A Day In My Life At Saint Joseph's College (Seminary) 1958
By Bill Wall, R'63
This is a story about a part of my life that
had a real impact on me. This is a personal story that I believe will give
you a real insight into the inner workings of a Catholic Seminary in the
1950’s. The 1950’s to many of you may seem like a period of change, but the
rules and regulations that governed St Joseph’s in the 1950’s weren’t much
different than the rules that were in place there when that Seminary opened
in 1924. Actually, the rules at St Joseph’s in the 1950’s were about the
same as those in a Catholic seminary in the 1800’s. Not a whole lot had changed.
I was there for the last of the old, and that is a piece of history that
I carry with me. Catholic seminaries did change and modernize in the mid
to late 1960’s.
You know, I remember a lot of things in my life by month and year. Example:
June 1961. That is when I graduated from high school. However the date of
September 14, 1957 has never left my mind. I remember it was a Wednesday.
This was the day that I loaded a chest of drawers with my clothing in it
into the back of our Family’s red, Ford station wagon, said good bye to my
parents, and my two older brothers drove me from Santa Rosa to Saint Joseph’s
in Mountain View, California to enter the Catholic seminary there. I was
fourteen years old at the time and I was the third child in a family of seven
children. I had just finished the eighth grade and I thought I knew some
things. I was in for one of the biggest adventures and challenges of my life.
I was about to do some growing up very fast. As this story unfolds, you will
understand why that date has stayed with me all these years.
I could jump right into a blow by blow description of what the
average day was like at St Joseph’s, but before I do that, I better give
you a little background on the place or the whole thing is going to seem
overly structured and strict to you and probably not make much sense. Actually,
the rules and regulations at St Joseph’s made a lot of sense for the
St Joseph’s was a junior seminary
that was made up of four years of high school and two years of college. There
were 400 seminarians there then which made it a very large seminary (approximately
330 high school students and 70 college students). St Joseph’s served the
Archdiocese of San Francisco which was all of Northern California back then.
We were taught at St Joseph’s by an order of priests called Sulpicians. This
was a French order that specialized in training priests. The priests at St
Joseph’s were not French; they were fellow Americans that spoke English very
well and expected the same from you. There were about twenty five priests
who lived at St Joseph’s and their full time job was to teach the seminarians
there. I would say they were focused on their work. The six years of study
at St Joseph’s were followed by six more years of Theology study at St Patrick’s
Seminary in Menlo Park, California to round out your training for the priesthood.
The place ran by a bell, which was an electric bell controlled by a central
clock. There was a bell to wake up by and a bell to go to sleep by. There
was a bell to go to a given activity (chapel, class, refectory, etc), and
there was a bell to stop that activity and go to the next activity. And there
was a bell when you were expected to be at that activity and you better not
be late. The day was very well organized as you will see when I get into
average day at St Joseph’s. You could hear “The Bell” anywhere on the seminary
grounds and there was no excuse for being late to anything.
The Physical Plant
St Joseph’s College was a substantial facility nestled
in the Los Altos Hills in the Bay Area of California. Today, this is one
of the premier areas of this Country to live. The original building there
was four stories high and was built in 1924 to house 300 seminarians.
This was a three sided building with a courtyard in the center. This was
called the “High School Side” when I was there. In1955, a second large building
was completed at St Joseph’s which completed the Quadrangle layout of the
facility. This building could house 150 seminarians, had a beautiful, large,
new chapel in it, and this building was called “The College Side”. These
combined buildings contained a large chapel, two refectories, three large
study halls, numerous classrooms, 500 sleeping rooms, recreation rooms, and
a separate convent for the nuns that lived at St Joseph’s and did all the
cooking and washing for the priests and seminarians there. There was also
a swimming pool, tennis courts, playing fields, and a gymnasium. The grounds
and facilities were well maintained. Esthetically, this was a very nice place
to be. The Archdiocese owned over 500 acres at this site, but we, as seminarians,
were only allowed on about 60 of those acres. There was a Maryknoll Seminary
about a half mile away, “Up the Hill”. There were 80 seminarians that lived
there and they attended class with us at St Joseph’s. St Joseph’s was one
of the major Catholic seminaries in the Country.
Periods of Silence
There were a number of periods of silence at the
seminary, which means no one spoke, no one. There was silence as you walked
between study hall and a class, silence as you walked from the chapel to
the refectory, and forty percent of the meals were eaten in silence. And
then, of course, there was the “Grand Silence, which is a period of silence
that starts with Night Prayers and goes on to breakfast the next morning.
All Catholic Institutions, convents, seminaries, etc have a Grand Silence.
When I say “silence”, I mean all you heard as you walked between chapel and
a meal, or between classes, was the shuffle of 950 feet. No one spoke, not
even the priests. If you broke a period of silence and you were caught, it
was a minor offence. Accumulate three minor offences and you would have a
big problem. Keep it up and you would be leaving St Joseph’s. As weird as
it sounds, I miss those periods of silence. Today, in this mass media or
mass whatever world we live in, there is usually some noise or someone speaking
in the background. Do you notice today in church or in a public hall, when
someone is speaking to the assembly, there is usually an undercurrent of
mumbling going on. I am told in classrooms today, many times, as the teacher
is speaking, there is a sub-conversation going on in the classroom also.
Not so at St Joseph’s, absolute silence. Crazy as it sounds, I miss that
silence. You have no idea how your mind can focus and really concentrate
in total silence, particularly when there are a lot of people around you
in that silence. This made a lot of sense if you really wanted to concentrate
on your studies in study hall or on prayer in chapel. Of course, there were
certain recreation periods and talk periods during the day; and believe it
or not, you made better use of conversation time when there are only certain
periods of the day when you could talk.
I have nothing but the fondest and best memories of my
two and a half years at the seminary. I grew up a lot there, learned a lot
and made some good friends. 107 boys or young men, take your choice, started
with my high school, freshman class at St Joseph’s in the Fall of 1957. Thirty
of them either left the seminary or were asked to leave by the end of the
first school year. As you read on, you will understand why.
NOW, ON WITH THE DAY
Time: 5:55 AM - The “wake up”
bell would ring. Why not 6:00 AM even, I do not know. The first thing
that would happen is someone would knock at your door and say a short prayer
in Latin, and you would answer “Deo Gratias” (Thanks be to God.), and then
you would turn on the light in your little room. There were no dormitories
at St Joseph’s. Every seminarian had a little, six foot by ten foot room,
which had an old 1920’s bed on one side of the room, a chair, a chest of
drawers opposite the bed, a small closet in the corner at the end of the
bed, and a sink with a mirror over it next to the door. The toilet was down
the hall, and you didn’t shower in the morning or at night there. You took
a shower after the athletic period in the late afternoon each day. The items
I described in your room was all that you had in your room, no more. Obviously,
the priests had larger rooms. There were about twenty-five of these small
rooms per corridor and one priest per corridor. No one shared a room. After
you got up, you shaved, washed up, got dressed and you got ready for another
6:10 AM The bell would ring for you
to leave your room and walk down to chapel for Morning Prayers and Mass.
Remember, all this takes place in silence because we are under the “Grand
Silence”. This is the way everything worked at the seminary. There was a
bell when you were supposed to leave some activity and there was a bell when
you were to be in your seat at the next activity. “ I am sorry that I am
late”, wasn’t something that you said around there.
6:15 AM Bell rings and you are to be in your pre-assigned
seat in chapel. Next follows five minutes of morning prayers and ten minutes
of Scripture reading.
6:30 AM The first Mass would begin. All Masses
in those days were said in Latin and we responded in Latin. Our prayer books
were in Latin. It was kind of weird. You went to a Mass and a half each morning.
The first Mass would begin at 6:30 AM and end at 7:00 because there was no
sermon in the Mass. When the first Mass ended at 7:00 AM each morning, we
would all remain in the chapel and another priest would come out on the main
altar and start a second Mass.
7:15 AM The bell would ring to go to breakfast.
We would all stand up after this bell rang and file out of the chapel and
walk to the refectory. What is strange about all of this is that we would
normally walk out of the second Mass right in the middle of the Consecration,
but “The bell was the bell”. You would walk in silence to your pre-assigned
seat in the refectory and stand by your chair. The priest presiding at the
meal would enter last and stand at the Priest’s Table which was on a raised
platform in the refectory. The priest would say the Grace for the meal in
Latin and you would answer “Amen”. When this was completed, you would sit
in your chair at the table. The Priest had one of those metal bells that
you ring with the palm of your hand that you find at hotel desks. If the
Priest rang the bell after he said Grace, you could speak at the meal. If
he did not ring the bell, this meal was a “silent meal” , which meant that
you didn’t speak and a lector would read to the group during the meal. Normally,
breakfast was a “talking” meal at St Joseph’s, and lunch and dinner were
about half “silent” and half “talking” meals.
The tables were rectangular
and we sat nine to a table. One guy at the head of the table and four on
each side. At St Joseph’s, the freshman were called “First High”, the sophomores
“Second High” and so on. The seminarian at the head of the table was called
the “Table Head”, and he had some say about what went on at the table. The
Table Head was always a guy in Fourth High. The two guys that sat next to
him were either in Fourth High or Third High. Next, came the Second High
guys, and then four First High guys at the bottom of the table, no surprise.
The College guys ate in a separate refectory. The food was served from a
common platter that would start at one end of the table and work its way
around the table in a “U” shape until it reached the other end of the table.
You had to make sure, as you took your food from a platter, that you left
enough for the others. The two First High guys at the bottom of the table
were called “Pilers” because they got to scrape off the dirty plates at the
end of the meal and stack them up along with the silverware, not the most
glamorous task The food at the seminary was prepared by an order of
nuns from French Canada, who you rarely saw; and who did not speak
English. I’ll tell you about the food later. One table a day was assigned
to serve the food. There were about 30 tables in the high school refectory.
7:35 AM (Approximate) When we were finished
eating, the priest would ring the bell with his hand and we would all stand
up, he would say a prayer in Latin, and then we would all file out of the
refectory. If this had been a silent meal, this was the first time you could
talk to your buddies since before Night Prayers the day before. Otherwise,
the first time you spoke each day was at breakfast. Next, we would all walk
upstairs to our rooms to make our beds, clean up our rooms, and get ready
for a day of learning. You didn’t keep any books in your room. All of your
school books were in your desk in study hall, which I will get into next.
We did not have lockers for our books at the seminary and theft was not a
7:55 AM Bell to walk to study hall. Now, an
interesting event takes place. As the 7;55 bell rang, an upper classman would
be locking the door of your room. None of us had the key to our rooms. Your
room would remain locked all day until after Night Prayers and then it would
be unlocked. Your room was for sleeping only. You didn’t lounge around in
your room during the day, or study in your room. Every minute of your “fun
filled” day was accounted for, as you will see, and you spent that time on
your feet or sitting down. Never lying down. Important Rule: You never entered
another seminarian’s room ever, no matter if that seminarian was present
or not. The penalty for breaking this rule, if caught, was immediate expulsion,
no exceptions. This was considered a “Major Offence”, and if convicted, you
went home. End of story. There were several other Major Offences which I
8:00 AM The bell would ring and you
were to be in your pre-assigned desk in study hall. Now, the school day begins.
Note, the school day begins with a study hall, and not a class, and that
is an important point to the Sulpician approach to education. There was a
half hour study hall before Latin class, which was always the first class
for everyone at St Joseph’s, and an hour long study hall before English class
and algebra class, and there was an hour long study hall before the two afternoon
classes, and an hour long study hall in the evening. You know, this short
study hall period before your first class in the morning was really a very
good idea, St Sulpice. Do you remember when you were in school and your first
class would start at 8:00 am. You usually wasted the first ten or fifteen
minutes of that class just waking up or acclimating yourself to being in
Well, that wasn’t the case at St Joseph’s. After a half hour of preparation
in your first study hall, you “hit the deck running” in Latin class, which
was the toughest class you had there.
8:28 AM Bell to walk to Latin class, and you walked in silence so you didn’t lose your focus.
8:30 AM The Bell rings and you are to be standing
next to your pre-assigned desk in Latin class. Priest enters the classroom,
kneels on a raised platform in the front of the classroom, says a prayer
in Latin, you answer “Amen” and sit down at your desk. I am sure you see
the trend here. Everything at the seminary began this way: You stand by your
chair, priest enters last, he says a prayer, you say “Amen”, you sit down
and you are ready to start whatever the function is. The whole day was like
that. Here was the protocol for the classroom, rather formal. When you were
asked a question, you stood up by your desk and answered in complete sentences
and in correct English. The word “yea” did not exist. It was “ Yes, Father
Smith” or “Father Jones”. The Priests were always addressed as “Father”.
You only spoke when you were spoken to and your replies were always
formal. There was no joking around. You were usually asked to conjugate a
verb or whatever and “I don’t know” was not an acceptable answer. Do you
know I can still conjugate those Latin verbs and remember those Latin nouns
forty two years later? Heck, I can’t remember things I did two weeks ago,
but some things I learned in the seminary have never left me. My first year
Latin Teacher was named Fr John Canfield. This guy was for real. Fr Canfield
was the Prefect of Discipline, notice the French influence in the title.
He was one tough guy and you did not get on the wrong side of him. But, do
you know what? He was one heck of a Latin teacher. He gave me a good solid
foundation in Latin in my first year in the seminary, but I had to do a lot
of studying to make that happen. We had nicknames for the priests, which,
of course, we never called them to their face. We called Fr Canfield “Cat”,
and I will explain that later.
9:20 AM The bell rings to end Latin class.
By the way, you did not get up and walk out of class when the bell rang,
as students do today, You left the classroom when the priest was finished
talking to the class. Next, follows a ten minute break where you could talk
to you buddies and use the restroom. Psychological studies have been
done, and it has been found that human beings need a ten minute break about
every two hours and they need to be able to speak in those break times. That
is pretty much how the talk break schedule ran at the seminary. I don’t think
that St Sulpice read those studies.
9:28 AM Bell rang to go to the study hall.
9:30 AM Bell rang to be at your desk
in the study hall. This was a fifty minute long study hall before English
class and Algebra class. When I was describing the prior study hall, I got
into how the first study hall primed you for the school day. Well, there
was something much more critical about the study halls at St Joseph’s. First
of all, the academic workload we were up against as fourteen year old boys
was substantial. I think some of the classes we were taking as freshman
in high school at the seminary would be similar to a junior college class
today. I mentioned awhile back that there was three and a half hours of study
hall time at St Joseph’s per day. Well, to some of you, that may seem like
a lot, but it was barely enough time for the study load that we had. The
other key thing was you had to make that study hall time count because the
rest of the time in your day was spoken for as you will see if you read this
whole document. There really wasn’t much other time to study except in study
hall. My first month or two at St Joseph’s, I wasn’t doing well in my studies
at all and I began to doubt if I was going to make it there. Well, after
my second chewing out from Fr Canfield, a light bulb finally went on in my
head. What I needed to do to succeed there was to use my study hall time
more effectively. It wasn’t that I was fooling around in study hall; they
wouldn’t tolerate that there anyway. But what I need to do was budget
my study hall time better and speed up the pace of what I was doing. By “budget
the study hall time”, I mean you can’t spend all of your time studying for
one thing and ignore the rest. An “A” in Latin is no good, if you have a
”D” in English. What I learned to do also is to separate the significant
from the insignificant and focus on what I needed to know for the next test.
I started to budget my study time and started to focus a lot more on what
I needed to know, and my grades started to improve markedly from there. After
that, I didn’t have any academic problems at St Joseph’s. I left the Seminary
after two and a half years and I attended a local public high school. There,
study hall was a joke. Study hall was a social hour or a place where you
did a little "general" studying. There was no focus, so it wasn’t very effective.
Just the opposite in the seminary. Study hall there was key to your survival
there and you better use the allotted study time well, or flunk out.
How many fourteen olds learn on their own to budget their study time and
to focus on key issues. You must admit that St Joseph’s was one heck of a
training ground in more ways than one. By the way, I have no animosity toward
Cat Canfield. That man got me off my duff and made me think about what I
needed to do to make it there. I remember one of Cat’s favorite expressions
when you would ask him a dumb question: “Why don’t you use your God-given
brains and figure it out!” Right on, Cat.
I better get back to the
9:30 study hall or we are going to get out of time sequence in this story,
which I don’t want to do. There were two study halls on the High School Side
with about 150 seminarians in each one of them. The college guys were allowed
to study in their rooms at certain times. Each study hall had a proctor who
was a priest that basically monitored the study hall to make sure that you
were studying and not fooling around. A Catholic Priest is required to read
his Brievery each day, which is a one hour long prayer in Latin in those
days. Usually, the proctor read his Brievery as he walked around the study
hall mumbling Latin.
10:20 AM Bell to end the second study
hall, finally. You walked in silence to English class so you didn’t lose
your focus from the study hall.
10:22 AM Bell rings and you are to be
standing next to your desk in English class. The protocol for this class
was the same as Latin class. One learned very quickly that if you wanted
to do well in Latin or Greek, you first must have a very good grasp of your
own language. The day I am describing is my First High year. We started
taking Greek in Third High. Most of the priests had an excellent grasp of
the English language. I remember after several months of sitting in class
and listing to these men, my vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure
just naturally improved. If you used “sloppy’ English in your
response in talking to a priest, you were corrected right there on the spot
as it should be. That is not the case in many classrooms today. One key thing
I remember doing in First High English is diagramming sentences. Remember
that? That became very key to me in not only understanding how an English
sentence is put together, but also how a Latin sentence is constructed. Once
I mastered that, Latin became a lot easier for me. My first year English
teacher’s name was Fr Russell. This guy was a big, stocky guy that looked
like a prize fighter. So, naturally, his nickname was “Rocky”, never to his
face. Rocky had a booming, baritone voice. I learned quickly that if I didn’t
want Rocky’s voice booming at me, I had better clean up my punctuation and
grammar act, which I did. Rocky was a newly ordained priest the first year
I was at St Joseph’s and he only stayed there one year. I learned a lot about
the English language from the man. Thanks, Rocky. Latin was always the first
class of the day at the seminary, and English was always the second. Latin
and English were considered your “major subjects” at St Joseph’s and I will
explain the significance of that later.
11:10 AM Bell rings to end English class. Next, you get a five minute talk break before algebra class.
11:15 AM Bell to be at your pre-assigned seat
in algebra class. We went through the same drill at the beginning and end
of class that I described before. You could do that drill in your sleep after
awhile. Even though the Sulpician were strong language guys, you were also
given a strong background in mathematics at the seminary. I think the basis
for that was to increase your reasoning and logic skills. Math is my strong
suit. I will never forget my first year algebra teacher --- Fr Joseph Riddlemoser.
His nickname was “Joe”. Joe Riddlemoser was already a legend at St Joseph’s
when I arrived there in 1957. He had started teaching at St Joseph’s in 1926,
two years after the place opened. He had been there thirty years when I got
there, and he reminded you of that every so often. Joe taught at the St Joseph’s
until 1970, when he retired, forty four years. Most priests ordained from
the Archdiocese of San Francisco between the years of 1935 to 1980 had Joe
Riddlemoser for a teacher somewhere along the line, amazing. Joe would have
fit the movie stereotype of a sergeant in the German Army in World War I.
He was a tall man, about 6’ 3”, and he had white hair. He spoke with a loud,
gruff voice and he had a weird habit. He had this small, narrow, cylindrical
glass jar that carried with him all of the time that had pieces of chalk
in it. He used to pound this small jar on the table as he explained an algebra
problem to you or as he was waiting for you to answer a question. He
had a rhythm to his loud pounding. Pounding or not, I learned a lot
about algebra from this man. Many seminarians were afraid to talk to Joe
because he was so loud and wild. I was having problems understanding algebra
at first, so I went to him and asked for some help and he was very happy
to help me. Joe had some rough edges, but once you got by those, there was
a big heart down in there and he would go out of his way to help you understand
12:05 PM Bell rings to end algebra class. Next follows a ten minute talk break followed by Noon Prayers.
12:13 PM Bell to go to Chapel for Noon Prayers.
We normally congregated on the front steps of the Chapel waiting for
this bell to ring.
12:15 PM Bell for you to be in your seat in
Chapel. Next, we would all say the Angelus out loud, and this would be followed
by ten minutes of Scripture reading. A note about the Chapel:
St Joseph’s had a large chapel that was something to see. The Chapel had
a marble altar and a marble floor. There was a large, full-wall mosaic on
the wall behind the altar. The walls and ceiling of the Chapel had intricate
wood paneling on them. There was also a large organ in this Chapel. This
was a first class Chapel, but what else would you expect in a major Catholic
seminary in the USA? We sat by class in the Chapel, so First High sat
in the front of the Chapel.
12:28 PM Bell to leave Chapel and walk to the refectory in silence.
12:30 PM Bell to be standing by your chair
in the refectory. Same drill as breakfast, say the Grace, sit down, an if
the priest presiding at the meal rang the bell with his hand, you could speak
at the meal. If not, you did not speak. I believe I mentioned the Priest’s
Table before in the refectory. About fifteen priests sat at a large table
in the refectory that was on a raised platform. One of the reasons for this
is so they could watch what was going on. The food: The food was not of good
quality and the quantity of food was just enough. I believe they were buying
surplus food, so you saw a lot of powdered eggs, breakfast cereal, lima beans,
macaroni type dishes, and ground meat. We rarely saw red meat. We never saw
a premium steak or chop. About the only thing we saw that looked like steak
was this weird looking piece of meat that I guess was a Swiss Steak, that
was tough as heck, and it looked like someone had pounded it to death. We
used to get those little individual boxes of breakfast cereal. I opened one
of those once and a couple of moths flew out. That box of cereal had probably
been donated by some food store in the area because it was too old. I better
not gripe about the food too much because as seminarians, we were only paying
fifty dollars per month in tuition at St Joseph’s in those days, which was
really nothing. The word was that the Archdiocese of San Francisco subsidized
St Joseph’s for our education and room and board at twice that amount of
money per seminarian per month. At breakfast, we usually had bacon or sausage
and eggs, and toast, and we even had coffee, which was surprising. We called
the coffee pot the “Can”. Lunch was the big meal of the day, in the
European style. Lunch always started with soup. You can see the French influence
there. Lunch could be anything from a casserole to a piece of meat and some
potatoes and vegetables, etc. We even got dessert, which we called “mystery”
because it was kind of strange. Dinner was also a hot meal and it could be
any variety of things, We never ate sandwiches or any of that type of thing.
I mentioned an order of French Canadian nuns that did all the cooking and
laundry for St Joseph’s. I would like to say something complimentary about
these nuns. They would take the marginal to poor food they were given to
work with, and they did the best they could with it. They would sautee some
onions in with the lima beans, put some flavoring in some dry meat, try to
jazz up the powdered eggs, make some pizza once in awhile, and
I am forever thankful to them for that. They did the best they could with
what they were given to work with and the Lord can’t ask for any more than
that, and neither can we. You normally never saw these nuns in the course
of the day. These nuns lived in a community of their own at the rear of the
seminary ,and obviously we were never allowed on those grounds. The only
time that you maybe saw these nuns was when you were a waiter in the refectory
about once a month. As a waiter, you would walk through these big double
doors into this large kitchen and your job was to push these large
carts that the nuns had loaded up with food out into the refectory and serve
the platters of food to the tables. And, of course, you brought in all the
dirty dishes when the meal was completed. I remember watching the nuns work
in that kitchen once and I was a little taken back by what I saw. These women
had their heavy Habit on and they had an apron over that habit. It must have
85 to 90 degrees in that kitchen whenever they were preparing food and these
women were cooking, washing, and slaving away in there. I would die from
the heat in that clothing. There was no air conditioning anywhere at the
seminary. When they weren’t working in the kitchen during the day, they were
downstairs washing our clothes and sheets, etc. Can you imagine the devotion
they had to God and to their Order to work like that each day and ask nothing
really in return. God bless them wherever they are now. If it were possible,
I would like to buy each and everyone of them a seven course meal in a fancy
French restaurant somewhere. That is the least I owe them. They really had
no life except their work at St Joseph’s. Let’s see if you could find anyone
to submit themselves to a life like that today. Good luck!
The priests not only ate
at a separate table from the seminarians, they also had a separate menu,
which is understandable. They got the steaks and the chops and the crab salads.
When you were a waiter, one of the perks that you received was that you got
to eat the leftovers from the priest’s table and their food was quite good.
You looked forward to the day you were a waiter. One last thing on the food:
The only food you saw in the seminary was in the refectory at meal time.
There was no candy bar machine, no Coke machine, and no snacks of any kind.
Food was not permitted on the grounds or in your room. The only little bit
of extra food that you might have was some food that maybe your parents brought
you on the once- a- month Visiting Sunday, but that didn’t last long. This
brings up an interesting point about parents that claim their children can
not eat a particular food. I’ll never forget the first couple of weeks that
I was at St Joseph’s. I was sitting across the dining table from two rather
well-heeled, and well-fed San Francisco guys, who would look at the powdered
eggs at breakfast, or at the lima beans at dinner time, and say “I will never
eat that.” It was really funny four or five days later to watch those two
guys gobbling down the lima beans and powdered eggs, once they figured out
that there was literally nothing else to eat at the seminary except what
you were served in the refectory. We just couldn’t grab a hamburger or a
hot dog when we were hungry. We were never allowed off the seminary grounds
except on a once a month walk into town for a couple of hours and you had
to be accompanied by a priest on this walk. It is amazing what you will eat
when you really get hungry, as those two round-faced guys found out that
sat across from me in the refectory. Many American parents could take a lesson
from this point. The reason that their children claim that they can’t eat
a certain food, is that they are allowed to eat snacks instead that food,
and the parents permit it. The rest of the world doesn’t. The word “snack”
did not exist at the seminary, and the prevailing attitude was “Eat up or
shut up”. Whiners were not very popular around there. I think that is enough
on the food. Back to school.
1:00 PM (Approximate) Priest rings the
bell to end the noon meal, we all say a prayer out loud in Latin, and then
we file out of the refectory. Have you noticed something about arriving at
and leaving functions at the seminary? You didn’t leave a given activity
or arrive there when you were ready to. Everyone arrived at and left a given
function at the same time. Now follows one of the nicer times of the day.
We were given a half hour break before the next study hall. We had been going
at it since before six in the morning, so a little rest and relaxation was
in order. I used to take long walks with my buddies on those beautiful seminary
grounds, and walk off the noon meal and get ready for the rest of the day.
This was one of the longer talk periods that we had in the day. I have a
lot of fond memories of talking and joking around with my buddies, Larry
Guildsdorf, Jim Nice, Dan McHugh, to mention a few. They had mail call at
this time. One of the Seminarians in your class would hand out the mail to
your class. Do you know that we were only allowed to write to family members,
and your mail was censored in and out. I don’t think they could do that today,
but this was a different time. No writing to old girl friends; and definitely,
no “Telling tales out of school.” Literally.
1:25 PM Bell to walk to study hall.
1:30 PM Bell for you to be at your desk
in study hall. I will pick up the pace of this day so you don’t fall asleep.
The afternoon study hall was pretty much focused on history class and religion
class, which were your next two classes.
2:28 PM Bell to walk in silence to history class. Don’t forget that focus.
2:30 PM Bell to be at your seat in history
class. Same drill as before. In First High, you were given a good background
in ancient history, particularly Greek, Roman, and Medieval times. With the
heavy emphasis on Latin at the seminary, the Roman history became very meaningful.
My First High history teacher was Fr Strain. We called him “Sarge”. The reason
for that was he would walk into the classroom, and the first thing he said
everyday after the prayer was “Okay, you guys…….” Sarge was a very
good history teacher. He really got you interested in the time period that
you were studying. Most history teachers I have had since him were boring.
Fr Strain used to talk about “culture” a lot, and at first, I didn’t know
what he was talking about, but after awhile, I began to develop an appreciation
for culture. Fr Strain was a nice guy, but he had a bit of a temper, so don’t
cross him. This history class in First High brings back a memory of something
that happened to me several years later that had a real impact on me. Several
years after this time, when I was in the middle of my college years, I was
travelling through Europe with a friend of mine. We had stopped on our motorcycle
at a little fountain by the roadside about fifty miles north of Rome. This
was an ancient fountain with a Latin inscription on it. I read the Latin
inscription and understood it. It was something about the Emperor Augustus.
As I read those ancient words that day, a chill went through me. This was
the first time it really came home to me that Roman Legions had marched by
this spot on the same road that I was standing on, and that all those things
in the history books were true. Thanks Sarge for the cultural background.
3:20 PM Bell rings to end history class.
Next follows a ten minute talk break, right in line with that two hour pattern
I was speaking about before. There is a certain rhythm to this day if you
get into it.
3:28 PM Bell rings to go to religion
class. By the way, all of these classes for me take place in the same classroom.
I was in Division “B” in First High . There was a Division A, B, and C,
and each Division had it’s own classroom, and there were about thirty- five
guys in each Division or classroom.
3:30 PM Bell to be at your place in
religion class. Yes, we had religion class in the seminary and it was an
important class. My teacher was Fr Michael Sheen, no relation to Bishop Fulton
Sheen. We called him “Mike”. Mike taught religion from a book called
“The Way, The Truth, and The Life”, and Mike would get rather spirited
in some of his discussions about the Faith. He was a good old guy.
4:15 PM Bell rings to end religion class.
Now comes the fun part of the day, the athletic period. Before I describe
that to you, let me recap the school day. We have been going to school since
eight in the morning with an hour break for lunch. The school day at the
seminary was made up of five hours of class time, and three and a half hours
of study hall time if you count in the evening study hall. I don’t know of
a high school that has that kind of a study load. That is similar to a junior
college or college study load.
Now on to the
playing field….. The sports at the seminary were very well organized and
a whole lot of fun. It was our time to let off some steam and we did. First
of all, the sports there were all intramural. We did not play any outside
schools because we were not allowed off the seminary grounds. That made that
part simple. You were expected to participate in the sports in the seminary
and pretty much everybody did. The upper classmen were the referees in the
games. There were four teams on the High School Side: The Bears, Trojans,
Indians, and the Ramblers. I don’t know where they got that one from. I was
a Rambler. Within each team, there were four divisions: Peanuts, Frosh, Juniors,
and Seniors, which represented the four years of high school. There
were less people in the upper classes of high school, for obvious reasons,
so they had to balance out the teams a bit. All of the Peanut Teams were
made up of First High guys, and then the bigger guys in First High were put
on the Frosh teams, and the bigger Second High guys were put on the Juniors,
etc. I played on the Rambler peanuts in my first year. We would play softball
when we came back to school in the Fall. This was followed by soccer, which
was followed by basketball after the Christmas break, and then baseball in
the springtime. Football was outlawed a number of years before I went to
St Joseph’s. The crazy guys were playing tackle football without any equipment
at all, and somebody broke their neck or back, and that was the end of football
at St Joseph’s. We were allowed to play touch football on our own, pickup
games. To replace football, the Sulpicians introduced soccer . No one in
the USA played soccer back in the 1950’s. We did. At first, the seminarians
didn’t like soccer, but by the time I got to St Joseph’s, soccer had caught
on and everyone was playing it. We used to wait for it to rain and then play
soccer. We used to slosh it out and slug it out in the mud, and we had a
ball. You played hard and hit hard, but there were no fights or anything,
just good old fashion fun. To play soccer, you have to run hard and kick
hard. I can do that and not too much coordination is required, so I did well
in soccer. I made the High School All Star Team in my second year there.
The big game for us was to play the All Star Team on the College Side. That
was the Big Game and we talked about it for weeks. It was a hard hitting
game and a lot of fun. The college guys had their own teams.
We were a ragged looking
bunch when we played sports, but who cared? No one saw us. You basically
wore gym shorts and a shirt. The Ramblers wore green, the Bears blue, Trojans
red, and the Indians yellow. Our uniforms looked like they had been donated
from the local Catholic high schools in the area. It was the stuff they didn’t
want. I had an old green jersey with a hole in it that said “Bishop O’Dowd
High School (Oakland) on it. The nuns refused to wash our sports clothes.
They were gross. I don’t blame those ladies. If you wanted to wash your one
gym suit, you simply wore it in the shower and washed it off. Life was simple
in those days. One last thing about the sports at the seminary. Remember,
we are just fourteen boys at this time, and we had to “run our oats off”
just like any other boys or girls our age.
5:40 PM Bell rings for you to leave
the playing field and hit the showers. You better step lively, you didn’t
have much time. You were assigned a locker for you gym clothes and there
was an area to change your clothes and shower, a large gang shower. Once
you were back in your regular clothes, you would walk up to the courtyard
in preparation for dinner.
5:58 PM Bell rings for you to be in
the courtyard. You say the Angelus to yourself and then you walk to the refectory
in silence. Notice, every time you entered the refectory, it was in silence.
6:00 PM Bell to be standing by your
chair in the refectory. Same drill as before. If the priest rang the bell
after the Grace, you could talk at the meal. If not, you didn’t. Dinner was
kind of uneventful. I won’t bore you about the food again. I mentioned before
that there was reading at about forty percent of the meals at the seminary.
It wasn’t Scripture reading. What happened was a lector, who was in Third
or Fourth High, would read us a book as we ate. It was their practice for
the pulpit one day. In 1958, we were read a book about the first submarine
to sail under the polar ice cap to the North Pole. It was a US nuclear submarine
called the Nautilus, which was the first nuclear submarine. It would take
months to read a book aloud, but you had lots of time in the seminary. Where
were we going to go? You can bet I liked the details of the first nuclear
submarine. We were also read a book about a minor league baseball player
back in the 1930’s. I liked that one too. I thought it was interesting. The
upper classman used to have whatever book we were being read in the refectory
at the time so they could practice their reading. We lower classman used
to get a hold of the book once in awhile to try to figure out what was coming
next in the story. You must remember we were not allowed any radios or to
see any TV, so we had to entertain ourselves somehow. One time when I was
looking at one of these books, I noticed that some of the parts of the book
had been lined out. Certain parts of the story were edited out because they
were deemed “inappropriate” by the ruling priest, and we weren’t read that
part of the book. I got a hold of the book about the baseball player once,
and I read a bit of it; and there was apart in there about this guy going
out on a date with a girl. Pretty tame stuff. That part of the story was
lined out in the book. It was not read in the refectory. You didn’t hear
the words “woman” or “girls” at the seminary. They existed in another sphere
somewhere, not at St Joseph’s.
I mentioned before that the
priests sat at a separate table in the refectory that was rather nice. Actually,
there were two priest’s tables, one in the High School Refectory and one
in the College Refectory. There were Third and Fourth High guys in the College
Refectory also because there were so many more high school students at St
6:30PM Priest rings the bell with his hand
to end dinner. We all stand up and say a prayer and file out of the refectory
just like before. What follows next is another half hour break time before
we wrap up the day. We had a little game we used to play at this time. There
was a large courtyard surrounded by four story buildings that formed the
center of St Joseph’s. The roof of these buildings was a good sixty feet
high. Several of us would get together and one guy would throw a tennis
ball from the courtyard over the top of the roof, and another guy would catch
the ball, or try to, on the outside part of the building. Many times, the
ball didn’t even get over the top of the roof because of the height of the
buildings. One evening we were doing this, and some seventy-five year old
priest suddenly comes walking out of a door and he got hit on the top of
the head by a fast moving tennis ball. Lucky, it wasn’t a hard ball. Besides
being a little startled, that priest was also a little unhappy about that
event. You never saw ten guys scatter so fast.
I remember something
else we used to do at this time. During Lent, a lot of us used to go
down to the Grotto, which was a nice, wooded area by the creek at St Joseph’s,
and we would say the Stations of the Cross each evening during this time
6:55 PM Bell would ring for you to walk to chapel for the Rosary.
7:00 PM Bell would ring for you to be
in your assigned seat in chapel. At this time, we would say the Rosary out
loud and in English. The Rosary was led by a different college guy each evening.
I remember as a kid kneeling on the carpet in the living room of our house
and saying the Rosary with Bishop Fulton Sheen on the radio. It was on at
seven o’clock each evening, the same time as the Rosary at St Joseph’s. My
Mom and Dad were there with their seven kids. Does anybody do that today?
I doubt it.
7:15 PM Bell rings to leave the chapel and
walk to study hall in silence. Notice every time we leave chapel, it is in
silence. Reason: Meditation.
7:17 PM Bell rings for you to be at
you desk in study hall. The evening study hall did not start until 7:30,
so what happens next is that we are read something called “The Rule” for
the next thirteen minutes. The priest presiding over the study hall would
read us The Rule. The Rule was a book of all the rules and regulations that
governed St Joseph’s. We actually were never given a copy of this book, but
we were read a section of this book each evening, seven days a week. There
were many rules in this book. It talked about the major infractions which
basically would get you thrown out of the seminary, and there were a number
lesser rules. There were a whole lot of rules, a book full. The priest would
read from The Rule each evening, and when the 7:30 study hall bell
would ring, he would stop reading, and then pick up where he left off the
next evening. The priest would do more than just read from the book; he would
make side explanations and explain things with examples. There was no joking
around at all in the priest’s voice. They were dead serious, and if you ever
were thrown out of St Joseph’s one day, which a number guys were, they wanted
it to be crystal clear to you about why that happened. “Make no mistake about
it……” was one of the lead-in lines when they were reading The Rule. It would
take about three months to read The Rule cover to cover. Then guess what
happened then? They would start reading The Rule to you all over again. We
used to try to estimate after awhile, the exact day they would finish reading
The Rule and start the book all over again. Amazing!!
I have already told
you about several of the major rules there. Here are a few more. You could
not have a radio. That was a major offence. We could not watch TV, but there
were no TV”s in the place except in the priest’s rooms so that made that
easy. I have been a Forty Niner fan since I was a little kid. I didn’t watch
a whole lot of TV as a kid, but one thing I did watch was football games
on Sunday afternoons. That was the one thing I really missed at the
seminary. There was one priest there named Fr John O’neil and he was a Niner
fan also. He had a TV in his room and he used to watch the football games
on Sunday afternoons. I remember hanging around outside the door of his room
about half time in the game hoping that he would come out so I could ask
him the score. I would also try to catch him about four o’clock as he was
going to Vespers to ask him the score. We were never allowed to watch a ball
game on TV or even listen to a game.
Next rule: No newspapers, magazines, or books from the
outside. You were given all of the books you needed to read at the seminary.
If you wanted to bring a book from the outside, you needed to get a stamp
on that book and there needed to be a priest’s signature on that stamp to
make it valid. This was referred to as an “Approved Book”. Unapproved books
were a no-no. The priest presiding over breakfast used to read the SF Chronicle
sometimes, and we used to go up to the Priest’s Table after breakfast to
see if he left the newspaper there. That was our one contact with the outside
world plus seeing our parents once a month on Visiting Sunday.. I remember
when the Russian Sputnik went up in October of 1957, we didn’t hear about
it until about a week later at St Joseph’s.
I mentioned that we could
go into town once a month on our day off. To do that, you had to get a sign
up list of 20 -25 five guys in your class who wanted to go on the walk, and
you had to find a priest who was willing to accompany your group on that
walk. We just couldn’t go into town on our own. We used to walk into Los
Altos Corners and to the El Rancho Shopping Center, and we would buy tooth
paste, shaving cream, soap, paper, pens and pencils, etc. None of these items
were available at the seminary. There was a book store at St Joseph’s, but
it wasn’t open very often. The highlight of our little walk into town was
to buy a hamburger or a milk shake at a little burger stand they had there.
We used to form a long line to get our milk shakes, and those people were
sure glad to see us when we came to town. You had to stay with the group
on these walks. You couldn’t wander off. Definitely, no buying magazines
or newspapers or food to bring back. Our little walk would last about two
to two and a half hours including walking time. One last rule. No talking
or fooling around outside your room after Lights Out. You were to be in your
room and in bed.
7:30 PM Bell rings to end the reading
of the Rule and study hall starts. You normally studied for Latin and English
in this study hall. If you had a big Latin test the next day, that is what
you spent your time on. If you had an English composition due the next day,
that is what you attended to. Better use this study time well, because there
will be no lights on after Lights Out. ( We are almost there.) Do you
know in the second year I was at St Joseph’s, we had to write a 500 word,
coherent, and grammatically correct composition every two days.
8:30 PM Bell rings to end study hall.
Next follows a talk break where we would gather by the chapel steps for Night
8:38 PM Bell for you to walk into the chapel for Night Prayers. The Grand Silence starts now.
8:40 PM Bell rings for you to be in your seat in chapel.
8:55 PM Bell rings to end Night Prayers.
You had ten minutes to walk in silence to your room, use the rest room if
needed, take off your clothes, shut off the light in your room, and get in
9:05 PM The Lights Out Bell would ring
and it meant just that. You could not be out of your room after Lights Out-
Period. No wandering around the hallways and talking, or joking around, no
way. The only exception was you could leave your room if you needed to use
the restroom. Well, we made it. We got through the day. When my head hit
that old pillow at night, I was usually asleep in a couple of minutes. I
am the kind of guy that needs eight, good hours of sleep a night. I am not
a night owl. I never remember lying awake in my bed at night at the seminary.
I slept right through the night and woke up with the morning bell. After
that day, you needed a good night’s sleep.
I mentioned before
about not leaving your room at night and fooling around. I left St Joseph'’
in the middle of my Third High year. The following Spring, four members of
my Third High class were caught down on the playing field after Lights Out.
They had a portable radio and they wanted in the worst way to listen to a
key Ohio State basketball game on the radio. It was a playoff game. For this
double infraction of the seminary rules, the four of them were thrown out
of St Joseph’s and they were class leaders. The two infractions were: caught
with a radio and caught outside your room at night. When a seminarian left
St Joseph’s for grades or infraction of the rules, the seminary office would
call his parents, he would pack up the contents of his room , and put them
down by the front door of the building, and wait for his parents there. Once
it was known that you were leaving, you were not allowed to circulate around
and say good bye to your friends.
What I have just
finished describing to you was a school day at St Joseph’s, obviously. We
did not have Saturday and Sunday off the way a regular school does. We went
to school on Saturday and had Thursday off each week. At first that seemed
odd to me, but actually, it made a lot of sense for there. When you are confined
to a given place, as we were, and have no contact with the outside world,
two days off in a row isn’t very beneficial to you because by the second
day you would be bored and looking for something to do. That break in the
middle of the week was excellent. If you were a little behind in your studies
by mid week, you could catch up a bit on Thursday. A lot of our athletic
games were scheduled on Thursdays and Sundays, in addition to the hour and
a half after school each day. That little once-a-month walk into town took
place on Thursday afternoons also. So, St Sulpice knew what he was doing.
Of course, these “days off” were not totally days off. There was a
one hour study hall on Thursday morning and another one on Thursday afternoon,
and one on Sunday afternoon. There were also study halls on Thursday and
Sunday evenings. We couldn’t miss a day without the reading of
The Rule. Sunday mornings were reserved for religious ceremonies as you could
imagine. Besides going to the “Mass and a Half” that we went to each morning,
including Sunday morning, we also attended an hour and a half High Mass at
8:00AM on Sunday mornings. This High Mass on Sundays basically replaced the
study hall that was held each day at 8:00 AM. This High Mass was really something.
It was sung in Latin and in Gregorian Chant. It was very beautiful and moving.
I don’t know where else you might find 450 men singing Gregorian Chant in
Latin except in a Catholic seminary. This Mass and all other events at the
seminary were closed to outsiders and the public. At all ceremonies and events
at St Joseph’s, the only people you saw there was your fellow seminarians,
the priests assigned to St Joseph’s, and once in awhile, a visiting priest.
The rest of Sunday and Thursday, that wasn’t spent in Chapel and study hall,
was spent on organized sports and some “free” time to do some reading and
just relax. Again, we were never allowed in our bedrooms on our days off.
The rest of the daily schedule on Sundays and Thursdays was the same as a
school day without the classes.
The priests had
kind of a strange punishment for breaking the minor rules around there, such
as horsing around or talking when you weren’t supposed to. What would happen
to you for such an offence, is you would be told to write 100 lines out of
the dictionary. That sounds simple enough, but it is not. Try writing lines
out of a dictionary precisely as they appear in that dictionary. You
would be amazed at the amount of punctuation, small abbreviations, brackets
of all kinds and italicized words, which you had to underline. Trust me.
You don’t want to spend an hour and a half writing 100 lines out of any dictionary.
Awhile back, I said
that I would tell you how Fr Canfield got the name “Cat”. Every priest had
a nickname there. Cat Canfield was the Prefect of Discipline at the seminary,
which was a pretty important job back then. Well, Cat was suited to this
job, maybe too well suited. The poor man had insomnia and he only slept two
or three hours a night. So he was a natural for catching guys joking around
in the hallways after Lights Out. He wore these shoes that had some special
soles on them and you couldn’t hear him when he walked up behind you. Hence
the name “Cat”. This man had an incredible ability to appear out of nowhere
when something was going on. There would be a bunch of guys somewhere on
the grounds during a break time just laughing it up and having fun, not breaking
the rules, and suddenly Cat would appear out nowhere, and he would disappear
just as fast if nothing was wrong. You never knew where this guy would surface
and he knew every square inch of that place. You couldn’t hide from him,
and he was very effective in his job. He was there for only the first
year I was at St Joseph’s and then he left. He had been there for quite while.
He was replaced in my second year by Fr Gregoir, who became the Prefect of
Discipline. He was a nice guy and he was good at what he did, but he was
not as on top of things as Cat was. No one could do that. When I first got
to St Joseph’s, I used to hear the upper classmen say “Don’t let the Cat
get you!” Very quickly, I learned what that meant.
was a little formal at St Joseph’s. You never wore Levis or cotton wash pants.
A Levi was a Jewish Rabbi to us. You wore slacks that had to be dry
cleaned and pressed. You wore a dress shirt and a tie at all times, except
on the playing field. You were required to wear a sport coat, jacket(nice
one), or a sweater at all times. No wild colors. The Prefect of Discipline
was the ruling body on that. On hot days, you were allowed to remove your
coat or sweater in the classroom or study hall, but never in Chapel or the
refectory. I remember being a little warm with my coat on, on September
and May afternoons. No tennis shoes. Those were for the playing field. You
were required to wear leather shoes. If you didn’t have a coat or jacket
on, you were sent to get one. On Sundays, you were required to wear a black
or very dark color suit all day. They were getting us ready for our new wardrobe
someday. We used to make a joke and say that St Joseph’s on Sundays looked
like an “Undertaker’s Convention”. It did. I remember my folks bought my
black suit at the Sears Store that was on Geary Street at the top of the
hill in San Francisco. That suit cost $39.95 in those days. On Sundays, you
had to wear a black cassock and a white surplice to High Mass and to Vespers
which was at 4:00 PM in the afternoon. We were not allowed back in our room
during the day to get these items. We had to hang these items outside the
door of our room in the morning so they would be available during the day
when we needed them. We wore the cassock and surplice to other special occasions
there also. On the playing field, we wore anything.
at the seminary was unique. For a given class, you were given a numeric grade
for your academic progress, and a letter grade for your level of effort in
that class. So in Latin, you could receive an 89, B+. 89 was a ”B”
in the class(85 to 92=B), and the “B+” was for how hard you were applying
yourself in that class. You better not get not below a “B” in effort in a
class or you had a real problem. The worst thing to get was a 92,C. Why weren’t
you trying harder and getting a 100? You rarely saw a “A” for effort in a
class. That would send the message to you that you couldn’t try any harder
in that class. St Sulpice didn’t believe in that. They graded hard as you
could imagine, and your competition was tough. Your fellow classmates were
smart or they wouldn’t be there. No grade-flation as we have today.
You had to work for what you got. Your effort grade(Letter) was equally as
important as your academic grade. If you weren’t trying hard at something,
why weren’t you. No excuses. We were graded in Conduct and a ”C” in Conduct
was unacceptable. It meant that you had an attitude problem and that you
would be leaving shortly. Several members of my class were asked to leave
St Joseph’s because of a “C” in conduct. I mentioned before that Latin and
English were your Major Subjects. What that basically meant was if you flunked
one of those subjects for one semester, you went home. There was no such
thing as probation. Your other subjects were your Minor Subjects, and if
you flunked two of those in a given semester, you went home. Things were
really quite simple there. You knew where you stood. Below 75 was an “F”
or failing and “D’s” were very unpopular and short-lived. Grades were the
reason that half the people left. Actually, St Joseph’s was one of the tougher
seminaries around academically. So there were easier places to go to a Catholic
seminary, and some people left St Joseph’s to seek those places out.
There were a couple
of other “unwritten rules”. You didn’t talk much about your home or
your family at the seminary. The reason being is that it would get the guys
thinking of home, which could be demoralizing at times. You didn’t celebrate
your birthday there and actually, it was not a good idea to talk about the
past too much. What was important to you was what lay ahead of you;
and when you started St Joseph’s in First High, you had a twelve year ordeal
ahead of you before you would be ordained a priest.
You know, to wrap this
thing up, I think I will tell you why I went to the seminary and why I left
there. I really haven’t shared this with a lot of people. A little background:
I went to a Catholic grade school up through the seventh grade when we lived
in Van Nuys, which is a suburb of Los Angeles. My family moved to Santa Rosa,
Calif. right before I started the eighth grade. I went to a junior high for
the eighth grade because the local Catholic school only went up to the sixth
grade. So, I was coming out of a public junior high to St Joseph’s, which
wasn’t that common. When I was in the eighth grade, I got thinking about
the priesthood a bit and I thought that I might fit into that life. I wasn’t
totally sure, but I sure wanted to try it. If some fourteen old tells you
for dead sure that he is knows he wants to be ordained a priest twelve years
later when he is twenty-six years old, he is either very naive or very presumptuous.
If a young man feels that he wants to be a priest, he goes to a seminary,
which is the big proving ground in the sky for priests, which I think you
would agree with after reading this story. The seminary is where you really
find out if you are suited to the priesthood and vice versa.
As strenuous and rigorous
as the daily routine at St Joseph’s was, if you really wanted to be a priest
someday, the demands of the average day didn’t bother you. It was all part
of the deal. The first two years I was at the seminary, I loved it. I loved
the Latin, English, and the Algebra; I was learning a lot, I liked my classmates,
so the grind of the average day didn’t bother me because I was really into
the “Program”. I got good grades, got into no trouble because I simply followed
the rules, I liked the sports, and I even got along with all of my teachers,
which wasn’t that easy in some instances. Well, when I returned from summer
vacation and was starting Third High, all of a sudden, some subtle questions
started to came through my mind about the seminary and the priesthood and
whether I fit into all of that. At first, I thought that this was just a
phase I was going through and that this period of doubt would pass. It didn’t.
I did not want to make a rash decision at that point and leave the seminary,
so I decided to wait a couple months and see if things improved. They didn’t.
Those questions intensified in my mind. I didn’t slack off on my school work
or give any outward indication that I was thinking of leaving, but inside
me, the daily grind was beginning to take its toll. I am not the kind of
guy that could “fake it “ at the seminary. I am either totally committed
to something or not at all. Maybe I am too basic. I talked to my Confessor,
Fr Conner, extensively during this time period. He was very helpful and comforting,
but after he tried to talk me into staying there several times, he basically
said the decision was mine, which it was. Old “Doc” Conner was a good listener.
God bless you, Doc, wherever you are now. Anyway, two weeks before Christmas,
I knew it was all over. The day after Christmas, I told my parents that I
was going to leave St Joseph’s. That was a pretty traumatic episode. A couple
days later, my Father drove me down to the seminary during the Christmas
Break to pick up my personal belongings. I went to see the Rector, Fr Campbell,
who was there. I told him of my decision, and he seemed surprised that I
was leaving. He talked to me a bit, but when he realized I was firm in my
decision, he asked me to write a letter of resignation which I did. Then
Fr Campbell shook my hand and wished me well in whatever I did. As you could
imagine, I was pretty choked up at this point in time. That was a long ride
home to Santa Rosa that day. I called up my best friend, Jim Nice, who lived
in San Mateo, and told him I would not be returning after the Christmas Break.
We said our good byes over the phone, and that conversation was punctuated
with some tears. This takes place in December of 1959.
Later, I heard from
some of my friends that, when class resumed after the Christmas Break, my
classmates were surprised that I left the seminary. I really didn’t give
any outward indication or any hints that I was going to leave. I kept it
all inside myself which might have been a mistake. The reason I did that
is one thing I really didn’t like around there was there were a few whiners
that would complain about the place and then finally leave one day. That
was very demoralizing and I didn’t want to do that to my friends, and I got
along with almost everybody in my class. You could tell sometimes when a
seminarian was having second thoughts. His school work would start to fall
off, he would start being late to things, and then one day he would be gone.
After I left St Joseph’s,
things went on there pretty much the same there as they had been. There were
large First High classes entering each year of over one hundred seminarians
and the rules remained the same as when I was there. At this time,
the Archdiocese of San Francisco was ordaining about fifteen priests a year
from St Patrick’s, for every one hundred seminarians that were entering St
Joseph’s each year. That was not a bad ratio. Things were about to change
as we all know. About 1967-68 enrollments started to decline at St Joseph’s.
At this time, they built a new gymnasium there which was sorely needed, and
they improved the athletic programs. They also eased up on the rules a bit
and started to let the seminarians go home on some weekends, and eased
up on some of the more stringent rules there. That was a step in the right
direction, but the enrollment at St Joseph’s continued to decline. By 1970-71,
enrollments were declining at an alarming rate. There was even talk of closing
the high school part of the seminary, which would have been heresy back in
the 1950’s. Enrollments continued to decline and in 1974, the high school
part of St Joseph’s was discontinued. St Joseph’s became a four year college
seminary, with four more years over at St Patrick’s to complete your training
for the priesthood. St Joseph’s continued on for fifteen more years until
it was destroyed in the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. Enrollments during
this period remained very low there, about forty seminarians. After the buildings
were destroyed by the earthquake, St Joseph’s moved to a building next Santa
Clara University where it operated for a year; and then, in the following
year, St Joseph’s College was combined with St Patrick’s to form one eight
year seminary, which is how it is today. The venerable old St Joseph’s ceased
to exist. That was a sad day for all of us that remember it..
After I graduated from
college, I was married and settled down in San Jose, California, so I have
lived and worked in this area most of my life. Many times since I left St
Joseph’s, I have gone back there and visited the place. On a nice spring
day, I loved to just walk on those beautiful grounds and stroll through those
large buildings. I have no bad memories from my seminary days, and it always
made me feel good to just walk on those grounds and be there. Many fond memories
would come back to me. Once and a while on these little visits, I would run
into an old priest that I knew from the old days. One day in the early 1970’s,
I ran into Joe Riddlemoser and I said hello to him. He didn’t remember me
from the old days, but he took me to his office on the third floor of the
tower, and he looked up my name in one of his grade books. He found my name
and grades in his 1957-58 First High Algebra grade book. He still had the
thing. I couldn’t believe it. In the early 1980’s, Don Carroll, who was a
Rhet (second year college) , when I was in First High, organized, with some
other ex-seminarians, a St Joseph’s Alumni Association. They started to have
a once a year reunion there for everyone that had attended St Joseph’s ever.
I loved those and never missed one. Actually, this was a new concept, because
there wasn’t any formal alumni connection at St Joseph’s prior to this except
visiting priests who had attended there.
The Lome Prieta quake
of October 1989 mortally wounded the old building at St Joseph’s and seriously
damaged the newer building there. That huge tower fell down in the courtyard
killing a workman who was up in the tower at the time. Strangely enough,
this was the only person killed by his large scale earthquake in Santa Clara
County. No seminarians or priests were injured by this earthquake. There
were only about forty seminarians at St Joseph’s at the time, many of them
foreign born. St Joseph’s had to be abandoned right away. It was definitely
unsafe. The old building looked like it could collapse without too much trouble.
They first thing that they did was put up a ten foot high chain link fence
to keep people out of there, and they posted a guard in a pick up truck who
would drive around the facility twenty four hours a day to keep people out
of there. I figured that they were going to tear St Joseph’s down one day
and I wanted to get in there to see it one last time. About six months after
the earthquake, I went to St Joseph’s and I was at the rear of the building.
I waited for the guard to drive by in his pick up truck, and then I scaled
the fence. I somehow ended up in that old boiler room that was underneath
the kitchen, which was between the refectory and the convent in the back.
I did this because the normal entrances to the courtyard had been boarded
up. From the old days, I remembered that there was a stairway that led from
the boiler room to the courtyard. I went up that and got out into the courtyard
and I was sickened by the damage I saw. The tower had come down in the courtyard
and it was totally destroyed. The older building, which was the major part
of the seminary, took the brunt of the damage. There were large cracks in
everything. Some of the walls between the classrooms were leaning over a
bit. I went up to the second floor, and the floor in the hallway would drop
down about a foot for about twenty feet and then it would rise up again.
There was broken glass everywhere, and some of the doors were stuck shut
because the weight of the building was resting on them. I definitely should
not have been in there, but I very much wanted to see the old place one last
time. I went over to the Chapel which was in the new building, and it was
damaged but not as severely as the old building. I sat in the Chapel by myself
for awhile and good feelings and memories came back to me as they always
did there. I didn’t see a soul in the place that day. It was ghostly quiet.
I left by the way I came in and I didn’t get caught. I was sad as I drove
home that day, because I knew I would never see that courtyard and the inside
of that building again.
About two years later, I read that they were going to tear the
old building at St Joseph’s down, and build some houses there. I worked
in Palo Alto at the time and lived in San Jose. I used to drive up HWY 280
each day to work, and I would drive by St Joseph’s every day. In the morning,
as I drove north on the freeway, I would see Maryknoll first up on the hill,
and then I would see the buildings of St Joseph’s nestled in the hills behind
Maryknoll. One day, as I was driving home from work, I looked over to my
right and I saw the buildings of St Joseph’s, and there was a large construction
crane with a wrecking ball on it knocking down the old building at St Joseph’s.
A sharp pain went through me as I saw this that day. Part of my heart is
buried in that place and it always will be.
I have stayed in contact with a few of my seminary friends through
the years, and most of them have positive memories of St Joseph’s as I do.
Plus I do see a couple new faces from my class each year at the Alumni
Reunions that we have. Those are always fun. One time about eight years after
I left St Joseph’s, someone asked me whether I was a little let down or put
out by the fact that I had spent a lot of effort studying Latin in the seminary;
and just several years after I left there, Vatican II does away with Latin
in the Church and changes everything to English, in the USA at least. My
response was of course not. Latin had given me a priceless background into
the roots and structure of my own language, a deep appreciation of ancient
history, besides exercising your mind very well. The person didn’t have much
to say to that.
Those two and a half years at St Joseph’s were probably the
best years of my life. I grew up a lot there, learned a lot about academic
things, learned a great deal about living with others, made some lasting
friends, and I learned to have a deep appreciation for life and all the things
that make it up.
Thank You St Sulpice
(From the Bill Wall Archives, November 3, 1999)