What Words can adequately describe God’s gifts? They are so numerous that they defy enumeration. They are so great that any one of these demands our total gratitude in response. — St. Basil the Great (329-379).
Words can not adequately describe the essence of one of God’s gifts to a group of Jesuits and St. George’s College (St. G.C.) Old Boys’; on a recent autumn weekend. The gift was the reunion between teachers, mentors, priests and their former students. Above all it was the opportunity to reaffirm that special St. G.C. bond between friends; after many years of separation. I will try to describe some of the experiences related to that gift and trace some reasons on which they are based.
On October 22,1999 a group of St.G.C. Old Boys with much anticipation and great excitement traveled from Toronto, Mississauga (Ontario, Canada), Calgary, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Albany and Geneseo (New York State) to Campion Jesuit Center Weston, Massachusetts to visit their past teachers and old friends. The Old Boys (GB’s) visited and embraced these men, the New England Province Jesuits, who were stationed at St. George’s College, Kingston, and were their main teachers and spiritual guides during the critical years of their youth. Those men are to be found in a Brissette, Gilmartin, Higgins, Hosie, McCluskey, Nolan, O’Toole, Quinlan, Raftery, Sarjeant, Sullivan and Winchester.
‘People’s love for one another is made up largely of the emotional component, but this love can only be made complete through their physically touching of each other’ said Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on a television broadcast in 1964. The outpourings of love and respect for the Jesuit priests and the OB’s at Campion Center on that October weekend strongly affirmed Bishop Sheen’s teaching. For instance, with much laughter and happiness, Fr. John J. Sullivan, former rector of Winchester Park, and this writer not only shook hands but embraced each other with many statements of our good fortune at meeting again after 45 years.
These greetings were reenacted again and again by other Jesuits and OB’s at the Campion Center. Many of us, on visits to the infirmary, reached out to hold Fr. Raymond McCluskey in greeting him with much emotions and unabashed tears; we physically reached out to Fr. Eugene Brissette, who readily responded and invoked God’s blessings on all of us; many of us approached Fr. Leo Quinlan and held his arm or rested a hand on his shoulder; many tried to get a private moment with Fr. James Hosie but had to compete with the OB’s who were gathered around him like a Roman phalanx; many OB’s renewed old friendships or established new ones with Fr. Lawrence O’Toole; we shook hands Fr. William Raftery and reflected the delight of his always engaging and infectious smile; and we met with Fr. George Nolan, who is described as a square shooter and very likeable by some of his former students (one recently elevated to an Archbishopric in Nassau).
An onlooker might have wondered at this mutual love and respect,even more, the Spirit that exists between former teachers and students, priests and OB’s, and that have lived and endured for generations. How did these emotions come about and what might be the basis of their persistence? What might be the cause for the infusion of that Spirit? Is it possible to describe some basis or bedrock on which this Spirit has stood strong and unblemished for so many years? A partial answer can be found in the interactions between Jesuits and students during their days at St.G.C. As I describe some of these relationships below, I fondly hope that their essence are representative of the many others that were formed at St.G.C. over a wide span of time.
Upon entering St. George’s as a first former in 1950, this writer saw men dressed in strange white cassocks, who growled and spoke in strange accents and who, through their very presence, held power over all … or so it seemed From the perspective of a ‘little boy’, as opposed to ‘big boys’ in the upper forms, once we were dismissed from the class-room, these men were to be avoided as much as possible. The apprehension was common throughout first form! Then there was their practice of punishing unruly boys with the writing of hundreds of lines, the most infamous of which was ‘Persistent perversity provokes patient pedagogues producing particular painful punishment.
And to underscore the might of these giant men, there was that incident in 1950 when Fr. John P. Dorsey punished thirty five of us in Form 1B by having us sit ramrod straight with both hands on our knees, only because with no proctor for a study period, we had disrupted the entire first floor of the upper building with loud laughter and screams at some funny incident. Our physical discomfort after an hour did not compare with our fear of his icy anger.
Or the appearance of Fr. Andy Ochs, the dreaded disciplinarian from O’Hare, on his walk of ‘destiny’ to our upper building. The deafening silence in the entire building informed us that someone had received a few demerits that morning. We all knew of the thick leather strap concealed under his white cassock, and that three ‘licks’ would be meted out on each palm. The silence would be broken by the ‘whacks’ and the weeping of a boy, who was determined not to cry in front of his classmates, but whose sudden intimacy with the strap deprived him of his stiff upper lip.
As captive audiences we were all subjected to other ‘injustices’, as the unheard of grind to learn Latin, English, Arithmetic, Algebra, History, Geography and Religion from the great Baltimore Catechism in the same term, and the insurmountable volumes of homework assigned at the end of each class. Some of us thought this was clearly madness, which was formulated in the Rectory for the purpose of torturing us.
We all tried to keep up with the pace set by the Jesuits, not because we saw the whole situation as a challenge, but because we discovered that they did not look kindly on incomplete assignments. We came to this knowledge quickly when we understood Mr. Leo McGovern’s favourite utterance, ‘verbum sapienti sat‘ (A word to the wise is sufficient !). We did not expect nor agreed to this treatment when we applied for entry into St.G.C. However as resourceful and resilient beings, we endured and survived everything that the Jesuits threw at us.
But there was that Jesuit smile with a ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ and that arm thrown around your shoulder or the look the other way when one of us should have been dragged on the carpet for breaking a rule. At the end of each school day, the Scholastics would issue sports equipment and would set up football or cricket matches. Great Guns ! Things were not that bad. And on top of that the Jesuits gave us a fantastic holiday each year by holding “three-day” retreats instead of classes. We also observed these men at close quarters in the classroom and quite frequently they revealed chinks in their cassocks, because they did crack jokes and laughed like normal human beings, they exhorted us to study hard, they imparted knowledge, and with great effort ensured that we were absorbing as much as possible. As we graduated to the higher forms, the Jesuits exhorted us to be good students and they expected us to get far ahead, even as they pushed us to reach their high standards of education and Jesuit tenets.
What was the primary focus of these Jesuits? Was it to ensure that we got a good education and walk the straight path or was it something else? We eventually found the answers to those questions somewhere between the first and third forms. But how did the St.G.C. student come to the realization that the Jesuits of Winchester Park actually cared for us? And how did mutual love, respect and the St.G.C. Spirit develop so strongly that half a century later a number of St.G.C. OB’s felt compelled to make the recent October visit?>p> The answers to those questions can be found in our experiences while at St. George’s, from our everyday interactions with the Jesuits, from the examples set by those good men, From their attitudes in their personal contacts with us.
Allow me a few recollections:
Fr. Charles MacMullan, with those piercing eyes, struck fear in us but events confirmed that his stare was worse than his bite. It was 46 years ago at 5:00 p.m. on an October afternoon with heavy downpours, when football was king, and some of us played in our school uniforms. Soaking wet we were about to retrieve books on our way home, when Fr Mac, with that classic MacMullan stance of left arm across his waist, right elbow resting on top of left hand and right palm supporting a firmly set low, confronted us with, ‘you don’t have a change of clothes’ . We expected him to blow us away after our chorus of ‘No Fada’ but He slowly shook his head sideways (a.k.a. may your guardian angels be healthy and strong to save you from your weak minds) and gently directed us to get home quickly and get into dry clothes. No practice over us of that power mentioned above.
He exposed us to that Jesuit inquiry, ‘Does the end justify the means?’. He would pose the question repeatedly, and led the class along paths of arguments by rebutting incorrect answers with more difficult questions. I can still hear his voice ringing out while he paced the middle aisle; he never revealed his thoughts on the question, but left a group of sixth-form boys grappling and stumbling and hoping that their arguments were correct. In retrospect, he was massaging our intellects. John Cardinal Newman’s essay ‘On A University’ highlights high school boys as only absorbing information. After five years at St.G.C., Fr. Mac thought that was important for us not only to absorb but to exercise our brains and indulge the thinking process, as many would be attending universities in the following months. I remember his continuing with this line for a few classes then suddenly switching gears by exposing us to St. Thomas Aquinas’ delightful proofs of God.
Fr. Joseph Riel, our English teacher in sixth form (1956), remained after class on Fridays to hold informal debates until it was time to vacate the premises at 5:00 p.m. Was this a program planned by the school or was he just another great teacher who instinctively raised the standard to prepare us for the time when we left St.G.C.? Whatever the case, we all benefited from those exercises, both in terms of learning to debate and obtaining an increased appreciation of many subjects past, current, domestic and international. The South African Apartheid Policy, the West Indian Federation and Automation: Suitable or Unsuitable? Were among the hot topics of that time.
Fr. Roy B. Campbell was a bear-like man, with a remarkable knowledge of football. Having played under several football coaches during his playing days, this writer was fortunate to have trained under Fr. Roy. The mechanics, basics and strategy of the game should be nailed down at an early age and at 15 years old it was pretty late for achieving this, but Fr. Roy’s ability as a coach clearly aided many of us in making up for lost time. He was in a class by himself in terms of his appreciation of the game, his ease in imparting minute tactics and intricacies and actually coaching; he was the best of several coaches, hands down, then and now!
As soon as the squad was able to carry out his instructions on a drill or pattern he would introduce new ones always with the exhortation of “No back passing” to underscore the importance of attacking football. Many at St.G.C. were convinced that he had a winning team in 1955, but the polio scare canceled our season; we won the Manning Cup the following year with a less talented team, after Fr. Roy had coached it for most of that year but was replaced by Arthur McKenzie.
Maybe he knew I couldn’t afford new football boots, or he recognized ‘something’ in me, but a week after school opened in September 1956, Fr. Roy presented me with a new pair of Adidas boots, the high flyer of the day. As a man of vowed poverty, he must have used up his coach’s budget, or begged a friend for the donation, or scraped up from his meager Jesuit allowance, or received a huge discount from Pancho Rankine for those expensive boots. When I tried to thank him in his basement office in Emmet Hall, he laughed that deep laugh of his and ran me out of his office with a ‘get out of here and go play football.’ Great flair to say the least. And great love. Needless to say that as soon as I donned those Adidas’, I became fleet of foot.
Fr. Leo Quinlan. What fortune to have Fr. Leo Quinlan teach English, Religion and Latin in Form 4A: the Aenied, Georgics and Cicero. He taught us those classics and we in fact grasped much of it, so easy was his manner and generalship in moving us through the difficult passages. But more importantly, he would find time to speak to us privately and always very gently ask a line of questions as: have you been going to Mass, have you gone to confession, have you been good?
Whenever one saw Fr. Quinlan and a fidgeting boy ‘consulting,’ we all knew that he was seeing after that boy’s spiritual side and was instilling qualities and practices, those prerequisites for a good Christian life. No doubt that some of us have stumbled, but those one-on-one ‘consultations’ clearly taught us ways for getting up and continuing. We hove never tracked the ‘Quintus,’ but we are certain that he has ‘consulted’ with hundreds and hundreds of boys-on multiple occasions.
Fr. Raymond McCluskey probably met the greatest challenge of his teaching career when this writer entered his physics class in 1953. This strictest of all Jesuits at St.G.C., and physically strong and tough man (many of us will attest that he was really scary !) probably returned to the rectory many an evening weeping or talking to himself, when he realized that many of those physics equations and concepts dear to him were not getting through to me. But he showed much patience and persistence. And when the lowest score for the entire class was a Credit in the Senior Cambridge Examinations he actually flushed and expressed the compliment that he did not know there were so many smart students in his class.
We all saw how he kept a straight face at even the funniest joke in the class room, and would always work his lips against a laugh. But on October 22, 1999, he showed us that there is a Teddy Bear under that martinet-like exterior – he, as well as every OB visiting him actually shed tears of joy and happiness upon seeing one another.
Fr. Eugene Brissette likewise endured my presence in his chemistry class, and the lowest score for his class in the Senior Cambridge Examinations was also a Credit. As I had mentioned during my comments at the banquet on the night of October 23, Fr. Brissette showed me great understanding, compassion and love during my time at St.G.C., and continued to do so forty five years later on my visit to the Campion Center On seeing him in the infirmary, I remained after the rest of visitors had left the room and said: ‘Father, I want to thank you for all you did for me,’ when he cut me off because he knew where I was going with that opener. He replied, ‘That’s okay, after all you must remember what you have done for St. George’s.’ And then he blessed me and we bid each other a fond goodbye. Love and charity seems to be limitless in this man !
Mr. William Raftery. In Forms 3A and 4A of 1952-3, he was Mr. William Raftery, teacher of mathematics. We had noted then that Scholastics as Messrs Manning, Duffy, Levy were like big brothers, and Mr. Raftery was no exception. He could be found on the playing field on many a Saturday morning after the Sodality Mass teaching us to throw an American football. He frequently reminded me that he could not fathom the reason for my peering out the class room window to follow a passing fire brigade instead of concentrating on a final Algebra exam in Form 4A.
I am sure that my disinterest in class pushed him to the edge many times, but he never lost his composure and always held his smile. And later Father Raftery showed much toil, leadership and administrative ability in raising the status of Campion to a high school thereby underscoring the Jesuit’s sense of responsibility and care.
These experiences and relationships with the Jesuits at St.G.C. describe God’s gift of this past October but they in themselves are not the source of that gift. Mere teacher/student interactions could not be responsible for the St.G.C. Spirit, especially since it has endured over so many years for Jesuits and OB’s alike. While the true source of that gift must be found elsewhere, I firmly believe that the Spirit manifested itself in us during Mass on that Saturday of the Campion Center weekend.
The communal celebration of the Mass at the Campion Center on Saturday was celebrated by Fr. Hosie and concelebrants Frs. Quinlan, O’Toole and five other priests. The congregation consisted of other Jesuits, visiting OB’s and their honoured guests. Mass proceeded normally However at the greeting phase, celebrants, priests, OB’s and their guests, en masse, went beyond the normal practice of giving a brief sign of peace to persons in their immediate area. Instead there was a mass intermingling and mutual outpouring of love for one another to the point that priest as well as Old Boy had invoked God’s peace and blessings on all others present. The atmosphere was emotionally charged.
There were tears of overwhelming joy from some. Many of us have concluded that the stage was set for this outpouring by the presence of the saints and angels adoring Christ in their multitudes, since it was only a few minutes before that Fr. Hosie had effected the unfathomable and AWESOME mystery of the Transubstantiation. We have further concluded that above and beyond the presence of those heavenly creatures, the outpouring of love was due to the presence of Christ Himself, who had infused each person even before their receiving the Host at the altar. And we have also concluded that throughout the years, the bedrock of the St.G.C. Spirit is to be found in the Magical Presence. Everything at St.G.C. began and culminated in Christ through the offices of the Jesuits.
Fr. Ignatius Pennisi (honorary St.G.C. member) thought aloud on the morning of October 23 that . . . it had to be the Finger of God that caused such an outpouring! Fr. Ignatius’ brief statement condenses all of the above; it explains the essence of the October gift; it justifies the happenings of that autumn week end; it captures the substance of the love between Jesuits and OB’s; it underscores the unique and enduring quality of that relationship; and it ensures that the St.G.C. Spirit will prevail Above all it reaffirms the Jesuit motto: ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’ – ‘To the greater glory of God’.
St. G. C. Faculty at the Reunion:
Father Eugene Brissette, Brother Gus Burns, Fathers Richard Coakley, Paul Gilmartin, James Hayes, Robert Higgins, James Hosie, Ken Hughes, William Larkin, Raymond McCluskey, Andrew McFadden, Gerry McKeon, George Nolan, Richard Olson, Lawrence O’Toole, Leo Quinlan, William Raftery, Frank Sarjeant, William M. Sheehan, John J. Sullivan, John Walsh and George Winchester.
Honorary St.G.C. Members
Fathers James Barry, John Caskin, John Kerdiejus, Robert Lindsay, Joseph McGrath, William O’Connor; and Ignatius Pennisi. Andrea Cha Kim.
St.G.C. Old Boys:
Marsden Chen, Fulford Chin Choy Louis Lee, Keith Lowe (1954); Jimmy Chen (1955); Hubert Lee, Francis Lopez (1956); Fenn Chang, Stanley Chin, Patrick Lee, Patrick (Skedron) Smith, Donovan Wong(1957); Francis Cooke (1958); Lloyd Chung, Peter Rickards, Robbie Vernon (1959); Donald Barnett, Michael Charley, Bernie Chin, Stanley Lowe-Ching, Derek Potopsingh and Lipton Wang (1 960); Herb Phillips (1962); Neil Dalhouse (1963); Raymond Chang, Gary Williamson(1964); Francis Rutty (1965); Stanley Waite (1966); Greg Lee (1970).
Many thanks to June Chen, Keith Lowe and especially Jimmy Chen for editing the article.