treasure it.

Some additions after initial posting

I came across a couple of pictures that might enhance the information I shared about Raquette Lake.  One is a picture of the “new” St. Williams built in the village, which made it possible for the Friars to “take over” the shingle church initially built at Long Point.  The other is a recent picture of the General Store which is located at the main area of the Village where the town dock is located.

Here’s a great view of the village of Raquette Lake from the lake. In the foreground is the town dock, behind which is the company store.  In the background, behind and to the left of the store is the “new” (1938) St. William’s parish church. We would embark here for our boat ride across the lake to Long Point and Camp St. William.

Here’s a recent picture of the General Store — it has hardly changed in the 50 years since I was a seminarian camper.

The “new” St. William’s parish church built in the village in 1938 which served as a second Catholic Church for Raquette Lake, and freeing the original shingle church and surrounding property to serve as Camp St. William for the Franciscan seminarians.

On to Washington DC!

Father Gervase Beyer, my teacher of Logic and English in the Minor Seminary on Staten Island – and the man I considered my mentor and inspiration – was also the Prefect of Studies for the entire Province of the Immaculate Conception.  That meant he oversaw the curriculum of the seminaries, in consort with the Vatican guidelines, as well as made sure that the Friars were educated for some of the special ministries of the order, particularly High School teaching. In 1958, when I was in First Theology, our Province operated Trenton Catholic High School in New Jersey.  TCHS had a long history and was a well-respected educational fixture in the Diocese of Trenton.  Four of my seminary classmates graduated from Trenton Catholic: Andy Doral (Friar Callistus), who played football at TCHS; Rich Rossell (Friar Francis Xavier), Arthur Skwirut (Friar Anaclete) and Bill Curzie (Friar Albert).

St. Bonaventure Friary, the Conventual Franciscan residence for Friars studying at The Catholic University of America. It was located on a triangle at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street on the perimeter of the campus of Catholic University in Washington, DC.

Religious Orders that operated High Schools saw them as a rich source of vocations — and Trenton Catholic was no exception, especially when it came to my class.  So Father Gervase, knowing that I was interested in becoming a teacher at Trenton Catholic, put me on the list of Friars to attend Catholic University in Washington, DC to study for my Master’s Degree in order to become a teacher.  The only way to be ready for the job at the time of my Ordination was to begin now, four years in advance, during summer school while still doing my theological studies.  Five of my other classmates were also selected: Friars Canice, Pacificus, Francis Xavier, Anaclete and Carlos (from Costa Rica).  By early June we were headed down to St. Bonaventure Friary in Washington.

(Note:  At the time of this assignment, the Order had not finalized two decisions that were apparently under consideration at the time, but had not been announced — namely, that Trenton Catholic High School was going to close in a few years, and that the Province was about to staff a brand new high school in Pittsburgh, a central co-institutional high school, named Canevin.  So while I thought I was being prepared to teach at Trenton Catholic, I was actually being prepared to be a charter faculty member at the brand new Canevin High School in Pittsburgh).

Catholic University is the premier Catholic institution of higher education in the United States (although Georgetown and Notre Dame might challenge that statement).  Just about every religious order — male and female — had a residence or convent near the campus of Catholic University.  The Conventual Franciscans were no exception.  In fact, we couldn’t have gotten any closer to the campus if we tried.  Our residence, St. Bonaventure’s (named after the most famous “intellectual” Franciscan Saint — although fans of Theologian Duns Scotus would likely challenge my claim) was located smack in the middle of the triangle formed by the juncture of Michigan Ave. and Monroe Streets in North East Washington, DC, directly across Michigan Ave. from the CUA gymnasium and a few hundred feet from one of the on-campus dorms.  (During one summer, because of overcrowding at St. Bonaventure’s I got to stay in a dorm on campus).

Washington was a great place to attend college — although oppressively hot summers in Washington, in a black woolen Franciscan habit wasn’t the most ideal time to want to be there.  Fortunately, being across the street from the campus pool was a plus!  I spent a lot of time at the pool, and it was the only one in which I ever had the guts to do flips from the diving board.

St. Bonaventure’s was not a Seminary, but a residence – a smaller version of the clericate at

In the June 19th, 2013 issue of the Provincialgram of the Conventual Franciscans, this image was polsted indicating that St. Bonaventure Friary at the corner of Michigan and Monroe Aves. had been demolished and was being replaced with this new apartment building.  The end of an era.

In the June 19th, 2013 issue of the Provincialgram of the Conventual Franciscans, this image was posted by Friar Jim Moore indicating that old St. Bonaventure Friary (pictured earlier in this blog) at the corner of Michigan and Monroe Avenues had been demolished and was being replaced with this new apartment building. The end of an era!

Rensselaer, but without classrooms.  We each had a room about the size of our room at Rensselaer.  We had a rec room, a dining hall and a chapel.  Nuns from the same German Order that staffed the kitchen and laundry at Staten Island and Rensselaer performed the same tasks in Washington. Because we were in a residential area, there weren’t any gardens or grounds to speak of — but we had the entire CU campus to enjoy walks and other recreational activity!  Also, we could walk the 6 blocks up Monroe St. to 12th street where there were shops, restaurants,  a theater, and other convenient places.  Other seminaries lined Michigan Avenue – so we weren’t really locked in. Since our CU classmates were members of other orders as well as laymen, our social interaction expanded dramatically.  It was a great change from the rather sheltered life of our seminary at Rensselaer. An interesting phenomenon was to see all shapes, forms, colors and styles of religious habits of the various religious orders walking the streets on the perimeter of the campus as well as throughout the campus.  I made several new friends from other orders during my stays in Washington.

This is Caldwell Hall, one of the older buildings on the campus of Catholic University. Some of my classes were held here.

We were pretty much on our own registering for classes — just as any other student at CU, although all our classes had to be approved by Fr. Gervase.  But once we hooked up with a campus adviser, he or she would guide us through registering for the appropriate classes for our degree path. I majored in Secondary Education and minored in Educational Administration.   We would generally sign up for three classes per summer.  My first three classes at CU were “Education Tests and Measurements I,” “Curriculum of Secondary Schools,” and “Principles of Secondary Education.”  I was on my way to becoming a High School Teacher!  Over the next seven summers I took a variety of Education courses.  The only deviation from the norm was the summer before I began teaching at Canevin (1961)  and the following summer (1962) when I took all courses related to teaching Spanish, my primary teaching assignment there.

This is the commencement program for the 1966 Catholic University Graduation at which my Master’s Degree was conferred.

I spent the summers of 1964 and 1965 writing my Master’s dissertation and was awarded my degree at the seventy-second Annual Commencement of Catholic University on Sunday, June 4, 1966. (I didn’t bother attending the Commencement). Upon being awarded my degree, I received a congratulatory note from Father Gervase which read: “Cheery congratulations upon receiving the formal attestation of your degree conferral.  I observe that your diploma has a cover with considerably heavier padding than mine.  I wonder if that means anything?  GB”

Anyone who has taken college classes in Summer School realizes that you pretty much have to buckle down, since everything is so compressed — and three classes a summer are a lot to handle.  Seminarians didn’t cut class — and the competition was tough.  Anyone who has taken courses with a class half-full of Nuns also realizes that the grade curve becomes very narrow at the top.  You’ve got to study hard to keep up with those gals!  So to deal with the pressure, we pretty much made sure our weekends were somewhat relaxed.  There’s a lot to see and do in Washington during the summer.  Several of us would go to military band concerts at the band shell on the banks of the Patomic or on the steps of the National Capitol on Saturdays or Sundays.  The 4th of July fireworks at the Washington Monument were fantastic.  I had a couple of opportunities to visit friends of my family in Chevy Chase, Bethesda or other suburbs of Washington.  The Washington Zoo was a great place to visit, as were the Smithsonian and other museums and monuments along the Mall.

Another memorable part of the Washington experience was the annual ride to and from Washington from Rensselaer with my fellow Friars.  It was a long ride, and we would attempt to select routes that would take us to historic stops along the way.  Some of the Friars would arrange to visit friends or relatives along the route.  On one occasion when I was driving, I took our carload of Friars to my Uncle Bud and Aunt Marge’s home in Westfield, New Jersey for lunch.

Before classes ended in 1959, I returned  home to Wilkes-Barre to attend the wedding of my sister, Etta, to Bill Camloh.

On August 8, 1959, near the end of my second Summer in Washington I went home to Wilkes-Barre to attend my sister Etta’s wedding.  She married Bill Camloh in a beautiful ceremony at our parish church, St. Nicholas, and the reception was held at our family cottage at Falls, Pa.  Unfortunately, my brother Bill was finishing up his stint in the Navy and was not yet home from the Philippines for the wedding.  Both Etta and her husband Bill have each passed away, much too young.

A highlight for me during the summer of 1963 was attending the authentic reenactment of Pickett’s Charge in its original location on the Gettysburg battlefield on its 100th anniversary.

Another major event that caused me to briefly interrupt my Summer School studies was the Centennial of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1963.  On that date I traveled from Washington to Gettysburg to witness the official re-enactment of this monumental battle of the Civil War. It was really the highlight of my Summer, being able to participate in this piece of history at the very site at which it took place.  Twenty-five years later, my son, Kurt, would be attending college at Gettysburg!

Members of my St. Nicholas High School Class of 1952 enter the crypt of the long-stalemated National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC while on our Senior class trip.

One of the peripheral benefits of my Summer School experience was being able to witness the final phases of the construction of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds adjacent to Catholic University within view from our Friary.  Over the Summers that I was in Washington, the work leading up to the completion and dedication of the Shrine was conducted.  The superstructure was completed in 1959, my second year of Summer School.

The crypt of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From 1931 until 1954, this was the only part of the National Shrine that existed.

The National Shrine was dedicated on November 20, 1959. Back in 1952 during my senior trip to Washington, the St. Nick’s Class of ’52 visited the crypt of the National Shrine, which had been completed in 1931 and curtailed for 23 years due to World War II and lack of funding.  I remember the crypt very vividly, never imagining that I would ever see the completed Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the United States.  Work resumed on shrine in 1954,  two years after I had visited the crypt in 1952, and four years before I went to Washington for Summer School in 1958.  The first Mass I attended in the completed upper structure was in 1960 when I returned for my third year of Summer School.   Every time I see that magnificent Basilica I am reminded that I was there when it was being built.  Had I not been a part of the Franciscan community, I would not have experienced that important event in American Catholic history.

This is the completed National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the NE section of Washington DC,  on land adjacent to the Catholic University of America. This is the view from the CU campus.  It is the largest Catholic Church in the United States.  When I visited here in 1952, all that existed was the crypt (at the level of the parked cars).  While I was a student at Catholic University, the upper structure was under construction and completed in 1959.

Arial  view of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

So, as with almost all my Seminary experiences, there have been very special side benefits that I feel have enriched me.  For me, it was no small thing to have direct access to historic structures like Beverwyck — the Manor House at Rensselaer — and the very unique Shingle Church at Raquette Lake, both designated as historic places on the National Register.   And being a witness to history by seeing first hand the transition from crypt in 1952 to magnificent Basilica in 1959 and being able to worship in the largest Catholic Church in America that I observed being built is a special honor.   For a guy like me, these perks were icing on the cake of an already unbelievable education at the hands of a wonderful group of men who totally enriched my life with knowledge, wisdom, history — and above all, spirituality and fraternity.

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Saint Anthony-on-Hudson – Making Sense of Seminary, Part II

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.


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:

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

1955-56 I Philosophy Junior Year
Logic; Intro. to Metaphysics, Cosmology, Rational Psychology, Experimental Psychology; History of Ancient Philosophy; Franciscan History; Pedagogy, Liturgy, Music 20-21
1956-57 II Philosophy Senior Year  Metaphysics; Natural Theology; Ethics; Hist. of Medieval Philosophy; History of Modern Philosophy; Experimental Psychology; Pedagogy; Sociology; Franciscan History; Liturgy; Music 21-22
1957-58 I Theology Fundamental Dogmatic Theology; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical Hist.; Canon Law; Moral Theology; Homiletics; Liturgy; Chant; American Church History; Gen Intro to Scripture 22-23
1958-59 II Theology Dogmatic Theology ; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical History; Hebrew; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Liturgy; Homiletics; Chant 23-24
1959-60 III Theology Dogmatic Theology; Sacred Scripture; Ecclesiastical History; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Ascetical Theology; Liturgy; Homiletics; Chant; Oriental Theology 24-25
1960-61 IV Theology Sacramental Dogmatic Theology; Moral Theology; Canon Law; Pastoral Theology; Mystical Theology; Liturgy; Special Moral Theology; Chant; Homiletic Seminar 25-26

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.

Solemn Profession

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.

Deacons’ Days

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.


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My Dream Trip to Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries: October 4-16, 2011

By Joe Laufer


My Machu Picchu moment on Saturday, October 8, 2011. To the right in the background are the ruins known as the Group of the Three Doorways.

     If there was any one “premiere” destination on my “Bucket List” it had to be Machu Picchu.  It seems to be right up there with the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal on most travelers’ bucket lists – more for its mysterious attraction and uniqueness than for its inherent greatness.  So the opportunity finally arrived for me to check this one off my list.  Ironically, as my tour through Peru progressed, I discovered that the rest of Peru had been neglected and overlooked because of all the hype about Machu Picchu.  A more appropriate title for this travelogue, based on my experience on this tour, might be: “The many faces of Peru” or “Peru – more than Machu Picchu.”  Don’t get me wrong – Machu Picchu was still the centerpiece of this tour – and in a special way in 2011, being the centennial of Hiram Bingham’s 1911 re-discovery of this ancient treasure.  This travelogue, then, is my way of summarizing my many experiences during this challenging and exhausting adventure – one that I feel I undertook just in time, at age 76, when my body was beginning to rebel against the physical hurdles it was called upon to overcome.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 – Vincentown – New York – Miami – Lima

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi – my personal Patron Saint and hero.  I didn’t do much to honor him, spending practically the whole day traveling.  I was reminded that this was the second time I have been on a major international tour on October 4.  Twenty-four years earlier on this date, in 1987, I had been in Seville and Palos, Spain on a Christopher Columbus Quincentenary expedition.  On this current trip I started out early Tuesday morning with my group of 11 travelers.  We left Vincentown in a mini-bus at 7:15 a.m., heading for JFK airport and an 11:40 a.m. flight to Miami.  Collette Vacations set the time – and while I thought four hours to JFK was excessive, it ended up being reasonable because we went through Staten Island and Brooklyn, and arrived at JFK with little time to spare before we boarded our American Airlines flight.  We arrived as scheduled in Miami at 2:40 in the afternoon, navigated the terminals of Miami International Airport, boarding our LAN airlines scheduled 6:00 p.m. flight a bit delayed, and arrived in Lima, Peru around Midnight.

Kevin Ferguson, our Collette Tour Manager who very capably coordinated an unusually complex tour. This 29 year-old expert on Peruvian culture and history possessed great organizational skills that removed a lot of anxiety from our group of older travelers.

We were met by our capable Collette Vacations tour manager, twenty-nine-year-old Kevin Ferguson – definitely a “Peruvaphile” – who shepherded us to our hotel while orienting us to Lima along the way.  Gus Haines, Hans Rottau, Fred Horner and I found our way to the hotel bar before retiring and introduced ourselves to the classic Peruvian drink – a Pisco Sour.   It was a perfect way to end a long travel day and a great introduction to this magical country we were about to explore for 11 days – and we repeated the Pisco toast tradition every day in every bar we visited throughout this tour.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 – Lima, Peru

Ocean view from the park at the crest of the cliff in the heart of Lima.

  This travelogue is made up of about a dozen e-mails sent from Peru to family and friends throughout the tour.  Now that I’m home, I am editing them into a single, hopefully coherent,  travelogue.  We were fortunate on this tour to have free access to computers at each of the six very modern hotels en-route. On average there were two or three computers, usually in the lobby, for guests.  Only about six or seven of our travel group of 35 were “regulars” at the computers, so I was able to write most of my travelogue in daily doses. My first e-mail home to my wife, Penny, was sent after breakfast on October 5

     “Spent all day Tuesday traveling.  Arrived here on time late Tuesday night.  After a good sleep and great breakfast, we are about to take a neighborhood “get acquainted” walk.  Will get back to you when I have time to write more.  Hard to believe I’m in a new country for my list.  Peru seems to be a really fabulous country.    Love, Joe.”

My first e-mail blast to about 50 friends, family and fellow travelers was sent late on Wednesday afternoon:

Group photo taken on October 12 on a straw island floating on Lake Titicaca, Peru. There were 35 people in our group, 11 of them traveling with me. A few members of the group were missing when this photo was taken. I'm the second guy from the left in the back row.

Well, here I am in a brand new country on my check list: Peru.  It becomes my 56th country to have visited in my lifetime.  I am here with 11 people from New Jersey that I recruited for this trip of a lifetime, joined with another 24 people from various places in the US as well as from England and Canada.  There is a group of 7 people from Scranton, PA, in that total — coincidental because of my lifelong connections with that area.  In our get acquainted meeting today, most of the people indicated that they were fulfilling a “bucket list” dream….

Our Collette Vacations tour Manager, Kevin Ferguson, is a really great asset to our tour.  He gave us a thorough orientation at noon today and comes across as very knowledgeable about the history and culture of Peru.  He is very well-organized and has provided us with information and tools to help us get the most out of this trip of a lifetime. He took us on a walking tour of the neighborhood after breakfast, during which he brought us into a large grocery store to introduce us to a non-touristy slice of real Peruvian life and the foods that locals eat. We all left with our supply of bottled water, as we have been warned not to drink the local tap water anywhere we visit during the next 11 days.

Mosaic monument in the oceanfront park on the bluff at Miraflores, Lima during our city tour on our first day in Peru.

At 2 this afternoon we boarded a bus for a guided tour of the magnificent city of Lima  — and what a city this is.  Steeped in Inca and Spanish Colonial history, full of archeological ruins and monuments, we were regaled by our local tour guide as we drove through the colorful neighborhoods, along the Pacific shoreline and walked on historic streets and through Cathedrals, monasteries and souvenir gift shops.  The city hugs the coast and our visit to the waterfront park on a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean provided a memorable first impression of the uniqueness of the Lima landscape. Unfortunately, we are only here today, and will return briefly on the very last day of our tour before flying home on Oct. 15th.  Tomorrow morning we fly out of Lima for historic Cuzco, and our dream tour up to Machu Picchu the following day.  Our flight leaves at 8 a.m., so we will be rising for breakfast rather early.

In the main square of Lima

The weather here was slightly overcast, but the temperature was a little warmer than we expected, in the mid 70s — so we started out not having to wear jackets or sweaters, but are prepared for a whole range of temperatures over our 11-day visit.  Tonight — in fact, in about half an hour from now as I write from the Doubletree El Pardo Hotel computer center — we are having a welcome dinner and Peruvian Cultural Show.  Our hotel is very nicely located in an area of Peru called Miraflores and is ultra-modern of the highest standards.  We have a nice group of people, and my group of 11 consists of individuals who have made several trips with me over the years.  If the rest of the trip goes as well as the first day and a half of travel and touring, we are in for a trip of a lifetime.

Some members of the troupe of the cultural dinner performance the first night of our tour in the restaurant of our hotel.

Not included in my e-mail was a description of the cultural dinner show we attended in the Junius lounge of our hotel that first night. It is billed as “the best show in town,” which presents the magic of the unique folklore of Peru through a variety of dances, costumes and music.  Everyone in our group marveled at the professionalism of this show, and we were dazzled by the acrobatics of a male “scissors dance,” in which the dancers hold two loose scissors or shears in their hands which clash together during the dance.  It becomes something of a competition between two or three dancers for both complexity and skill.   The whole show was fabulous.

Thursday, October 6, 2011 – Lima; Cusco; Awanda Kancha; Sacred Valley of the Incas; Urubamba

These are the two buses used to navigate us through the narrow roads of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The lighter bus on the right is the "Joes' Bus" occupied by my group of 11 and Joe Michalczyk's Scranton, PA group of 7.

We flew into Cusco this morning — about an hour flight from Lima, over the beautiful Andes Mountains.  Because of the narrow roads we’d be navigating, our group had to break up into two and were each assigned a small 20-seat bus.  My entire group is in the “Joe” bus, along with 7 other people whose leader is also a “Joe” (Michalczyk), from Scranton, PA.  Our Collette tour manager told us that the day was to be a “National Geographic Alive” day — and it sure was.  It was as though we were a National Geographic film crew on a quest for new vistas and ancient Peruvian history.

A pleasant stop at the Alpaca farm at Awana Kancha

We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  Upon arrival at the airport, we immediately left Cusco and traveled through the valley to Awana Kancha, a refuge for llamas, alpacas, condors and other animals.  One member of our party got a bite on her arm as she was posing for a picture with a Condor, the “official” bird of Peru, much as the Eagle is ours!  We fed the alpacas, and had an opportunity to visit a very nice gift store – more like a department store than a gift shop – for quality souvenirs.  I bought an Inca necklace for my wife Penny.

The town square of Urubamba

We had lunch in a little cafe — I had a ham and cheese “empanada” — I’m trying whatever is different and edible!  The people are friendly — they love tourists.  The natural beauty of this country jumps out at you wherever you go — and we soon realized why we couldn’t use a regular 50-passenger bus.  In the towns, we could hardly navigate the narrow streets with our tiny bus, sometimes having to back up to allow a confronting car through.   Most of us are experiencing some discomfort from the altitude. I personally got very dizzy and short of breath for a few hours during our touring today.

Pablo Seminario takes time out from his sculpting to pose for a photo.

We concluded our first day in the Valley of the Incas with a visit to the studios of a world-renowned Peruvian Sculptor, Pablo Seminario  —  who spoke to us, showed us his work and who let us take pictures with him.  Some folks even purchased some of his really beautiful productions.  Our tour manager has made Oxygen available for us at key spots along the way and assures us that “this too will soon pass” as our bodies acclimate to the high altitude.  One member of our group, Janet Mee, got ill midway through the day, but the crack Collette team had a doctor waiting for us at the hotel when we returned.  Our present accommodations are in the town of Yucay and are in a former Spanish monastery converted into a premier hotel (Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay).  The setting is fabulous, and the rooms combine the monastic architecture of the past and the modern conveniences of the present.  It is a world-class hotel.  We had a fabulous dinner in the hotel dining room.

Friday, October 7, 2011 – Urubamba; Quechua Village; Ollyantaytambo; Urubamba

The open market is an ideal place to experience the flavor of daily Peruvian life.

Today we spent another full day gearing up for the big prize, tomorrow – Machu Picchu.  First we went to Urubamba, a small town known for its Food Market.  Native Andean peasants and farmers bring their produce there to sell.  There was food of every kind in open burlap, freshly butchered meat on open tables, with some men using axes to cut the meat apart on tree stumps, while wild dogs roamed around looking for scraps.  It definitely wouldn’t pass an US health inspector’s visit, but gave us a taste of third-world life, with locals dressed in their native costumes and trade-mark Peruvian fedoras.  We then traveled to the outskirts of town to a quaint village off in the hinterlands of the Sacred Valley.

Kids in the small village we visited to experience the daily life of a typical Andean Peruvian.

At the end of the paved road we took a three or four mile dirt road to a quaint rural community.  We each had donated money for 35 bags of food we purchased at the aforementioned food market in Urubamba.  We went to a primitive community hall where the locals gathered to meet us.  They gave us a demonstration of their weaving skills and treated us to homemade soup and mint tea.  We purchased some souvenirs they had made and had our pictures taken with them. I bought some dolls dressed in native costumes crafted by the local women for my granddaughters.

Andean village woman demonstrates removing wool from a sheep as her associates illustrate weaving techniques.

The event reminded me of my visit to a poor village in Kenya a few years ago.  After this, we headed to the Incan archeological ruins in Ollyantaytambo. Hard to describe, but this was a pre-Columbian historic site. We had lunch in the village square, and then headed to  place where we sampled the local Corn Beer called Chicha, after seeing a demonstration of how it was made.  The scenery to and from these places was overwhelming.  We took the same route on narrow roads along the river that Hiram Bingham, the guy who re-discovered Machu Picchu did 100 years ago this past July.  I’m going to bed early tonight, as we get up at 4 a.m. to head to Machu Picchu tomorrow.  This has been a fantastic trip so far.

Post-trip comment on October 7 in Peru: As we traveled from town to town we noticed that there were mini-celebrations taking place in the town squares or near the churches.  Kevin inquired of our bus driver what the celebrations were about.  He indicated that it was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on the Catholic calendar.  The Peruvians have a special devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary because of the early Spanish missionaries who preached there.  They were followers of St. Dominic and members of the Dominican Order.  St. Dominic is credited with having promoted the Catholic tradition of praying the Rosary in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Basilica of Santo Domingo (“St. Dominic”) in Lima is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.  St. Rose of Lima, the first American raised to the status of sainthood (1671), was a member of the Dominican Order.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Urubamba; Aguas Calientes; Machu Picchu; Aguas Calientes

Our sky dome train which took us from Ollyantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

We arose at 4 a.m., had a full breakfast in our hotel, took our bus about 40 miles to Ollyantaytambo, where we boarded a Peru Rail Sky Dome train for an hour´s ride along the same scenic route that Hiram Bingham took in 1911 to the base town of Aguas Calientes, to immediately board a bus which took us to the top of Machu Picchu on a windy dirt road for a 20-minute ride to the top.  Upon arrival at the top, we had our passports stamped with an image of Machu Picchu and the date.  Our personal and extremely knowledgeable guide, Fidel, then took us on a narrated two-hour climb and tour of the ancient ruins.  He pointed out the architecture, the use of the various structures, the agricultural uses of the area, the temple, the solar observatory and other dedicated Inca structures on the site. The stones and terraces I had often viewed in pictures now took on meaning as I moved from one section to another, learning uses, relationships and symbolism of these magnificent ruins.

This is our New Jersey 11 at Machu Picchu, with Kevin (in the red poncho) in the center. As the day progressed, the clouds lifted. This was the centerpiece of our tour.

Machu Picchu is one of the most historic places on earth — a place I have always dreamed of visiting, and now have been given the opportunity to experience first-hand.  It is even more than I had imagined.  Something of a mystical experience!  That I did it now, in my 76th year, is not without merit.  There were areas I wanted to visit on the site but couldn´t because my legs and ankles were not in shape to do it.  It was much more difficult to navigate than I had anticipated, but I did what I could!  The weather was not ideal, either.  At first I thought we were not going to see everything we were hoping to see because of the low, dark clouds and the rain.  Fortunately, the weather got better within an hour after we arrived.  It rained intermittently, but the good news was it was not hot, which we were warned might be the case, and the “ticks” which are a pain to the tourists did not come out (remember, we were in an Andean natural preserve – and with the heat comes the bugs).  So we all rationalized and said the rain and clouds were a blessing and we didn´t have to use the insect repellent and the sun screen we were advised to bring.

The Machu Picchu experience consists of navigating passageways, stairs, ruins and a variety of structures used for different purposes by the Incas.

I must have climbed the equivalent of about 200 steps – and having just gotten over pneumonia and a strained ankle, it was no picnic.  They sell adjustable walking sticks in all the tourist shops, and I´m glad I bought one, as it helped me keep my balance in some treacherous areas we navigated.  To cope with the inclement weather we came prepared with our travel umbrellas and ponchos.  The weather wasn´t going to deter us from experiencing our once-in-a-lifetime archeological adventures!  We got to see everything we came to see, minus a visit from the Inca “Sun God”.  I got some great pictures.

In the doorway of the priest's house -- note the precision of the cuts on the stones, which fit together perfectly and are not connected by mortar.

Because of the weather, and the physical strain, I returned to the hotel  – having been challenged enough by the mountain – in order to revel in what we had seen in the comfort of our luxurious hotel room.  Some of our group remained at the top hoping the sun would come out, and it did, mid-afternoon. At the beautiful Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel I had a balcony overlooking the Vilcanota River – with a beautiful view of the rapids.  Our hotel is at the foot of the mountain — the Machu Picchu shuttle dropped us off right at the door.  We will be here overnight and for half a day tomorrow.  We are having a special dinner tonight.  Tomorrow morning I am taking a 3-hour bird walk through a rain forest here in Machu Picchu.  Our accommodations here are fabulous.

Sunday, October 9, 2011 – Aguas Calientes; Cusco

The Machu Picchu Museum at the foot of the mountain. This was the last stop on our 3-hour morning bird walk. The Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the various phases of the history of Machu Picchu.

It is 10 a.m. on Sunday and I just got back after a 3 hour bird watching walk – only six of us opted to go.  It was great!  At the end of the bird walk we toured a small, but extremely informative, museum which revealed the entire history of the Machu Picchu settlement from its establishment by the Incas, its re-discovery in 1911, and the restoration of its ruins as they are today. I have just finished breakfast.  We are in a 5 star hotel – one of the best I´ve ever been in.  We were told that regular tourists pay $750 per night per room here.  My view out my picture window is of the beautiful River that Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, used in 1911.  I was so happy yesterday when Kevin Ferguson, our tour director,  lent me his phone in the hotel lobby to call home. The hotel is equipped with WiFi.  There was a slight delay – but what a delight when I first talked with my daughter, Kerry, then my wife, Penny, and then with the grandkids.

My trip is going very well and everything is almost perfect.  It is probably one of my most aggressive trips ever, but at the same time, the most beautiful from a nature point of view. We are in the next time zone over going East – so it is an hour earlier here than it is in New Jersey.

The train ride from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo was punctuated with cultural entertainment and a fashion show.

At 1:30 we departed Aguas Calientes by train, for the 2-hour ride back to Ollyantaytambo.  While on the train we were entertained by a costumed character and treated to a fashion show – with an opportunity to buy Peruvian made garments.  We boarded our bus for our trip to Cusco.  Along the way we stopped at some very impressive Inca ruins to learn more about the unbelievable architectural achievements of that society.

One of the natural vistas en-route, including a snow-capped mountain, which called for a photo stop.

The route took us by some very impressive natural vistas, including snow-capped mountain peaks and beautiful lakes. We passed farms where farmers were still plowing primitively using Oxen to pull their hand-guided plows. The beauty of this country is unparalleled.

Our group presents gifts to the nuns and the children at the completion of our visit. The Collette Foundation provides extensive support to charities worldwide.

Collette Vacations tries to include at least one charitable stop along the way, and this trip was no exception.  We visited a girls´ orphanage in a small town on the outskirts of Cusco where we were entertained by the girls, and we shared our gifts with them.  The orphanage (Hogar de Mercedes girls home) is run by Marian Nuns, and they were most grateful for the help we gave them.  Our travel group was touched by the work the nuns are doing there and the gratefulness of the girls.  They hugged and kissed us as we left – really not wanting us to go.  There were about 50 orphans ranging between the ages of 6 and 16.

Joyce Jones with some of the children of Hogar de Mercedes

Under the cover of darkness we arrived in Cusco, the center of Inca Culture in the mid-1500s, before the Spanish arrived — and continuing as a cultural center during the Colonial period. Hiram Bingham made his exploration headquarters here.   Our hotel, the Sonesta, is very centrally located and, in keeping with the trend, is an ultra modern 4-star hotel.  Tired after a long day on the road, we headed to bed to get the rest need for an early breakfast call today.

Monday, October 10, 2011 – Cusco; Quechua Village; Ollyantaytambo; Cusco

Here is the entire New Jersey group at Sacsayhuaman, an amazing archeological site that rivals even Machu Picchu. It may have been the Inca version of the Coliseum, used for sporting events.

We began today by touring another major Inca archeological site called Sacsayhuaman.  Our guide was Fidel, who was very knowledgeable about everything dealing with the Incas.  Many of our group indicated that what we saw today was almost as impressive as Machu Picchu itself – it just didn´t get the popular attention of the rest of the world that it deserved. We were most impressed by the precision of the stone-cutting and the design of the structure in synch with the position of the sun, stars and constellations.

We stopped at this uniquely Peruvian salt Mine, fed by underground salt water streams.

From here we went to a mountain-top quarry called Q’enqo, where the Incas made their precision cuts of stones used in their unique buildings, and then we returned to the town square where we visited the magnificent Cathedral dating back to the arrival of the Spaniards.  After lunch, we headed out to two archeological wonders: one, the Inca Terraces at Moray, where the Incas experimented with different agricultural products (where the weather was very windy and rainy, curtailing our ability to fully appreciate the site)  and the other, The Sacred Valley Salt Mines – a one-of-a-kind venue consisting of hundreds of rectangular pools of white salt-water stacked in terraces.  Both sites were unique and awe-inspiring.  We returned to Cusco for dinner at a restaurant in the town square, with entertainment by musicians and dancers performing Inca cultural classics.

Several of our group, including myself, are experiencing the effects of the high altitude.  We are at 12,000 feet, and it is causing shortness of breath and other effects.  The hotel provides oxygen for us, and I took advantage of it this morning before we left on our tours. It slows us down, and some are also getting headaches.  This is probably the most aggressive tour I`ve ever taken.  I should have done it 20 years ago when I was in better shape. Our tour director is doing everything possible to keep the pace reasonable for those of us who are being affected by our response to the altitude.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 – Cusco; Juliaca; Puno

This is one of several inner-Andean short flights we took throughout the tour. It was the only way to conveniently cross the Andes Mountains to get to different regions of Peru.

Around noon today we headed to the Cusco airport for a flight south to the town of Juliaca, from which we took a coach to the town of Puno.  We are about to tackle the next unique landscape of Peru, Lake Titicaca.  It was mainly a travel day, and we arrived at our very pleasant resort hotel, the Sonesta Posada del Inca hotel in Puno, right on the banks of the lake.  As we drove from the airport to our hotel, we were less than impressed with Juliaca, basically an industrial town.  Here, as in several places throughout Peru, we noticed a lot of unfinished homes in which people were living.  Kevin told us that it was a way of evading property taxes.  Currently the government is looking at reversing the law, and taxing unfinished houses in order to encourage the completion of construction.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 – Puno; Lake Titicaca; Uros Island; Sillustani; Puno

Last night was tough on lots of people for breathing.  Most of my group, including me, had to take oxygen.  I have a beautiful view of the lake from my room. The sun is shining and weather pretty nice.   Only a few days are left in the tour and I think despite having seen so much history and beauty, everyone is about ready to head for home.

One of the bi-level straw boats which navigate Lake Titicaca, the largest commercial lake in South America.

We awakened this morning to a beautiful day on Lake Titicaca.  After a nice breakfast we boarded two boats to take us for about a half hour ride on this magnificent lake, which is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world – at about 12,500 feet above sea level.  By water volume, the lake is also the largest lake in South America. The boats took us to the floating straw islands of the Uros people of Peru.  One of the unique wonders of the world, these man-made islands  – about 45 of them –made of about 7 ft. of straw are each inhabited by about 7 families on average.

The "governor" of this floating straw island aims his gun directly at me during a demonstration. Block to his left is a cross-section of the island demonstrating the depth of the material on which we are standing, which floats on Lake Titicaca.

We landed at one and were given demonstrations by native inhabitants, taken to their individual homes – all made of straw and offered entertainment by them.  I had seen pictures of these islands and their uniquely designed straw boats in the Spanish textbook I used in the 1960s and never thought I would experience them first-hand.  Walking on the straw is like walking on a mattress.

After visiting the straw home of a resident, we boarded one of their classic straw boats (which holds about 20 people) – a double-decker – I was on the upper level – we then visited a second island which was more of a common public island than a family island.

Inside the straw home of this family of three who survive on the income they receive from selling crafts they make to the tourists.

Then back to our hotel for lunch.  After lunch we boarded our bus to go about an hour away to some pre-Incan ruins.  It was a really unique experience in a very remote area, with a large lake.  It was an ancient Inca burial ground featuring stone “chullpas” or towers which served as tombs.  The site had recently been upgraded and modernized for tourists.  Again, something you would only see in National Geographic Magazine.  The altitude affected many of us, and some of us, me included, had to truncate our climb to the top – bit still I saw lots.

In the courtyard of a private home where we got an insight into local rural life and a taste of some of the local cooking.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a compound of native dwellings in Atun Colla to visit a family and see how they lived.  We were invited into their home, and they prepared some native foods for us.  It was very similar to a visit we made to a native compound in Kenya.  It is hard to believe how primitively these people live.  I tasted some homemade cheese the lady of the house made, and was challenged  by our tour manager to eat a potato dipped in a clay mixture – supposedly having some positive medicinal effects.  Back at the hotel at the end of the day we had dinner and headed to bed to rest up for the final two days of our outstanding tour.

Post-trip comment on October 12 – Columbus Day: I noticed during our visit that there wasn’t any hoopla in Peru on Columbus Day.  When I taught high-school Spanish, I always provided a lesson about the Latin American countries calling Columbus Day “Dia de la Raza” (The day of the Race), celebrating their Hispanic roots.  Of course, a lot has happened since then in the spirit of political correctness and in the dethroning of Columbus from his status of honor.  I have since learned that the Peruvian legislature in 2009 officially changed the name of Columbus Day to “Day of Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue” (Dia de los Pueblos Originarios y el Dialogo Intercultural).

Thursday, October 13, 2011 – Puno; Juliaca; Lima; Paracas

This was pretty much an all day travel day, as we flew from Juliaca to Lima (about a one-hour flight), and then immediately took our coach down to Paracas.  What a relief to be back at sea level.  Everyone immediately perked up and felt fully alive again.  We boarded a bus at the airport and proceeded down the Pacific Coast on the Pan American Highway for about five hours (the roadside scenery was relatively barren) to a fabulous resort hotel in the town of Pisco, the Doubletree Paracas Hotel.

The ocean-side pool of the luxurious resort hotel in Paracas where we spent the last two nights of our tour.

I found myself comparing it to the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It was very much family oriented (lots of kids there) and focused on family entertainment.   I have an Ocean view suite and the large pool is just outside the stairs to the balcony leading to my room.  Quite elegant!  We had a great meal upon arrival on an outdoor patio because the dining room was overcrowded with families on holiday.

On this first day at this elegant tropical resort, we arrived too late to enjoy much of the ambiance of the venue, except for the luxury of our accommodations.  Several of us spent some time chatting at the glass-enclosed poolside bar before retiring.

Friday, October 14 – Paracas National Reserve; Nazca Lines; Pisco

The pilot of the small 4-seater plane I was boarding to fly over the Nazca Lines.

The monkey as seen from the air in the Nazca desert. One of dozens of images (geogliphs) imbedded in the land since 400-650 AD.

Today we rose early to proceed further down the coast to Nazca, the place which has the geogliphs created by the Pre-Inca inhabitants of these parts.  These are monstrous images of birds, whales, a dog, and dozens of other symbols scattered over acres of barren desert.  Google “Nazca Lines” and you will immediately recognize what I´m talking about, because Peru is the only place in the world you will find them.  To get here we went through miles and miles of barren wasteland or desert.  Upon arrival, some of our group who did not want to purchase a 30 minute airplane ride to view them went up a tower to get a close up view of one of the geogliphs.  I was among about 20 of us who purchased a $115 ticket for the 30 min. tour in a 4-seater plane.

Panoramic view from the plane showing geometric figures and lines.

First, a word about the “Nazca Lines”.  The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so named in 1994.  It wasn’t recognized for its significance until the 1930’s when it was first viewed from the air.  There are all kinds of explanations for its significance, but the general consensus is that it has some kind of ancient religious meaning.  Scholars believe that the Nazca lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 A.D.  The images range between simple lines to geometric figures and pictorial representations of a hummingbird, condor, heron, astronaut, spider, pelican, dog, hands, monkey and lizard.

This is the viewing tower at one of the geogliphs for those who opt not to fly over the area of the Nazca lines

We had to weigh in for the plane ride because they wanted to accommodate 4 passengers in addition to the pilot and co-pilot – but the average weight had to be under 200 lbs.  So anyone over 200 lbs. had to be matched with someone of much lower weight. Fred Horner and I took the middle two seats of our plane, while two lighter women occupied the rear two seats.  It was a bumpy 35-minute ride — like the ones you take over the Grand Canyon.  But what a treat to see these 1500 year old – or more – images in the desert!  One or two of our group got air sickness, but, thank God, I didn´t.   I had seen a documentary about them on the History Channel and now I can say I saw them in person.  Our co-pilot pointed out the geogliphs as we flew over them, and we had an illustrated guide in our hands.  It was an amazing sight from the air.  How they were made, how they lasted so long and what they mean remains a mystery!

An elegant lunch at an idyllic Italian villa at an oasis in the Peruvian desert!

After this archeological treat, we traveled to an oasis in the middle of this desert to a Hacienda owned by and Italian millionaire.  There we had a Luau type lunch in a beautiful setting.  It was fabulous.  We then drove back for 4 hours to our Oceanside resort in Pisco.

Saturday, October 15 – Paracas National Reserve; Ballestas Island; Lima

A spectacular way to end our visit to Peru - an excursion to the Ballestas Islands to see a wide array of birds and sea animals at the "Gallapagos of Peru."

Today we took a boat ride to the Ballestas Islands, known as the Gallapagos of Peru — having many of the characteristics of the Gallapagos off of the coast of Ecuador.  We saw thousands of birds perching on the top of these volcanic islands.

In addition to thousands of birds perching on volcanic rock, these Sea Lions were but a few of the dozens of species we encountered in this tropical paradise.

There were Penguins, Pelicans, Petrels, Boobys, Terns, Gulls and many other birds, and plenty of sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks.  This was our final natural adventure of this tour, completing land, water and air explorations, including the fabled Machu Picchu experience

Our farewell meal in Lima at the exotic seaside restaurant, Rosa Nautica.

After our boat trip, we returned north to Lima, where we had our elegant farewell dinner at Rosa Nautica, the waterfront restaurant that juts out into the Pacific Ocean below the cliffs of Miraflores where we began our journey 11 days earlier.   Some of us spoke at the meal, giving tributes to Kevin Ferguson for his excellent leadership throughout the tour and expressing our appreciation for the camaraderie that developed throughout the tour among all participants. We then headed to the airport for a late night flight to Miami, returning to Newark on Sunday.  We were back in Vincentown before 5:00 p.m.

Lima at night, from the cliff overlooking our "farewell restaurant," the elegant Rosa Nautica.


Peruvian entertainment at a dinner in Cusco

It was not my intention to communicate a negative picture of this trip by calling attention the many obstacles we had to overcome to see the marvels of nature at their best.  It was, after all, an extremely worthwhile experience, but at a cost.  The reality is that to benefit fully from this experience, you have to be prepared for physical challenges along the way.

Peru is truly a country of contrasts.  The natural contrasts include the Nazca lines, the ancient Inca villages, the hidden mountaintop refuges, the desert and the lush farms.  The historical contrasts we saw were mind-boggling, including the pre-Inca, Inca, and Post Inca eras — treasures which have been preserved for future generations.  The Spanish colonial town squares, cathedrals and villages are magnificent, and the monuments to the revolutionary period heroes abound.  I have never seen so much history in one place as I have here.

Peru has been a key piece in the mosaic I have been creating through my travels.  The mosaic would definitely be incomplete without the Peru and Machu Picchu pieces.  I am gratified that I was given the opportunity to check this venue off my “Bucket List” – thanks to Penny and everyone else who made this dream a reality.

A Postscript on Altitude

Chullpas (tomb towers) at Sillustani

Throughout the travelogue I have made references about altitude in Peru.  Most members of our group had been affected by the altitude.  At Lake Titicaca we were at 12,000 feet.  We traveled up to 12,800 the day before to visit an archeological site.  That is about the highest tolerable limit humans can go. In Lima we were at 11,000 feet and Machu Pichu, being in the Sacred Valley of the Incas is 8,000 feet.  Each hotel we have stayed at has oxygen available at all times.  Most of us have used it at least once – but several have used it as much as 3 times in a given day.  At Lake Titicaca the Oxygen was in use 24 hours a day by our group.

Symbols of Peru

The other antidote for altitude sickness is Coca Tea.  On our first day in Lima, I bought a box of Coca Teabags, and would take a tea bag and shove it into my bottle of water, shake it up, and consume that all day.  We also consumed at least three bottles of water a day.  The signs of altitude sickness are shortness of breath – that has really affected me, just coming off of a bout with pneumonia and not really fully recovered.  Another is rapid heart palpitations; another, feeling very tired most of the time.; and also, a bloody nose.  Only one member of my group experienced this on the tour. Obviously, altitude sickness takes away from the full enjoyment of this magnificent trip.  Oh, there´s one more antidote, Diamox, a pill prescribed by my doctor.  I took several, usually at night upon retiring, because, in my opinion, the side-effects weren´t worth the benefits.

Commonly seen on the streets of Peru

We learned that Peru has the highest population of people living at the higher altitudes.  I think that after this experience, I will encourage anyone else who would like to experience these magnificent sites do so early in life, provided they are physically fit and willing to prepare with several months of strenuous physical exercise.  It’s not for the weak of body!  Believe me – and most of my group will agree with me.

A Final Cultural Contrast – Peru, USA and Peru, South America

Our Collette tour manager, Kevin Ferguson, left us with this message: if you’d like to see when Peru (the country) brings its culture to Peru, Nebraska (pop. 569); here is a great YouTube video from the Peruvian Tourism Board. It’ll make you smile and bring back memories of the country.

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Commitment – Conflict – Decision: Abandoning the Plow

by Joe Laufer

(Note: Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Little Boy lost, In search of little boy found – you go a wondering, wandering, stumbling, tumbling round, round.  When will you find what’s on the tip of your mind? Why are you blind to all you ever were, never were, really are, nearly are?

Little Boy false, in search of little boy true – will you be ever done traveling, always unraveling, you, you.  Running away could lead you further astray.  And as for fishing in streams for pieces of dreams, those pieces will never fit – What is the sense of it?

Little Boy blue, don’t let your little sheep roam.  It’s time come blow your horn, meet the morn.  Look and see, can you be far from home?

Pieces of Dreams – nominated for a Grammy and as the Best 1970 Movie Song at the Academy Awards. Music by Michel Legrand; Lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman; The Bergmans wrote the lyrics specifically for the movie of the same name to reflect the struggle of fictional Father Gregory Lind with his “demons.” Sung by Johnny Mathis on the Johnny Carson Show, 1970. (Barbara Streisand also recorded it). Robert Forster and Lauren Hutton starred in the movie, the story of a priest who struggles with the decision to remain a priest or return to the life of a layman. Based on a novel by William E Barrett.

Every once in a while I come up with a question I wish I had asked my father about his life while he was still alive. I guess that is one of the reasons I decided to write these memoirs. Maybe I’m presumptuous to even think that there will be many questions my grandchildren might ask about their Pop Pop long after I’m gone. But there is one that I would like my children to be able to answer, should it be asked — namely, why did Pop Pop leave the priesthood?

On May 27, 1961 I was ordained a priest. Had I remained in the priesthood, I would be celebrating my 50th Jubilee of Ordination this year. This is my "official" ordination portrait of 50 years ago.

One might ask why I’ve decided to write about this now, since I have been fairly silent about it for most of my life. There are really two answers to that, triggered by two events that occurred this year.  One is the fact that 2011 is the year I would have celebrated my Golden Jubilee — a major milestone in a priest’s life: the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination, which took place on May 27th, 1961.  Three of my 15 seminary classmates celebrated this milestone this year: Father Canice Connors, Father Ed Costello and Fr. Richard Rossell.  They were the faithful ones — the ones who put their hands to the plow, and never looked back.  I have to confess, I definitely commemorated the event — but didn’t deserve to celebrate it.

The second event that triggered this particular blog was that on September 15 (2011), Father Edgar Holden, one of my seminary professors, passed away at the age of 93.  Back in 1968, shortly after I had left the Priesthood, he was open-minded enough to print a letter I had written about my decision to leave in a Newsletter that he published on behalf of the Franciscan Province of which I had been a member.  Such a thing was unprecedented at the time, and I always respected him for taking the risk to share my thoughts publicly with the rest of my colleagues.  That letter will be included here as a part of my answer to the question.

St. Francis of Assisi - (1181-1226) - Founder of the Franciscan Order. He has been recognized for his perfect imitation of Christ, which merited him the Stigmata.

Finally, in a couple of days I’ll be celebrating the 44th anniversary of the day I left the Franciscan Order and Catholic Priesthood: October 4, 1967 – which, incidentally, is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

My introduction to St. Francis of Assisi during my seminary experience has had an important and lifelong effect on me.  Despite my leaving the Franciscan Order, I still consider myself a “Franciscan”.  St. Francis’ brand of Christianity was simple and authentic. He got right to the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  Simplicity, service to others and respect for all creation are the hallmarks of his spirituality.

The scripture that is most often quoted to condemn “defections” from the Priesthood or Religious life is Luke 9:62.  It is appropriate, I feel, to begin this analysis by expanding the citation to include the entire context of the message:

Luke 9:57-62  – The Cost of Following Jesus

57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59He said to another man, “Follow me.”But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I chose this scripture version (The New International Version – NIV) because of the way it translates verse 62.  Other versions don’t include the words “service in” — they simply say that the one who looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.  I don’t think Jesus meant that.  I still feel I have a chance at the kingdom of God — it’s just that because I looked back, I wasn’t meant for official service — or ministry — in that kingdom.  Nevertheless, this is a very profound scripture passage — right up there with Matthew 22:14:  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  I guess to suit my purposes, you can change that around to read “Many THINK they are called, and become ordained, then find out that maybe they weren’t really chosen after all.”  I’ll come back to these thoughts later in this piece, but I chose to place them here to set the tone.

Here is the formal invitation sent out by my parents to my Ordination and First Mass.

I have already written about the first three years of my seminary life.  I have yet to write about the final six.  I can say here that when I entered the seminary in 1952 at the age of 17, I was a pretty immature 17-year-old.  Once I left the security of my home in 1952 and experienced a bit of personal independence in the seminary, I began to develop a bit more self-confidence than I had while in high school. However, being “on my own” in a seminary setting wasn’t exactly “being on my own.”  The isolation and shelter of the seminary did not expose me to the “real world” that I personally needed to “catch up” with what I lacked when I entered the seminary.  In retrospect, what I really needed to develop as a person was a stint in the military – something that I feared more than death — but which would have had a more salutary effect on my development than the seminary.

One of the harmful effects of the seminary experience on a person like me was the way it inhibited your ability to make a rational decision about changing your mind once everybody (self and family) started to get caught up in the prospect of eventually having a priest in the family. The seminary has a way of forcing one into a position of “no return” because of the way parents and relatives become enamored by the “halo effect” of the prospect of their son, brother or cousin “becoming a priest.”  This is especially true of a mother.  Mothers (especially Irish mothers) — and aunts — are so proud of their priest-to-be sons and nephews, that the fear of letting them down becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to dealing with doubts and desires to leave the seminary.

In September, 1960, in the Seminary Chapel in Rensselaer, NY, having already passed through the offices of Acolyte, Lector and Subdeacon on my path towards ordination to the Catholic Priesthood, I was ordained a Deacon. My parents were there to celebrate with me. (None of us seem to be in a celebratory mood!)

The Catholic rituals associated with the road to the priesthood don’t help matters, either.  There are several steps along the way that are aimed at enhancing the “halo effect” as you assume more and more “spiritual powers” through ordination — first as a sub-deacon, then as a deacon —  in the years leading up to priestly ordination.  Then, you start “practicing” saying Mass and rehearse administering the sacraments in the final year, and before you know it, its ordination time.  You don the Roman Collar as a deacon, and begin to experience the respect and the adulation of the faithful, and unless you are grounded in humility and maintain a clear head, you lack the ability to clearly, intelligently and realistically deal with those doubts and fears about lifetime commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience.  The thought of disappointing my parents by walking away after all the build up was my greatest fear as I struggled with my doubts and demons as the date of ordination approached.

Then all of a sudden, you give your practice sermons, you take your final exams,  you perform your “dry” Mass before another priest, and its ordination day!  All the pomp and circumstance takes place before the Bishop in the Cathedral in Albany and you return home to say your First Solemn Mass in your parish church and you are “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:17) — and that sounds pretty final — in words drummed into you throughout your Catholic life up to this point.  There’s no turning back – ever!  And everybody is so very happy!

Bishop William A. Scully of Albany presides over the ordination. At this point, he has anointed my hands with Holy Oils and wraps them in a specially made cloth band. The ritual is meant to highlight the fact that these hands would now have the power to change ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Ordination for a priest, from a “celebration” perspective, is very much like a wedding for a bride and groom.  However, in the case of Ordination, there are two ceremonies — the actual Ordination in the cathedral, and then, usually the next day, the First Solemn Mass in your parish church.  I was ordained in Albany, New York by Bishop William Scully.  My Dad rented a bus to bring family members — immediate family, uncles, aunts, cousins, family friends, neighbors — we’re talking about a bus full of about 40 people — the 200 miles (about a four-hour ride) to Albany, NY. 

On the left and below is the official “Class of ’61” Ordination picture for the Diocese of Albany — it is in two parts, showing a total of 16 young men just ordained by Bishop William Scully in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.   Half of the men are Diocesan Priests, and the other half Franciscans.   Second from left is Fr. Pacificus (Edward) Costello, fifth is Callistus (Andy) Doral, sixth (the tall guy in the back),  Canice Connors (who eventually became Minister Provincial), and seventh, Benjamin Dykas.  In the picture  to the right, I am the second individual, next to the guy with his eyes closed, fourth and fifth are Friars from the Polish Province whose names escape me, and sixth is Francis Xavier (Richard) Rossell. Of all 16, who looks too young to be a priest?  Compared to today’s (2011) standards (50 years later), this was a big class.  Today, it would be unusual to have more than three or four men in an average ordination class.

After the ordination, we headed back to Wilkes-Barre where my First Mass was to be held the next day, Sunday, May 28th. On the night of May 27th, I slept in the St. Nick’s rectory instead of at home.  The event was so exciting, I never slept a wink.

This is the very beginning of my First Mass, "The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar." Each priest assisting me was personally selected because of some special relationship to my life. The homilist was family friend Father Eugene Danielson, who grew up with my Dad on William St. He was an eloquent preacher.

The Mass was at 11 a.m. The church was packed, the choir performed as though it were a major music hall concert, there was a soloist, an eloquent sermon by a distant cousin, Father Danielson, an altar full of visiting priests, all the altar boys of the parish, and the Knights of St. George in all their regalia forming the honor guard.  All the St. Nick’s nuns came to the Mass, as well as all our relatives and friends.  It was a big deal.  At the end of the Mass, with the massive pipe organ blasting, all the bells of the church rang for about 5 minutes straight, something I had often heard growing up at St. Nicks when major events took place there.  The sound always gave me goose bumps — and this time, they were ringing for me!  There was a family reception afterwards in the Dresden, a catering place across from the church, while friends, neighbors and relatives attended a large banquet in the Church basement.  As at a wedding, there were gifts — mainly envelopes with money — everything like a wedding,  except dancing and booze.  It was truly the most joyful  day in my life.

This was the reception dinner at the Dresden after my First Mass. Starting from the left: Ellenrose and Bill Laufer, Bill and Etta Camloh, Dad, me, Mom, Fr. Ward, Fr. Danielson, Fr. Demuth, Fr. Kramer, Fr. Franks, Fr. Joe Bonner; Fr. Antone Kandrac, Bill and Ellen Thornton, Fr. Simeon Rukstalis, Fr. Mel Madden, Uncle Bud (George) Laufer; Aunt Marge, Uncle Pat Nealon, Aunt Kay Nealon, Mary Lou, Karen.

Within days I received my first assignment — to the parish of the Immaculate Conception in Trenton, NJ, with weekends helping out at St. Peter’s Parish in Point Pleasant, NJ.  I was already assigned to teach at Canevin High School in Pittsburgh, beginning in September.  Part of the summer was to be spent at Catholic University in Washington, DC, where I was pursuing a Master’s Degree in Secondary School Administration, and taking a crash course in Spanish, because I was to teach Spanish at the High School.

When September rolled around I headed to Pittsburgh, where seven other fellow Franciscans became the “charter” male faculty in a new “Co-institutional Catholic High School” — where boys were taught by priests in one wing, and girls were taught by nuns in the other wing. (Incidentally, my Master’s Thesis at Catholic University was on the pedagogical basis for the separation of boys and girls in Co-institutional Catholic High Schools).  While the new Franciscan Friary was under construction, we were housed in an old brick building on Noblestown Road next to the football field below the new school.  We would occupy this cramped facility for a year.

Canevin High School - a brand new Regional Catholic High School serving the western suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was located in the Greentree-Crafton-Carnegie triangle and serviced 21 parishes. The building had three distinct areas: on the left, the Girls' wing, on the right, the Boys' wing and the common area in the center with the Chapel, Library, Gym and administrative offices.

I intend to write about the whole high school teaching experience separately.  However, suffice to say here that I really loved teaching at Canevin High School.  Being on the ground floor in a brand new, innovative school was challenging.

Fr. Gervase Beyer, OFM Conv. (1917 - 1981)- My mentor, my teacher, my Principal, my Religious Superior, my idol and the man who had the greatest influence on my life both within and outside the Franciscan Order.

The principal (officially “Headmaster”) of the school was Fr. Gervase Beyer, my long-time mentor and cheerleader.  In addition to teaching Spanish and Religion, I was named Director of Student Activities — a position I really relished.  In this role I got to interact with all of the students — girls included.  I coordinated the school dances, school-wide events, including commencement exercises, the scheduling of activity period school-wide, and all the fun stuff. Each year I coordinated the school picnic at Kennywood Park – the premiere amusement park in the Pittsburgh area.  I would coordinate concerts which brought performers to Canevin, usually promoting their newly released recordings.  These events were arranged by local disc jockeys.  One of my heavier responsibilities was to create the Student Handbook which had to be updated annually and printed for distribution at the beginning of the school year.

This is me with Canevin's championship Debate Club. As adviser, I ended up accompanying them all over the country to national tournaments.

I was also the Forensics Club advisor, which included being the Debate Coach.  Canevin had some really good debaters and they won Diocesan High School championships almost ever year and qualified for national competitions. The sacrifice of taking my team to weekly Saturday morning tournaments was rewarded when the Canevin debaters  won regional or national championships and I accompanied them to the various competitions — which included Miami, Chicago, and Denver. I was simply thrust into this role by Fr. Gervase — never having received any training in the art of debate.  Nevertheless I groomed champions every year.

Homerooms were the heart of Canevin. As a teacher, you would be assigned to the same group of boys for all four years. This gave you a chance to be their counselor, their advisor, and inevitably their friend. I used every ploy to create a cohesive, highly competitive and loyal group.

I also found being a home room teacher exciting.  There was a lot of competition between home rooms , and as a teacher you could develop a lot of school loyalty by first creating home room loyalty — and I had a knack of rallying my boys to be the “best” in raising money, attending school events, being first in competitions, etc.

I created membership cards for my homeroom. On the reverse was our personal "code of conduct" created collaboratively as teacher and students.

On one occasion I entered my class in a contest held by Radio Station KDKA and we won tickets for the whole class to attend the Moscow Circus at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.  I still looked like a kid, and some of the Seniors had thicker beards than I did.

In 1963 Fr. Gervase had me accompany him to Florida to attend the National Convention of the Association of Secondary School Principals. Here we are in Hollywood Florida, where we rented this scooter to shoot up Route 1 to Fort Lauderdale.

My relationship with Fr. Gervase was unique.  He had been grooming me for something ever since we first met at Staten Island.  He motivated me to excel in everything I did.  His confidence in me helped build my self-esteem and he gave me opportunities to showcase my skills and talents.  In no uncertain terms he told me that he was grooming me to take his place as principal.  Annually he would schedule me to join him at the National Convention of Secondary School Principals, wherever it was held.  When it was held in Miami, we took a junket to Bermuda for a day. To say that I was his fair-haired boy would be an understatement.

The school P.A. console was in the Main Office right next to my desk. Among my jobs was to make the morning and end-of-day announcements. I was at the helm on Friday, November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated.

As Director of Student Activities, I had a desk outside his office in the main office of the school, with the three office secretaries.  My job was highly visible.  I made all the PA announcements throughout the day.  It was a great job.  As time went on, Fr. Gervase gave me more and more jobs with increasing responsibility. I began to interact with the Parent Teacher Organization and this was the beginning of a power struggle between my mentor and me.  Meanwhile, changes were taking place within the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council (Oct. 1961 to Dec. 1965), so further tensions began to evolve because I was gung-ho about the changes taking place in the church while Fr. Gervase was resisting them.  I got so deeply into the theology of the Second Vatican Council that I began attending special seminars conducted by Cardinal John Wright, the Bishop of Pittsburgh and in the end got permission from him to publish a synthesis of his lectures in the prestigious clergy magazine, The Homiletic and Pastoral Review entitled “Vatican II in 24 Seed Ideas” under my byline.  My preoccupation with Vatican II — and the recognition I was getting for my knowledge of what was going on in Rome — did not enhance my relationship with my religious superior.  The fact is, it widened the chasm between us.

While the deterioration of my relationship with my idol, Fr. Gervase, may have played a role in triggering my departure from the priesthood, I don’t want to imply that he was the cause of my defection.  It is not my intention to discredit him as I discuss his role in accelerating my departure — the end was inevitable.  If he didn’t trigger it, someone else would have.  I still consider him the one most important influence in my life. During the final year of my priesthood, ours was a classic love-hate relationship.  He was a true intellectual, a classicist, a consummate educator and a man who inspired greatness. My admiration for him and my gratitude for all he did for me has never wavered. He died too young — he was only 64 when he succumbed to cancer on October 29, 1981.  I attended his funeral at St. Peter Celestine Church in Cherry Hill in November, 1981.

1967 Yearbook picture (in the Canevin Mosaic) taken at my desk in my glass-enclosed "fishbowl" office

As the Headmaster of Canevin High School, Father Gervase oversaw my academic career; as Guardian (or Superior) of the Friars he pretty well-managed my life. The liturgical changes being generated by the Vatican Council began affecting our daily lives in the Friary.  For instance, English was being slowly introduced into the Mass and into the monastic life.  Up until this point, all of our public prayers were in Latin.  The younger Friars were eager to make the quick changeover to English in everything — while most of the older Friars clung to the Latin.  I tried “working through the system” to get Father Gervase to use English in the routine meal prayers and other rituals in the Friary — but he resisted.  At the school, I began introducing the music of the “Folk Mass” into the student Masses — only to have them ridiculed by the older Friars. Everything was a struggle.  In the early days at the Friary, we all said our individual Masses at small side altars.  But during Vatican II, the concept of “concelebrated Masses” was approved, and it fit nicely into our Conventual lifestyle, where all of us could join in a single Mass — which was more liturgically correct in a monastic setting such as ours — yet we had to beg to have these liturgies on a regular basis.  Tensions continued to grow.  What made it worse was that I, Fr. Gervase’s “protegé,” was being perceived as the “leader of the opposition.”  Our relationship deteriorated further. Friendly interaction became uncomfortable.

My life in Pittsburgh wasn’t all kids and education.  Every weekend I would have a parish assignment somewhere in the region — as far away as the western suburbs of Pittsburgh.  I preferred local parishes from which our students came, because they would get to see me in a more priestly role.  I would hear confessions, offer Mass and preach homilies.  I put a lot of work into my homilies — and had a fairly good reputation for meaningful and well-delivered sermons.  Between my priestly work, my academic career, and my “extra-curricular” interest in the theology of Vatican II, I was considered a good and dedicated priest.  I even availed myself of the opportunity to enroll in the Graduate program  at Duquesne University during 1963 and 1964, taking four courses to help me become a better teacher.

With Vatican II, a greater social awareness among the clergy was emerging, and despite my love for teaching and working with High School students, I felt impelled to engage in some non-traditional social ministry.  A casual conversation with a priest from my home parish of St. Nicks in  on one of my visits with my family started me thinking of a possible opportunity for some meaningful service as the summer of 1967 approached. Father Paul Van Maanen, a young parish assistant told me that he was a member of the Diocesan sub-committee on Migrant Workers, and that they were looking for a priest who spoke Spanish to  work among the migrant workers on the farms of the area.  They were mainly Hispanic, some from Puerto Rico, others from Mexico, and a few from the Dominican Republic.  He wondered if I might be interested.  He had no idea that I was looking for something like this — and what an opportunity this would be: back home in my old hometown, a nitty-gritty socially meaningful job, and one which would put me in a position to polish my conversational Spanish, thereby making me a better teacher.  I couldn’t have found a better fit.  I excitedly approached Fr. Gervase about it — only to be stopped dead in my tracks with his adamant disapproval of the idea.  He felt I should stay in Pittsburgh for the summer.  I did not take the refusal well. My determination led me to go over his head and request permission directly from the Provincial (the “CEO” of the East Coast Friars, headquartered in Syracuse).  As a former missionary himself, Fr. David enthusiastically approved my request over my Superior’s objections.

Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Pennsylvania town of Tunkhannock -- "The Gateway to the Endless Mountains." This is where, on September 17th I officiated over my final public liturgy as a priest. Ironically my final public Mass and homily were in Spanish.

I spent the summer saying Mass in Spanish on a portable altar my Dad made for me,  traveling from farm to farm in the suburbs of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Clarks Summit and Tunkhannock.  I was able to stay at our family cottage on the Susquehanna River during the week, using it as my base of operations – it was in the middle of the circle of farms I serviced in Mehoopany, Sweet Valley, Centermoreland and Mill City.  I heard confessions in Spanish and counseled the migrants.  In addition to Hispanic migrants, the farmers also used African American workers, who were ministered to by a black Protestant Minister from Wilkes-Barre.  He and I became good friends, and midway during the summer when he took a vacation, he asked me to minister to his congregation on two consecutive Sundays.   Ecumenism was a buzzword during the Vatican Council, so even without the Bishop’s permission, I performed the Protestant services for the all black congregation.  This was my first experience where the worshipers  raised their voices in “Amens” throughout my homily.

Bishop Joseph Carol McCormick, Bishop of Scranton. He was my Bishop during my summer of social service in 1967. On September 17, he presided over a First Communion and Confirmation event for Migrant Farm Workers in Tunkhannock. At his request, I offered the Mass in Spanish and delivered the homily in Spanish.

During this period my immediate superior was Scranton Bishop Joseph Carrol McCormick who had only recently succeeded Bishop Hannon.  Midway through the summer he asked me if I thought I could help prepare a the migrant youth in the camps for their First Communion and Confirmation,  which he would confer in September before they returned south. He wanted to use the opportunity to showcase the Diocese’s initiatives with the migrants.   With the help of some nun volunteers from College Misericordia and Marywood College, we were able to prepare the class.  However, I had to be back in Pittsburgh for the opening of the 1967 school year early in September.  The Bishop wanted me to return to Tunkhannock on September 17 to offer Mass in Spanish and deliver a Spanish homily as well as to assist him with the Confirmation.  Needless to say, Father Gervase was already angry at me for going over his head to get the Scranton gig, and he hated the fact that the Bishop asked me to come back for the Confirmation.  As it turned out, my September 17th Spanish Mass and Homily would be my very last public liturgical act in my Priesthood.  At the time, neither I nor anyone else even suspected that within sixteen days I would be an “ex-priest.”

As soon as I got back to Canevin after my summer of social service I hunkered down to both my Student Activities duties and teaching assignments.  I was, however, a changed man from my experience with nitty-gritty ministry.  My values shifted a bit, and with all that was going on in the church, I couldn’t be bothered with the ridiculous struggle over Latin vs. English, when I knew English was the only way — and inevitable.  I didn’t have time for a protocol that got in the way of service and results — and my Franciscan commitment to “obedience” began to unravel.  Before I had gone to Scranton for the Summer, I met with the head of the Canevin PTA in my role as Student Activities Director and gave him a list of suggested presentations to be given at the monthly meetings of the PTA.  Fr. Gervase was in charge of the PTA, but I always worked with them on the presentations made by students and about students at their meetings.  My new list was rather innovative.  The PTA liked it.  Fr. Gervase didn’t.  When I got back from the Confirmation weekend in Scranton, the issue came to a head.  The PTA told Fr. Gervase they wanted to use my list of programs, and in no uncertain terms he told them I had no say in the matter and that he was the boss.  In other words, I was not to be involved with the PTA any longer.  The rift was now complete and I was discredited — the ‘golden boy” was rejected by his mentor. It was the end of September.  The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi was a few days away (Oct. 4) and my enthusiasm for Canevin diminished rapidly after the PTA programming debacle. I immersed myself in preparing  for the community liturgy for the Feast of St. Francis — focusing on the new Vatican II guidelines more for spite than for spirituality.  But as I went to bed on October 3 I was extremely depressed and more or less decided I’d had it.  With little forethought and no pre-planning, I packed up and walked out on Canevin, St. Francis Friary and my priesthood in the middle of the night on the Feast of St. Francis, October 4, 1967, “borrowing” a Friary car to drive to Wheeling, West Virginia.  I slipped a note under the bedroom door of Fr. Gervase saying simply “I’ve had it! – I’ll be back in touch soon and will let you know where you can pick up the car.”  As I drove down the driveway out onto the open road, I paused for a minute — as quickly as I left, I could have turned around and changed my mind — but I didn’t.  I was on my way — 44 years ago, almost to the day as I pen these words.

The cover story of Time Magazine on February 23, 1970 dealt with "The Catholic Exodus: Why Priests and Nuns are Quitting." This issue came out less than 8 weeks after my marriage. I left at the peak of the exodus.

To the average person, the occasion for my departure was more like a stubborn domestic squabble than a traumatic life-changing event — but when looked at as the culmination of a lifelong struggle, it might be more understandable — more like the words of the song “Pieces of Dreams” with which this blog opened.   I had been at Canevin for 6 years.  The first five went fairly well.  I loved teaching High School.  I also very much liked and appreciated the Franciscan life — in the ideal.  Yet when confronted with operational obedience in the light of unreasonable demands and stubborn clinging to archaic traditions that were inevitably changing with the blessing of the Church, I didn’t have the patience to enter into petty combat.  However, there is no doubt in my mind that I never developed spiritually with the intensity necessary  to put all aspects of my religious life in the context of a solid relationship with God.  There was something definitely missing in my spiritual DNA that, for whatever reason, I had not nurtured.  That which I had developed was not enough to carry me through a lifetime of commitment.

The doubts that I wouldn’t confront for fear of hurting my family back in those final seminary years had always remained, and when push came to shove, I finally decided that my well-being came first, and if it hurt my parents, so be it — I would work on their  healing after I healed myself.

On the day I offered my First Mass in 1961, immediately after the Mass, the people lined up to receive my first blessing. At the head of the line, as tradition has it, the Priest's parents proudly step forward for their son's blessing. This ritualistic event is something of a culmination of the years of preparation and sacrifice on the part of all family members as partners in their son's journey to the priesthood. It is just one of those special events that contribute to the "halo effect" that is both a blessing and a curse surrounding the mystique of the priesthood. The decision to leave or to stay is often clouded by the trauma associated with rejecting the totality of the priestly experience and how that decision impacts family members, especially the mother.

So why did I leave the priesthood and the Franciscan Order? As you can see, it wasn’t for the love of a woman.  It wasn’t sex in any shape or form — nothing to do with the scandals that plagued the Church in recent years.  Nothing to do with alcohol or gambling.  The reasons are bundled with immaturity, incrementally painting myself into a corner until it was almost impossible for me to make a rational decision at a reasonable point on the path to Ordination for fear of hurting the ones I loved, and then seeing it all unravel as I attempted to assume my independent place on the stage of life.  Of the three vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, it was “Obedience” that did me in.  As my wife, Penny,  will tell you, I love my independence and I need my “space.”

I referred earlier to the letter I wrote to Father Edgar in September of 1968, almost a year after I left the priesthood and was working at WMMN in Fairmont, West Virginia.  I had maintained contact with some of the Friars after I left and settled down.  One of them sent me a copy of an internal Franciscan newsletter in which one of the Friars indicated that there are only two possible causes a priest or friar abandoning his vocation: Punch or Judy (booze or women).  That simplistic assessment made me angry.  So I wrote the following letter, hoping that it would be published, but expecting that it wouldn’t be.  Much to my surprise, Father Edgar wrote back on September 26th, indicating that my “fine letter was the highlight of my morning!”  He advised me that my letter would be included in the October Province Newsletter.  He continued: “It’ll be a ‘first” for P.N.  Please don’t mention to any of the friars that I intend to publish your letter — I don’t want anything to sidetrack it.  Let’s get that door open!”  As promised, it was published as “The Letter of the Month”, with, of course, the disclaimer that he put in the “Editor’s Box”. Here’s the whole thing:


This issue’s “Letter of the Month” might generate mild surprise with some readers.  The decision to publish Joseph Laufer’s communication was the editor’s alone.  Its inclusion does not necessarily mean that letters of a similar nature will or will not be printed in future pages of P.N.  The editor feels quite capable of making the proper decision should the matter again present itself.


The Official Province Newsletter, October, 1968, in which, against all the odds, thanks to Father Edgar Holden, my letter was published, opening up an unprecedented dialogue between ex-friars and friars.

September 24, 1968

As an “ex” member of the community, I’d be happy to dialogue, as requested by a number of P.N. correspondents.  I’ve been out a year and am still trying to answer the question: why?  But my answers will be mine alone.  How can anyone generalize for the 863 U.S. priests who left in the past 20 months?  The more important question is being researched by N.A.P.R. on the sociological level: what draws men to the priesthood?  No matter what your theological interpretation of “vocation,” you have to admit that there are many natural, psychological and sociological elements in the decision to “become a priest.”  We overlook these elements when we say that the call of the bishop is the final and eternal “sign” of election.  My beef is this: why treat every defection as something of a betrayal?  Let’s consider each case individually.

Your Baldwin quote in reference to  C. Davis: “Neither of us (were) sufficiently clamped onto God by prayer” says much about the cause of  egress.  But it prompts a more poignant question: what holds so many men in the priesthood who likewise are not clamped onto God by prayer (and charity)?  Turn about is fair play when you bring in the question of prayer life — and I think my question is valid.  There seems to be enough external evidence of the absence of true spirituality in the lives of many who will never have the guts to leave.

In every departure there must be some common ground, but the basic reason must be ultimately reduced to the character and personality of the individual.  I had an authority hangup and maybe pride was at the root of it. Frustration over thwarted renewal attempts can also be traced to pride.  And I’d also like to believe that the rate of maturation, which is different in all of us, had a part to play in the history of my vocation, from the decision to enter, to the other major decisions we have to make along the way.  So let’s not try to oversimplify, but treat each case individually and with charity.  Please leave room in your judgment for honest, valid and sincere decisions to leave the active ministry.

And in response to one P.N. correspondent, my social life was at a minimum at Pittsburgh.  I made an honest attempt to pray the Office daily, and I’m still waiting for the right “Suzie” to come along.  I’m still working for Christ in Newman, CCD, CYO and liturgical apostolates. I even have a floating folk Mass group for local parishes.  Keep me in your prayers.

Fraternally,  Joseph M. Laufer

In December, 1968, Father Edgar sent me a copy of the November-December newsletter which contained two responses to my letter.  Here’s the first, from a fellow-friar who was ordained a few years after I was and who was studying in Munich at the time. …“I’d also like to comment on the letter of the month from Joseph Laufer (cf. October P.N.).

Dear Joe,

Many thanks for your fine letter in the October issue of P.N.  You made a number of excellent points.  I think that everyone who leaves the Order has to ask himself the following questions:  What about the commitment I made to God”  If I left the Order, would I become more of a believer?  Is my decision to leave a sign of faith or a lack of it?  Where can I live the Gospel life more intensely – in the Order, or outside it?

You, Joe, have optioned for the latter, I for the former.  I believe that I can live the gospel life in all of its radicality better within the Order than outside it.  I neither judge you, nor do I consider myself “better” for remaining within the Order.  I merely respect your choice.

If your decision to leave is a sign of faith on your part, then I would like to call you an “anonymous Franciscan.”  In other words, there are different levels or degrees of being a Franciscan.  If your faith is deep and pure, you are, in all possibility, a better Franciscan than I.

To be a Franciscan is a matter of the heart.  I don’t think we should confuse the Franciscan charism with its external, institutionalized manifestations.  For this reason I ask the question” “When is leaving, leaving?” Or – “When is a Franciscan, not a Franciscan?”

Richard Penaskovic, Munchen, W. Germany

Twins Richard and Robert Penaskovic were Franciscan priests as I was. They were ordained shortly after I was. Today, Richard is a College Professor and Robert is a Psychiatrist. Their book recounts their lives as Seminarians and the events which led to their decision to leave the Order and the priesthood.

Note:  Richard eventually left the Order, as did his twin brother, Robert.  While gathering data for this blog I discovered that they had recently collaborated on a book which they titled  “Bobby Brown and Richie Blue – A Spiritual Memoir.”  They eloquently describe their Seminary experience and their struggle with Religious life.  I highly recommend their book to anyone who is interested in another perspective on the issues I have been describing in my blogs.

The other response to my letter was from another younger colleague, Leon Lopez, who simply wrote: “I want to thank you and congratulate you for printing Joseph Laufer’s letter (P.N, October 68).  His testimony was enlightening and his turnabout question very valid in my opinion.”

Father Edgar died this month (September 15, 2011) at the age of 93.  I ran into him at my old Seminary on Staten Island a couple of times within the past 5 or 6 years.  I always admired him for his spunk, his energy and his open-mindedness.  I respect him for his lifelong faithfulness to his Franciscan vows and his priesthood, as I do the many other Friars and Priests who remain faithful.  I regret that today, the majority of good priests bear the stigma of the minority who have betrayed their vows and besmirched the Church with their deviant behavior.

At the same time, I honor my colleagues who had the courage and the guts to admit that they made a mistake and left the priesthood honorably. Father Edgar, who had the courage to risk criticism and reprimand for publishing my letter in the Province Newsletter back in 1968 when such openness was unheard of, facilitated a refreshing dialogue that continued long after I wrote it.

To complete my story, after I left Pittsburgh and settled in West Virginia, I initiated the process  of requesting a formal dispensation from my vows first through the Diocese of Wheeling, and then transferred the process to the Diocese of Camden in New Jersey when I moved here.  During the first year away from the Order I “legitimized” my quick exodus by requesting a formal “leave of absence” from Fr. David, the Provincial.   My liaison with the Diocese of Scranton during my summer of social work, Monsignor Gene Clark, wrote to me and generously offered me a temporary appointment in the Diocese if I wanted to “sort things out” away from the Order as a Diocesan Priest.  But I began to settle in to secular life, and my radio job was a good fit, and within the year I finalized my break with the order and never looked back.

My official dispensation: #1337/69, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and dated Friday, March 6, 1970 under the authority of Pope Paul VI. The entire text is in Latin.

It took three-and-a-half years for Rome to formally grant my dispensation, officially called “Laicization,” with permission to marry with the blessing of the Church.  When I asked the Monsignor in charge of my case whether the dispensation would ever come through he suggested that I could speed it up if I got married civilly.  Penny and I married before a Justice of the Peace on December 31, 1969, the dispensation came through from the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on behalf of Pope Paul VI on March 6th, 1970 and we entered into the Sacrament of Matrimony  at the hands of a fellow Franciscan, Father DePaul Henry in Queen of Peace Church, Cherry Hill on May 23, 1970. Ironically, under the rules of the dispensation, the Mass had to be private, with the Church locked.  Monsignor James Zergus represented the Bishop of Camden as witness to the wedding, and contrary to Vatican directives, allowed my brother Bill and his wife Ellenrose into the Church for the ceremony.  Penny wore her white prom dress and my brother Bill threw rice on us as we left the Church. We celebrate our official wedding anniversary on December 31.

The first group of students I shepherded through 4 years of home room - members of the Class of 1966. They were Freshmen in 1962 when I first met them. That's me near the middle of the third row, barely looking older than my students. I was their home room teacher throughout their entire high school experience. This picture was taken when they were Juniors. The dress code at Canevin is what you see here -- they did not "dress up" for this picture. They came to school every day looking like this. The somewhat somber young man at the right-hand end of the second row was red-headed Jim Engelmeier, one of the nicest kids in the class. He was killed in Viet Nam on June 12, 1969, three years after he graduated. He had been in Viet Nam for only 6 months before he was killed instantly in battle. He was the fourth Canevin student to die in Viet Nam. Each time I visit Washington, DC, I visit his name on the Memorial Wall: Panel 22w, Line 032

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Little Brother Standing Tall: Bill Laufer at 73

by Joe Laufer

Joe, Billy, Etta - 1939/40

I was three-and-a-half when I was told I had a new baby brother.  No, I don’t actually remember that — but I do remember growing up with a younger brother and sister. For the next 9 years, the names “Joe, Etta and Billy” seemed to go together. Then in 1947 and 49 the family expanded with the addition of “Karen and Mary Lou” — names that also always seemed to be uttered in combination.

Joe, Billy, Etta

On Saturday, August 20,  my little brother Bill becomes 73.  I’m fortunate that he settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania because he is close enough to visit regularly, and over the years we have been able to share landmark family events together.

Last night we had dinner together, and during the conversation I think he was surprised to learn that among my souvenirs were certain memories dealing with his life.  While I was away in the seminary and he was growing into adulthood in Wilkes-Barre, my Mom and Dad would regularly send me information about the lives of my sisters and brother.  I would date and save whatever they sent.  I know that they had the opinion that perhaps my parents sort of favored me because of the career path I had chosen — but I have evidence to show that they loved all five of their children equally.  In fact, I actually used to think that Dad liked Billy more than he liked me!  In my scrapbook I have clippings about different milestones in the lives of all my siblings.

For Bill’s 73rd birthday I thought I’d pull together some of the items related to him during the period while I was off in the Seminary isolated from the things that were happening with the other members of my family.

Here's Bill at 18, home at Christmas, 1956, according to mom's notation on the back. My recollection was that he was home on leave after boot camp before shipping out. He's in the corner of the living room at our home on 13 Grove St., Wilkes-Barre. I have that keepsake family painting hanging on the wall to the right in my living room today. It was a wedding gift in 1933 to my Mom and Dad: Jesus and the Woman at the Well.

I was  studying Philosophy at St. Anthony-on-Hudson in Rensselaer, New York, when Bill graduated from High School in 1956 — I’m pretty sure that was the year, since later this year he’s going to his 55th Class Reunion at St. Nick’s in Wilkes-Barre.  I am assuming that he enlisted in the Navy right after graduation, but I’m not sure of how long he hung around.  He was back in Wilkes-Barre for Christmas, 1956, at least from what I gather from this picture that my Mom sent me.

Karen and Mary Lou saying goodby to their big brother.

The last time for a while that Bill would experience the comfort of an armchair!

I know that Christmas, 1956 had to be a sad one for my Mom and Dad, because Billy was going overseas for about two years.  I have a couple of pictures dated January 14, 1957 showing Bill in uniform posing for family pictures in the family living room.

Ready to say goodbye for a while - January 14, 1957

Mom, Dad, Karen and Mary Lou then hopped in the Ford Station Wagon and headed to the Avoca Airport with Bill to send him off to the Philippines.   In her note on the back of one of the pictures Mom noted that she was giving him “advice” as he headed overseas.

Family farewell at the airport, January 14, 1957

I’m not sure where Etta was on this departure day for Bill.  Could she have been the photographer?

A mother's final advice!

During the next two years, Bill would be stationed in the Philippines.  I don’t know a lot about this phase of his life.  I do know he served on the Bon Homme Richard, a carrier.  He also advised me after I had written my “Grand Tour” Travel Blog that he didn’t necessarily agree with me that military travel was a “different animal” than recreational travel.  He made it a point while overseas to take advantage of visiting historic Asian destinations when he had the opportunity, including China. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote that statement, and agree that travel while on liberty for a military man qualifies as bona fide historical and recreational travel.

This is Bill during his stint in the Philippines. I'm guessing that this was taken in 1958 when he was 20 years old -- a fit and proud teleseaman stationed at San Miguel, Philippine Islands.

I think Bill personally sent me the only picture I have of him overseas on base in Manila.  He wrote to me a few times while he was overseas.  In September, 1958, I took my Solemn Vows as a Franciscan at Rensselaer, New York.  The newspaper account of that event indicated that I have “one brother, William, a teleseaman with the U.S. Navy at San Miguel, Philippine Islands…”

Bill never told me a l0t about his experience on the Bon Homme Richard, probably because I never really gave him an opportunity to.  I found this picture of the vessel in an internet search.  The Bon Homme Richard has an illustrious record of service starting with World War II and I plan to talk to Bill about it the next time I see him.

Here's the Bon Homme Richard in the late 1950s

While Bill was overseas, he missed two major family events: Mom and Dad’s big 25th Wedding Anniversary Celebration in February, 1958, and our sister Etta’s wedding in  August, 1959.  Now that’s making a sacrifice for your country!  I was allowed home for my parent’s Silver Anniversary, and that was the first time I met Bill’s fiance’ (I think they were engaged at the time), Ellenrose Govier.

Home Again — and a Career begins with Asplundh

This is a picture of Bill that accompanied news of his promotion to Payroll Manager at Asplund.

I’m not sure of the exact date that Bill got out of the Navy, but I know it was after my sister, Etta’s wedding, which he missed by only a few weeks.  She and Bill Camloh were married on August 8, 1959.  So as he was re-acclimating himself to civilian life at the end of 1959 and throughout 1960, I was gearing up for my ordination, scheduled for May, 1961. Also during this period, Bill and his fiance’, Ellenrose Govier, were planning their marriage.  I have a clipping from the “Catholic Light” dated May 11, 1960 that my Mom sent me showing Bill and Ellenrose in a “Pre Cana” class being conducted by our parish priest, Father Demuth.

For my poor parents, 1961 had to be a pretty hectic year, what with my ordination in May and Bill and Ellenrose’s wedding in August.  I had the privilege of being the celebrant at their wedding – my very first as a priest. Their 50 years of marriage and the family they raised in the process is a tribute to their love and dedication as spouses and parents.

Here's an article from the "Asplundh Tree" the internal publication of the company Bill worked for.

Bill transitioned directly from the Navy into a wonderful marriage and a successful lifetime career with the Asplundh Tree Company of Jenkintown.  Here are a few pictures from my collection charting  Bill’s early days with Asplundh.

From the "Asplundh Tree: "Next is Bill Laufer, Bob Poley's assistant to whom all the time and expense sheets, plus any other information relating to payroll are funneled. Bill makes sure that each man's hours are added correctly, and where a crew has more than one time sheet for the week, he combines them. Then he marks the crew number on the top of the time sheet either from memory or from that locater."

It didn’t take long for Bill to move up the food chain at Asplundh — a tribute to his dogged attention to detail and sense of personal responsibility.

Soon, Bill’s name would appear on the Organizational chart of the Headquarters Staff. The article in the “Asplundh Tree” read:  “Moving up to the Payroll Manager’s spot is Bill Laufer who has been Bob’s chief assistant since coming with Asplundh back in 1961. Bill is a former resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He served in the U.S. Navy and spent two years in the Philippines, some of that time aboard a carrier. Before joining the company, he took extensive training in IBM operations which has helped him immensely in handling our Payroll functions since they are so closely related to data processing. He is active in sports and, among other things a member of the Asplundh Home Office softball team. Bill and his wife, Ellenrose, have two children: a daughter, Kathleen, 5 1/2 and a son, Joseph who is 3.”

This is the Organizational Chart that accompanied the news of Bill's promotion to Payroll Manager at Asplundh in the "Asplundh Tree.".

Bill first had an apartment in Jenkintown, then outgrew that, moving to Roslyn.  Eventually he moved to Richboro, where he lives today.

This was not meant to be “This is Your Life – Bill Laufer” — just a spontaneous collection of memories while we were each busy getting started on different career paths, prompted by our dinner conversation at Charley’s Other Brother last night.  As it happened, Bill stuck pretty much to a straight and narrow life and career trajectory, while I zig zagged through life.  It is fortunate that several times over the years our lives re-intersected.  Bill was always there for me when my life took a zig or a zag. Today, while we each march to a different drummer, our common roots have helped us cherish shared family values which can be recognized in the offspring we produced with our wonderful wives, and in the next generations of the Laufer DNA. My gratitude goes to my parents for the work they did to produce five children with the qualities that have endured in our family.



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