Eighteen years ago at this time I was studying in earnest to become a priest. I was in my sophomore year of the minor seminary, and I was in the midst of two of the most important years of my life. Even though I had already started to wonder if I could really become a priest, I hadn't fully ruled it out yet, and I sure as hell wanted more time to figure it out. Then came November 22nd of 1991. That was the day we were informed that the seminary wasn't viable any longer, due to the extremely low number of priests that it was developing, compared with the high cost. Of the 60 young men I knew in my two years there, only three went on to the priesthood, and one has since left.
So, they closed it down. What they didn't know then was that even though they weren't churning out men of the cloth they were producing men who were better off for having been there. In the years after I left the seminary I've often thought about how I might have ended up if I had gone to another school. I was an extremely rough-around-the-edges 14 year old who was still coping with losing my baby brother and struggling to keep my anger and violent rage under wraps. In the seminary I found a real sense of what my Aussie friends call Mateship, or what some call brotherhood.
With this being Veterans day, I would compare it to what my father often said about his time in the Navy. We spent all day, every day together and had to learn how to live and thrive as a group. Part of that was conflict resolution, which did at times involve a fight, but nothing like the things I got mixed up with prior to enrolling at St. Joes.
All these ideas were brought back to the forefront of my mind this weekend when I went back to St. Joes for what may be the last-ever reunion of former seminarians. The order is short on cash, and with the campus long past its original purpose, they are thinking about selling it. Maybe it was its impending doom that caused us to reflect on its importance in our lives. Or, perhaps it was just all being there together again with the wisdom only a few decades can provide. Either way, we all had the same story. We all felt like we became the men we are today, for better or worse, because of our years in those beautiful stone buildings.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am prone to flights of full-on nostalgia on my best of days. Drop me in the middle of one of the most important settings in my life, and then tell me that it has an expiration date and you'll really see me get misty. I just can't say how happy I am that I had that experience in my life, with all its structure and discipline that made me deal with the challenges. When I got there I was struggling with so many things but, in the end, I came, I saw and I conquered.