Some random reflections on St. Joseph’s – St. Patrick’s
By Bruce Atkinson, R’52
September 1949. My first clear memory of St. Joseph's College was chant practice of my first night there, Fr. Andrew Forster conducting. The fellow sitting next to me covered his mouth with his hand and whispered, "We call this guy the Beaver.” He paused and then said, "We call him the Beaver because he has buck teeth." I had made my first friend. Pete Boylan.
Later that night I lay on my straw mattress on my wire bed feeling very, homesick. I guess I must have turned over and tapped the wall. I heard a return tap. I tapped again and thus began a symphony of taps. TAP, TAP—TAP,TAP. TAP,TAP,TAP,TAP,TAP, —TAP, TAP. In this indirect way, I met my next door neighbor, Jim Berney.
In the middle of the same night. I was awakened by a loud crash and the sound of scuffling feet. I had no idea of what was going on. I later learned there was a jakes party sponsored by the aforementioned Jim Berney, Jack Breen and other such notables, which had been interrupted by the corridor prefect Fr. Raymond "Doc" Connor. All went running for cover and in the confusion Jim Berney ran into what he thought was his room carrying a case of cokes and dropped the case on top of what he thought was the dresser. Unfortunately he was in the wrong room and there was no dresser in that spot. Hence, the loud crash.
Thus ended my first day in the seminary. I would spend the next 24 years in the San Francisco seminaries. 9 years as a student, and 15 years as a faculty member; 12 years at St. Joseph's and 12 years at St. Patrick's. For many but not all of those years, my good friends Terry Loughran and Pierre Calegari were classmates and faculty colleagues.
We members of the Rhet class of 1952 were not noted for our great intelligence. The class ahead of us had at least 10 people who could legitimately be called geniuses. At St. Joseph's, we had no geniuses in our class. Some professors, e.g. Fr. Fives, were disgusted with us after having, taught our predecessors. But we had a lot of good people in our class. Some of my best friends in the class are dead. The three 'Petes': Pete Boylan, Pete Gouailhardon. and Pete Calegari. But we still have a lot of good old guys carrying on. Terry Loughran and 1 have been through many experiences over the years, As young, faculty members, we drove into Los Altos one night to bring home 2 sixth Latiners from a movie so that they wouldn't be expelled. We went through our year of Solitude together. What an experience!
Many of the best stories of the old seminary can never be told. Some can be told only after the passing of time and the passing away of the people involved. Two stories I can now tell involve two old teachers at St. Joseph's: John O'Neill and Joe Riddlemoser.
Fr. O'Neill took me under his wing when I was a new teacher at St. Joseph's. One day he said to me, “I'm Going to tell you something I never told to anyone else. When I was a student at St. Patrick's Seminary. my younger sister was due to graduate from Holy Name College in Oakland. I went to see Fr. Lardner (the Rector of SPS and later Sulpician Provincial). I knocked on the door and went in." I said, "Fr. Lardner, I'm going to ask you for permission to do something I know you can't approve. But I have to ask you anyway. My sister is graduating from Holy Name College this Sunday night. My parents are dead. My younger brother, Jim, is a student at St. Joseph's. I'm her only family. I feel it is my duty to ask you for permission to leave the seminary to go to her graduation. Otherwise she will be alone with no family present. I know you can't let me go. But I felt it was my family obligation to ask. Thank you for listening, to me." Fr. Lardner said nothing. I turned around to leave and started walking to the door. Father Lardner said, "Just a minute. Come back here." Then he started a dialogue. When would you have to leave? Noon. How would you get there? Train-Ferry Boat-Street Car. How would you come back? Same way. When would you get back'? Midnight. There followed silence. Thought. More silence. Finally, he said, "Alright. You can go. Be sure to be back by midnight. And I want you to promise me you will never tell anyone."
This sounds like a nothing story today. But remember that Fr. Lardner was mid way between Fr. Ayrinhac and Fr. Mulligan, and these people didn't let anybody out of the seminary for any reason. Or did they?
Fr. Riddlemoser had been my teacher at St. Joseph's. Later, in my second year teaching at St. Joseph's (1959-1960), he and I shared the I -A classroom in the mornings. He taught Latin there in the first period of the day, and I taught English in the second.
One day he asked me if I had ever looked at the underside of the desk drawer in the front of the room. I said, “No." He said, "Come with me." We went to the classroom. He took out the drawer from the teacher's desk and turned it over on top of the desk. There were carved and written such statements as: You're too loud, Joe. You're too fat, Joe. Joe, you make too much noise. You have a bad temper, Joe. Joe, you give me a headache.
SHUT UP, JOE!
He asked me what I thought of all these bon mots. Before I could answer, he let out a big belly laugh and told me what a kick he got out of all these inscriptions.
Two years later, when I was the Prefect of Discipline, he came up to me in the Common Room after lunch one day and said, "come up to my room. I want to show you something." I followed him upstairs to his room. He pointed to a very large piece of furniture covered by a large cloth. "What do you think of that?", he said. He
took off the cloth and showed me one of the first color T.V. consoles, Color T.V., High Fi, Stereo, Radio, Tape deck, etc. He told me how much he paid for it; Many ducats, pesos, drachmas, escudos. Lots of money in any language. He also described how he had it delivered so that no one knew what it was. I was cautioned to keep its existence and cost a secret. He gave me a cigar and we sat down and watched Notre Dame beat Purdue in football in Ara Parsegian's debut as head coach at Notre Dame. By the way, Joe was rooting for Purdue. He didn't like Notre Dame.
Last year I read Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" and watched every minute of a 10 hour tape of the T.V. series based on the book. Like the characters of this book, we SJC/SPS alumni are a band of brothers. For several years, we were all the family we had. The seminary was our home, the faculty our parents, and classmates our brothers. Later some of us were brothers and faculty members and the students were our children.
Like all families, we had our problems. There were disputes and disagreements. Sometimes we got pretty angry with each other. But there was always a lot of brotherhood and love. And there still is.
I was fortunate enough to study at other places. I got an MA from Catholic University while teaching, at St. Joseph's and a Ph.D. from Stanford while teaching at St. Patrick's. These were better educational institutions at which I learned more. But they were not home. They were not family. My home and family were in the seminary.
Let me mention a few of my favorite members of the seminary family: The Little Sisters of the Holy Family, John McGinty, John Chase (an honest-to-God member of the Dillinger gang), Joe Debrowski, the Boelsems.
Many of my teachers at St. Joseph's. Joe Martin, my first year Greek teacher. I still study and read a bit of Greek from time to time. Robert Giguere. Paul Cronin, John Ward. And a true GENTLE MAN, James Campbell.
My classmates. Mike Mitchell, who introduced me to opera. Wilton Smith, pure goodness. Charlie Donovan, brilliant, humorous, human. And a classmate from Guam who shall remain nameless who confided to me his great disappointment when his ship arrived in San Francisco. He thought the Golden Gate was a huge golden edifice under which his ship would enter San Francisco bay.
My colleagues on the faculty at St. Joseph's. Many good friends. Two of my favorite English teachers were Gene Strain and Roland Holstein.
My colleagues on the faculty at St. Patrick's Seminary: We fought a lot of battles together. Two of my favorite administrators were Mel Farrell, Rector, and Art Mulka, Vice-Rector.
And, of course, the many hundreds of students I taught over the years. What a great group of people! I could name so many fine young men. I won't name any. They were all great.
And then there are the Five best life long friends I've had. The only way I can rank them is in order of age from John Shetler, the oldest, to Angelo DeManti, to Brian O' Kane, to Pierre Calegari, to Terry Loughran, the youngest. No man ever had better friends.
In my life I've had three homes and three families. My first home was at 229 Castilian Way in San Mateo where I lived with my first family: my father, mother, brother and sister. My second home was the seminary where I lived with very many family members only a few of whom I have mentioned. My third home where I now live is at 7812 Makaaoa Place in Honolulu. My family is my wife of 24 years-Fay-and my 20 year old son, Jimmy. Of course, they are my favorite family. After all, they have put up with me for many years and hopefully will continue to do so for some years in the future. My extended family includes my co-workers at Prudential Securities where I have been a financial advisor since March of 1982 and my few hundred clients who have supported me over the years.
I'm not going to be able to be present for Alumni Day in April. But I’l1 be there in spirit at my old home with my old family.
Written for the Rhet Class of 1952 – 50th Anniversary
by Bruce Atkinson, R'52
(1) Bob Gorman R'52 took this picture in 1950 (+ or - ?)
(2) and (3) Bruce and Fay - Bruce sent these Christmas pictures to us, dated 2007 and 2008
(4) Bruce, Fay and Jimmy, Christmas picture 2002