Thirty years ago, I was living in Montecito, California, studying at the College of the Queen of Peace on Ladera Lane. Many mornings, I would head out from the driveway and take the six mile run down to the beach, and then return, running up the hills back
to my new home.
I had two pairs of running shoes, both resoled. My NB 305w and Waffle Racers were resoled and kept me in good company as I hit the long hilly run back up to Montecito. The weather was always nice, and the beaches were great.
I had entered the seminary with the goal of becoming a Catholic priest in the Society of Jesus, la Campagnie, or the Jesuits. I had spent four years in high school, first at DeSmet in St. Louis and then, at Bellarmine Prep, in San Jose, California, under the thoughtful and creative dictatorship of the Society of Jesus. I then, started my studies in history at Santa Clara University.
It was during my freshman year in college that I decided to enter the Jesuits. The process was not difficult, however, there were a few visits to psychiatrists, etc., to make sure that I was not any more delusional that most who believe in a higher being, life force, God or something of that nature.
There are many life experiences which shape us. My high school years were challenging, both scholastically and athletically, but for the most part, I was so entertained, challenged and exhausted by the absolute eccentricity of the various characters who educated, entertained, cajoled and opened me to the world outside of
myself, that I saw entering the Jesuits as a very logical choice for my life journey.
First, a few of the characters who showed me the good that man could achieve:
Father Ralph Passerelli was my freshman cross country coach. A man of the Old Church, Father P was a total sports hound. He was very industrious in getting us all into shape for cross country and he knew how to get the team primed for competitions. But where he truly excelled was in basketball, where, in his blacks, he trounced one of the best athletes on our team in a game of half court. After watching Father P’s moves on the court, he became legend with us. A man of great wit and spiritual strength, Father Passerelli had the patience with me and several of my teammates who were not fond of physical activity or running, at the time.
Father John Apel, chemistry and math teacher at De Smet. The man was absolutely stark raving nuts, but he had his students under his spell. We learnt Algebra, we learnt chemistry. Fr. Apel wore a white labcoat, big black glasses, now in fashion, but Father John was not about fashion. This man would tell jokes and talk to himself, besides coaching Freshman football and took up running in his fifties. He also blew the roof off the chemistry lab, but that will go into my novel. I remember a fishing trip with Fr. John
and several other Jesuits, plus my father, where the jokes started and never stopped. I learnt early on that these guys had fascinating lives.
Mr. Freeman was an English teacher. A man of some delicacy, Mr. Freeman was challenged each and every day by the rough and tumble teenage males he had to deal with at De Smet. Mr. Freeman was Truman Capote with dark hair, and a better reading list. He gave me THE LIST. This consists of the fifty books one must read before they can be considered an educated man. I have read thirty or so. From O Henry, to Dostoyesky, to Sinclair Lewis to TS Eliot, Mr. Freeman was truly a man of letters. He was thoughtful and he challenged my ideas of great literature. That was good.
Fr. Delaney. Father D should have been a professor of history at some East coast college, but La Compangnie choose that Fr. Delaney teach high school boys. Not just high school boys, but high school sophomores. And Delaney’s own circle of Hell was Church History. Now, think about this–how does a five foot five, Irish history buff keep the interest of two generations of San Jose’s most obstinate teen age males? Well, of course, tell them stories about the Crusades, about various papal moments of indelicacy, such as how many out-of-wedlock children did various members of the clergy have in the fifteenth century, always with the following–and now, ” Children, what happens in battles? A loot, a burn, and a Keel! A Jolly Good time,” To the uproarious laughs of the class. No text books in class, Father D’s classes were works of art. We all learnt about the various saints and martyrs. To this day, my appreciation for the humanity of church leaders in the Renaissance and Middle Ages, and my acceptance of man’s foibles as he tries to reach the stars, was shaped by the classes of Father Thomas Delaney, who died two years ago.
An aside: It was in Father Delaneys’ honor that I signed Jesuit credit gas cards in later years with Ignatius de Loyola and then, various North American Martyrs. My fave was Isaac Jogues. The Province was not really happy with my signatures, but I can assure you, up and down the coast of California, there are gas stations that had been visited by Isaac Jogues, Ignacio de Loyola, four hundred years after their deaths.
What was it about these men that I admired? Their honesty, the love of life. Their ability to live a life that was looked up, in our secular world, as silly at best, and peculiar at worst. They were men for others, as we were told.
But, as I have learnt, the journey of life is not a straight line, but fairly circuitous. My time in the Jesuit novitiate was quite short. I did make it through a thirty five day retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits.
I was always fond of St. Ignatius. Ignacio was a well to do family in northern Spain. He was a soldier, and a bit of a playboy. But, after a Turkish cannon ball in battle nearly destroyed one of his legs and during said incarceration, Ignacio had a moment of clarity, where he saw what he was to do with his life. He organized a group of men of many experiences, many well to do, many well educated at the University of Paris, where
he had gone for studies.
The Spiritual Exercises were hours of meditation on the life of Christ, and I have to admit that while I tried hard, there were times, during the six or so hours a day of prayer, that I fell asleep. There was also silence. So I ran twelve miles a day, helped build a goldfish pond, without saying a word, practiced my trumpet for Christmas mass, and wrote in my diary. I was silent for twenty-five straight days. That was, and probably will be, a life record.
I found my diary last week, although I have not opened it. Next week, upon my return, perhaps I will read it. I was nearly the same age as my son, Adam when I wrote it.
One final thought. One of the most amazing men I ever met was Father Fred Coffey. Father Coffey was head of the switchboard operators at Bellarmine. I worked the switchboard to pay off my tuition at BCP. Well Father Fred was about seventy-five,
used two canes, had glasses that were thick as Coke bottles. Father knew he was slowing down, but he had a wonderful sense of humor.
During the last decade of his life, Fr. Coffey survived eight heart attacks, I believe. One of them, he had in his room, and just went back to bed, reading his brevary. A fellow Jesuit came to look in on him, and asked him how he was doing. He told the young Jesuit that he had had a heart attack earlier in the day, and was resting. What followed, in Fr. Coffeys ‘ own words, was a lot of needless worry as he was rushed to the hospital. Fr. Coffey had sure had a heart attack, and once he stabilized, he was back in his room at Bellarmine.
After I entered the Jesuits, on one of my visits, Father knew something was up, and he told me, “If you think you are giving something up, then do not become a Jesuit.” Father
Fred was a Jesuit for nearly seveny years, and was one of the men who shaped my life, and one of the reasons I do what I do.
It is in those moments of remembering how someone took the time to help you in a bad time that one understands the role we fulfill as humans, and the responsiblity that we have to the next generation.
Admajorem dei glorium–that was what all my Jesuit friends finished their notes with. It comes from St. Ignatius, and it means, “for the greater glory of God.” Translated to the hundreds of thousands educated in Jesuit institutions it meant that, we had been given a gift of education, and we must, in order to live a good life and give honor to our beliefs, use that gift to help others.
If I close my eyes now, I can almost smell the ocean as I would hit halfway in my runs from Ladera Lane.
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