SEVENTY YEARS AGO

                        A Lifetime of Inspiration

By James J. Fallon ’47 ©

New Providence-, NJ 07974

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SE

VENTY of St. Peters Prep, 1949.


Seventy years ago, on a Spring evening in 1947. we sipped soft drinks in a reception area of the Jersey City Armory. One hundred forty-eight of us in black slacks, white dinner jackets and shirts, maroon bowties and cummerbunds chatted with family and friends   We had just graduated from St. Peter’s Prep, a Jesuit College Preparatory High School.

        My mother’s close friend, Mrs. Mary McKenna, asked me how I felt. In tears, I told her “I wish I was starting all over again.”

It began to begin at 9:00 A.M. In the second week of September 1943.In Hogan Hall.  Mr. Joseph McBride, S.J. a young Jesuit Scholastic oriented us on the location of various parts of the facility, the rules, the schedule including the triduum (three-day retreat) next day in the lower church. I had never before heard a more eloquent speaker than the retreat director, Fr. Francis X, Shalloe, S.  He skillfully wove together some theology, some spirituality and key points of the universal Jesuit “plan of studies,” ratio studiorum, which for over four hundred years had guided young men into manhood. It began for real in the third week of September 1943. After a splendiferous Mass of the Holy Spirit in the old Romanesque church graced with all thirty-five Jesuits in red vestments, all lay faculty, the nearly one thousand students. The Principal Fr John Nash, S. J. delivered an inspiring sermon on the need for divine aide in the pursuit of knowledge.

         After, in a double file we trooped down Grand Street east toward the Hudson River and the stink of the Colgate-Palmolive soap factory.

Thirty-five of   us in my classroom on the fifth floor in the hundred-year-old Science Building (the former St. Aloysius Academy) stood in silence (a rule) facing forward. Promptly at 11:00 A.M. a loud bell reverberated through the building, the classroom door opened and in came a strange-looking Jesuit.

He was short and thin and wore a black cape, a three-winged berretta, a black cassock belted in by a wide cincture and topped with a Roman Collar just at the neckband.  He unceremoniously shed his outer garments, placed them on his desk and looked at each us one by one, with dark eyes, unsmiling, with a rapid pace, he walked to the blackboard and wrote in large letters JUSTIN RAIMONDO, S.J.

He glanced over his shoulder and told us, politely we might sit down.

He wrote again, AGE QUOD AGIS. Turning again, he asked us with a slight smile. “Do you know what that means? It’s Latin from St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus.” It means, do what you are doing. When you are studying Latin, study Latin. Don’t be playing football in your head. When you are playing football, play to the best of your ability A.M.D.G., AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM  “for the greater glory of God.” Whatever you do. do your best to, manifest God within you. Make your action be a prayer.

This was a challenge to put forth our best effort in everything we did, to seek God in all things, -  In omnibus querant Deum, “in all thins let them seek God. (more advice from St. Ignatius to his young Jesuits in the Order he had founded in 1540.) to make our actions a prayer of praise to God “The Glory of God is a man fully alive,” as another Jesuit would say.

         In less than fifteen minutes Fr. Raimondo, S.J. had given us a guide for our whole life.

“Fallon has fallen!” Fr. John Gormerley, S.J. proclaimed at the end, of my “recitation” in his sophomore Latin class. Standing alone, I had fumbled badly my translation of a passage from Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” The tall, deep-voiced; Gregory Peck look-alike gently told me to see him after class. “What happened to you since last year when you won honors in Latin? “he asked me.

Gormerley knew that I was now on the football team and worked at Meyer’s Ice Cream Parlor from six to eleven at night which cut my study time down from three hours a night.

That evening, at 6:15, Fr. Gormerley walked into Meyer’s ice cream parlor while I was sitting at the counter trying to figure out what Julius Caesar was saying. The Meyers were upstairs having dinner between six and seven and hardly anyone came into the store in that hour, so I had some time to study then which I explained to Fr. Gormerley.  He probed other possibilities of my getting more study time. He knew I loved being on the football team and that it was good for my personal development, so he did not suggest dropping football. He sympathized with me, praised me for doing my best under difficult circumstances. (I had to work to pay my tuition.) He told me He would pray for me and left me with the great feeling that a Jesuit cared for me. I learned much later that that was a Jesuit virtue: cura personalis alumnorum, “personal concern for our alumni.”

Two summers later, when I was working near St. Michael’s Church on Hamilton Park, I went to the church for a lunchtime visit. Fr. Gormerley, substituting for a vacationing parish priest, was reading his breviary in front. When I came out., we talked.

         I told him about a good book I had just finished, “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, the novel of a Roman soldier who gained possession of Jesus’ seamless robe after the Crucifixion. I told him how scenes in that book thrilled me with a sense of the historical reality of Jesus, but how one of the priests in our parish had panned Douglas for explaining away the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Douglas had written that people in the crowd, struck by Jesus message of love, took out their own hidden loaves and fishes and shared them with their neighbors.

Gormerley stood tall, paused, swallowed, smiled and looked at me in the eyes. “Which is a greater miracle, Jim?” he asked me, “to multiply loaves and fishes or to so communicate such love to three thousand people that they gave some of their dinner to their neighbors?” I headed back to work pondering a mystery while my Jesuit friend returned to his prayer.

“Mister” Fahey, S.J.” was my Junior Year Latin and English teacher. He was one of those hybrid anomalies called a Jesuit Scholastic, doing his three-year stint of teaching after the Novitiate and Juniorarate and Philosophy, before going on to study theology at Woodstock College and ordination to the priesthood. He was a good, personable, interesting teacher and related well to us teenagers as he was only several years older. He left his mark on me. It happened when we were studying English poetry.

“The concept of love to these guys in Hollywood defies humanity and Christianity” Fahey was mad. He flew into an Ignatian exposition on love.  “Saint Ignatius tells us all that love is shown more in deeds, than just words. But, an affectionate, word and flowers can mean much.”

“Second, Ignatius insisted that the object of love is the other, the loved one, not the self. The self-gratification of Hollywood is not the love that Ignatius was talking about.

The emotions we experienced reading Tennyson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins or Wordsworth.  were stirring our humanity. We were learning that we were human.

Mr. Robert Roth. S.J., our brilliant Math teacher and a human being. He was a model of cool rationality and understanding. If you failed a test, he coached you in private and let you take another one.

Father James McDonough, S, J, was a medium built, calm, deliberate, gentleman. He guided us through Latin and Religion in senior year/. The latter took an unusual form. We tackled two Papal Encyclicals: Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI, about chastity marriage and family, and Quadrigessimo Anno also by Pius XI, about social justice in labor-management. matters.

During his analysis of Quodrogessimo Anno, a social justice encyclical, McDonough’s face grew red, his voice became more intense. “There is something wrong with an economy when one man can entertain his friends on caviar and Champaign on his yacht, while another man cannot find work to buy his children shoes. This cannot be what God intended. There must be a better way.” He pointed out the need for a just economy guided by Christian principles. He pointed out that Monsignor John Ryan had helped F.D.R. decide on what a “just wage” was. He also attacked the unjust restraint of human rights of communism.  

For our Senior Retreat, we were directed by a visiting Jesuit priest from St. Joseph’s College, Philadelphia, Fr. Denis Comey, S.J., head of the Labor-Management School (a new nation-wide Jesuit Social Justice Ministry.)

         “All the things that men can do, you can do. With God’s help and your hard work, you can do it. Men planned and built the George Washington Bridge. You can do things like that. Great poems, dramas, novels were written by men like you. Why not you? Put your mind to great things, pray and work hard, A.M.D.G. and you can do it.” I still believe that.

In retrospect, we realize it would be a great mistake to ignore the extraordinary role of our fellow students in inducing us to love the four years. Fr. Vincent Harts’. President in my sophomore year, told us all in an assembly that he preferred that we join an extracurricular activity than go straight home after school and earn straight A’s.

In extracurricular activities, we came to know what extraordinary young men we had aa close friends, In those darkening hours before going home, they worked hard. On the field, we produced an exciting football team, with wonderful student managers. A glorious band and exuberant cheer leaders set the tone. A gifted baseball team drew crowds. Fr. Joe McAvoy, S.J, Athletic Director. saw to it, by hiring top notch coaches. Our track and field. On the courts, vigorous basketball teams consistently won.  Even in the schoolyard, half-court stars shone including aggressive Mr. Robert Flynn S.J. We almost had a bowling team at the nearby K o C building, but there was not enough interest and they would not sell beer to minors. At the podium, champion Prep debaters, oratorical and Latin-Greek sight geniuses took home the honors regularly. On stage amusing and educational dramas appeared every several months. In the corridors and schoolyard, in the classrooms, the virtuous comportment of Sodalists and Knights of the Blessed Sacrament; were continuing example of what our values should be in crowded offices, as the sun lowered, budding writers. photographers, editors, cartoonists, artists, typists lay out men worked till dark on the Petrean and the Petroc, the newspaper and yearbook.

After the Armory, we went our separate ways to various colleges and seminaries, but stayed close through re-unions and “The First Friday Club”.

Now, seven decades later with so few of us left, I can almost hear Fr, Charlie Dolan, S.J. leading us in song: “…and we your sons will be loyal/to St. Peter’s so royal/may your banners still guide us/wherever we go….”

My judgement is that all of these good men have had successful lives by Fr. Raimondo’s criteria.  Some became priests, other doctors, chemists, physicists. biologists. accountants, lawyers, and other fields.

For years after the maroon cummerbunds were folded and placed in a memory drawer, our royal classmates left us, we hope and pray, for a better place, We remember Latin  poet Catullus, Ave atque vale frater in perpetuam. {“Hail and farewell forever Brother.”)

James J. Fallon ’47    ©                            908 625 5668   jamesjfallon@msn.com                     

                         

535 Mountain Ave/ US 717                      New Providence, NJ 07974

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