Visiting St. Patrick's Seminary (when we were at St. Joseph's)
By Bill Wall, R'63
Just when you thought I was out of old St Joes’ stories, here is another one. This one will be short because it is not that involved. I remember going to St Pat’s for a one day visit each year when I was at St Joes. We went in the springtime after the Easter Break. We would go on a Thursday, which was our day off at St Joes. After breakfast on a Thursday morning, usually in May, and after we cleaned up our rooms; Cat Canfield would line up 7 or 8 buses on that road that was between the classrooms in the old building and the tennis courts, and they would load us all into those buses and we were off to St Pats for the day, which was only about 20 miles away. It was about a 45 minute trip over there. Does anyone remember the key rule we were told as we got off the buses at St Pats? “Do not go above the first floor of the building.” In other words, no running around the hallways upstairs, period. I guess the reason for this little trip was obvious. The Sulps wanted to give us an idea where we would be going after we finished St Joes, or at least the ones of us who did finish St Joes.
I am going to talk about our trip to St Pats in First High. That one has stuck in my mind the most. I remember my impression of the building at St Pat’s when I first saw it. I had never seen such a large, brick building thus far in my life, and this seemed to be a very substantial and well built building. When I got off the bus in front of St Pats that beautiful spring day, I just looked at that large building for a while and just took it in. I have always been into architecture, particularly old buildings, and I really liked this one. I learned later that this large building was built in 1898 and was heavily damaged by the ’06 earthquake, but it stood tall through all of that. I also learned later that this was the first Catholic Seminary to be built west of the Mississippi. So it is an historic landmark. When we went into that building, through those large, ornate front doors, the first thing I noticed was how high the ceilings were. They must be 20 feet high. That was the style in those days. The ceilings on the upper two floors are 15 feet high. You know, I didn’t finally walk down one of those upstairs hallways at St Pats until just a few years ago. I guess that old rule stuck with me. I noticed another thing as I entered that building for the first time. I noticed how high the doors and windows were. Some of those doors are 14 to 16 feet high. The standard ceiling in a building today is only 8 feet. Everything in that old building seemed to be built to a larger scale and seemed to be very substantial. That made a real impression on my 14 year old brain. I guess I was in a very observant mood this day and I was just taking everything in. Sometimes, back then, I think I was in a daze and just out of it. I noticed one other thing, which had been added after the building was built. Those large glass partitions, with glass doors in them that would seal off the entire hallway up to the ceiling where they were installed. There were several of these glass walls on the first floor. These were fire partitions to keep a fire from just sweeping through those large, drafty, unprotected hallways. The doors in the center of the glass partitions were spring-loaded, so they would close after you walked through them, again sealing off a potential fire threat. Pardon all of the detail, but that is how my weird brain recalls things.
The first thing they did when they got all of us in the building was herd us into the Chapel, which is across from the front door. I was really taken back by the beauty of that chapel. The first thing I noticed is that the seats were on the side with a big open area in the center. I later leaned that this was a European style chapel. There were only about 140 seminarians at St Pats in those days and there were a good 400 of us from St Joes, so there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit down in the chapel, so some of us just stood in the open area in the center. A priest from St Pats was up by the altar and he was telling us some things about that chapel. I was in awe of the stain glass, the intricate woodwork, the dramatic arched ceiling, and just the overall ambiance of that chapel. I know that St Joes had a nice chapel, but it was more modern. I am into old things and St Pats Chapel was a delightful surprise for me that day. After 15 minutes, they were directing us out of the chapel to another part of the building. I would have been happy to just sit in that chapel for an hour and just take in its lasting beauty. They don’t build them like that anymore, and everything was so well done. Next, we went to a large room that was a lecture hall, where they showed us around. Everything in that room seemed larger than normal also. As a St Pat’s priest was telling us a bit about the classes at St Pats, my mind was still on that chapel. After that, they just let us go to wander around St Pats and explore the place. That was fun. I remember looking around St Pats that day with Jim Nice and Larry Gilsdorf. This was before Big Lar broke Andy McClure’s nose. That happened in Second High.
For lunch, I think they served us a barbeque by the athletic field, which was to your right as you drove down the main driveway towards St Pats. I remember looking into the refectory at St Pats and it wasn’t that large. I know they could not have seated us all in there for lunch. I remember the refectory was to the rear of the main building, and it was between the main building and the nun’s convent, which was to the rear of the refectory. That was nice of the Sulps. They made sure that the nuns didn’t have to walk too far to prepare all of their meals and wash all of their clothes. After lunch, a lot of the guys were talking about going swimming. I remember Chuck Dillon telling us to be sure to bring our swimming trunks to St Pats as he read us The Rule the evening before. St Pats had a nice swimming pool, which was to rear of where the convent was. It had a big wall around it and it looked a little like the pool at St Joes. The pool at St Joes was built in 1934. Bob Bolsem’s Dad told me that once. I know you always wanted to know that. After swimming for a while, I changed back in to my clothes. I wanted to explore around St Pats some more. The first thing I did was go to the chapel. I just sat in there by myself for about a half an hour. I was the only person in the chapel at the time, and the silence was profound and wonderful. I just sat in there and thought about all the guys who had been ordained from St Pats through the years, and a whole lot of other things went through my mind that day. You know, I have worked in the Palo Alto area for all of my career. Several times during that period, when I have had something on my mind, or a decision I had to make, I have gone to the chapel at St Pats during the day, and I have just sat in there by myself and thought through whatever was on my mind. My thoughts seem to be very clear when I am in that chapel, unobstructed by anything that may be going on in my life or around me at the time. Sometimes, I have just sat there for 45 minutes by myself. No one has ever bothered me or asked me what I was doing there. That is a wonderful place to just go and mediate a bit, and something in that chapel keeps drawing me back to there. I don’t think it is Chuck Dillon.
There is small building I remember at St Pats. It was kind of a rest area or smoking lounge for the St Pats Seminarians. I later learned from Dan Folliard that this building was called the “Cur House”. Cur is Latin for “Why”. Don’t ask me why they called it that. The Cur House was a small, concrete block building that was just south of the main building by the playing fields. It had been built after the main building. This little clubhouse had widows that looked out over the playing fields and there was a fire pit in the center of this one room building that had a big metal flue over it. There were a number of chairs in this place around the fire pit, and this is where the St Pats guys took a smoke brake. I think they could not smoke in the main building at St Pats, but they could smoke outside and in the Cur House. I remember the college guys from St Joes were allowed to have a cigarette in the Cur House that day, but not the high school guys like us. I remember a guy named Jorgensen (they called him “Jorgey”), who was in Second High, had a cigarette that day and he was cool. They had a fire going in the fire pit in the Cur House that day, and it wasn’t a cold day.
One other memory to wrap this thing up: North of the main building, there was an old wooden structure that looked like a barn. This was the old carriage house at St Pats, which was built during the horse and buggy days. Later, they stored automobiles in this old building. By the 1950’s, the old carriage house had been converted into a gymnasium and it doubled as a theater where the St Pat’s Seminarians would put on plays once in awhile. During our visit there when I was in Second High, there was a play being put on there for the St Joes visitors. It started after lunch. I went to watch the play for a while. It was a contemporary play and it wasn’t bad. The main actor was Miles Reiley. Remember him? He was ordained later and became Fr Miles on the Radio. He was kind of a theatrical kind of guy. Seven years after this date in 1966, Fr Miles Reiley married Jackie and I at St Rafael’s Church in San Rafael, Vern Olayous’ parish.
So much for my memories of my visits to St Pat's in the old days. Any of you like to comment on your memories of that place?
PS: In 1966, after I finished college and did my stint in the Army, I accepted my first professional level job working as a computer programmer at a Shell Oil Co. Data Center. That Data Center was located at 320 Middlefield Rd in Menlo Park right across the street from St Pats. What a coincidence. After I got settled in my new job a bit, I would go over to St Pats at lunchtime once in awhile, and run into some of my old classmates, Dan McHugh, Merv Sullivan, Jim Hagen, and Tim Hennessy to name a few. This is right about the time that Vern Olayous starts to get sick. These guys were three years short of ordination at this time.
Written: December 17, 2007
Photo Credits: "Thank you!"
(1) 1949 Picture of St. Patrick's (scanned from a postcard)
(2) Chuck Smith R'60 - The front of St. Patrick's, taken 2004 during a day of recollection
(3) St. Patrick's Chapel (source is unknown)
(4) Chuck Smith R'60 - Cloisters at St. Patrick's, taken 2007 during a day of recollection
(5) Chuck Smith R'60 - the Cur House Picture (taken on Alumni Day in 2004)