During my three years in Savannah (at St. John’s), I began to experience the beauty of the historic homes and culture. I recall one Thursday afternoon (that was our “Saturday” when we could go to town) my best friend Frank and I went to see The Graduate, which had just come out, and of course was on the objectionable movie list. We walked several blocks from the bus stop through dark looking neighborhoods with old homes needing restoration, arriving at the Savannah Theatre on Bull St. to watch Dustin Hoffman, somehow surviving the flicker of a scene with the unclothed Anne Bancroft. No big deal, we thought. I learned quickly the lesson and importance of avoiding the “near occasion of sin”.
Several of my seminary classmates were from Italian and Greek families whose ancestors had migrated to Savannah. Johnnie Ganem’s (now closed) was a favorite Savannah restaurant owned by the family of one of classmates, which we visited a few times. Classmate Clarence Thomas came from the Savannah Pin Point black community, where the Gullah dialect had been prevalent. Others came from as far away as California.
Our Catholic faith and education bound us together, and together we were introduced to liturgical changes flowing from Vatican II. I approached these changes on a superficial level at first. The idea of greeting one another during Mass before the Agnus Dei seemed like a fun and cool thing to do, with lots of hand-shake renditions flowing from the simple “peace be with you”. On the other hand, the notion of each seminarian receiving the consecrated Eucharist in his hand during communion seemed odd at first. As altar boys, we were trained never to touch even a spec of the sacred host, and to go from no touch to having the host placed in your hand seemed a big stretch from the old rule. To a lesser extent, so was the lifting of the Friday eating meat restriction, although this made better sense to me, recalling having to explain this rule to my non-Catholic kid friends at Friday hot dog (birthday) parties back in Augusta.
Next time: Experiencing the crucified Christ in St. John’s Chapel