As was the practice, on Good Friday afternoon, we spent three hours on our knees in the chapel, reflecting on the crucified Christ. At St. John’s, there were no pads on the kneelers, and sitting down really wasn’t an option, so we got to share just a bit of discomfort ourselves. For me, I began to sense a pull on my heart, feeling sad for Jesus, that He had to suffer and die an innocent man, and accepting death for our sins. I believe my faith deepened from that experience, and I became more self-reflective and aware of where I fell short, with an increasing awareness of God’s presence in my life. After 3:00 PM on Good Friday, we left the chapel and prepared for the Easter Holiday, having a nice fish dinner that evening with jovial, lighthearted pre-holiday conversation. Meanwhile, I knew something was different as my thoughts at dinner stubbornly took me back to the chapel, still emotionally connected to the suffering Christ.
I got to experience Calvary a second time through the stage production of the Passion Play, made possible through the talent and determination of our dean of students, Fr. John Fitzpatrick. Using the wood frame auditorium of nearby Camp Villa Marie, we rehearsed for what seemed to be months, I expect using the famous German Oberammergau production as a guide. The final product covered key events leading to the crucifixion, including the realistic hammering sounds (along with fake blood) of the nails forced into the hands of feet of Jesus, played by one of our talented Senior students. Many came to see this amazing stage event, which we took on the road to Augusta’s Bell Auditorium Music Hall in 1968. My acting role in this play evolved into Judas Iscariot, and I remember my “fury” on stage when throwing the 30 pieces of silver back at the Jewish authorities. The Passion Play dramatized the Good Friday chapel experience, helping solidify my calling to be faithful to a loving Christ.
As I began my third/Junior year at St. John’s, our class had dwindled down to five students. We had more liberty to move about campus, even after lights out, and gone was the censor board, where music albums had to be reviewed for objectionable content. For example, Lady Godiva by Peter and Gordon didn’t pass muster in 1965.
The larger question looming ahead of us, as rising Seniors, was a decision as to which “major” college-level seminary we might attend, which then included Immaculate Conception and St. Meinrad’s. No recruitment from these colleges or others occurred that year as I recall, and there was a brisk, behind the scenes scrutiny of the value of minor (high school) seminaries in the effective formation of candidates to the priesthood. Changes were coming, for which I would not be prepared.
(Final reflection next time: 1968 – a momentous decision and the impact on my class and me.)