Letters to Home
I was fortunate that my mother saved many of the letters I wrote, and those my parents wrote back to me during my three years away at St. John’s. Dad wrote to me regularly about what was going on back in Augusta, while my writings mostly focused on my needs, which always included food items from the “care package” they regularly provided. The following excerpts covey what our thoughts and concerns focused on. Note that the only saved letters from home were from 1967 and 1968.
“Dear Mom and Dad – I do miss home a little bit, because the food down here is horrible…Please bring some Clearasil down for my pimples. My moustache is growing over my lip and I’ll wait for your permission before I’ll shave it…My sweater box was stepped on. It was under my bed, and I haven’t found out who did it. All of my food was in my drawer, so it didn’t suffer any harm. Thanks for the letters you are sending me.”Joe – 9/24/1965
“Dear Mom and Dad – I received your letter this afternoon and I wished I could have written sooner, but yesterday we had to watch the Pope’s visit to the United States and it took up much of my free time…On Sunday (after parents visitation day), we saw the movie ‘Gunga Din’. It lasted from 7:30 to 10:00 (PM) so we got to go to bed late. Everyone felt kinda sad when all the parents left and so Father let us have free cokes at the movie.”Joe – 10/5/1965
“Dear Joe – “By the way, let us know about visiting days! Joe, watch your money and try so what you can. Now Buddy, you are back at it, so please try to do your best and say your prayers and everything will fall into place. Remember us in your prayers and drop us a line and let me how things are going for you. God bless you and keep you safe. Keep smiling, because we all love you!! Love and Kisses, ”Dad – 9/6/1967
“Everything else at home is going fine with no fights. Well, Joe, this will be all for now as I have to wake up Jim (my brother) up for church – will try hard and write you again in the morning, so until then please take care of yourself, work hard and do the best you can. We all love you and are real proud of you. God bless you and keep you safe and sound, and please say your prayers for us. Love and Kisses, ”Dad, Mom and Gang – 1/24/1968
Hope these samples give some sense of connection between my father, who struggled somewhat with having sent his teenage son off to a boarding school, and a son who seemed focus more on what obtaining his material needs, while missing his parents. In all of this, God was most definitely in the mix, preparing me for a future more in keeping with his plan for my life, which was not in the priesthood. My future would be about raising a family, and through a career in Human Resources, ministering to the employment needs of the many thousands of employees for four decades whom I was responsible for.
The seminary experience was necessary to make me more self-sufficient, while implanting a sense of living out my Catholic faith, doing even more than going to Mass and receiving the Sacraments. My Catholic foundations were strong and secure, from my mother who was steeped in Catholic tradition, to the Sisters of Mercy who instilled within me, right from wrong with the Baltimore Catechism as their primary source, and then the seminary life, where I began to learn the nuances of Catholicism, broadening my understand of the impact of the love of Christ in all aspects of our lives. Decades later, the Carmelite charism completed the total picture from personal edification to taking the good news of the Gospel helping others experience hope of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.
It is noteworthy to me that in the early 1970’s, I met a group of Charismatic Christians, who had come to Augusta to build a home for young adults struggling with substance abuse. I spent time with them as they were getting organized. One day, they offered to lay their hands on me and invoke a baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was awkward to me, but I went along with this. The brief laying of hands ceremony didn’t mean much at the time, although I believe this gesture may have had a profound impact, as the sense of the Holy Spirit guiding my actions has been strong through the years.
Toward the end of my Junior year at St. John’s Seminary, a decision was made to close the seminary, due somewhat to declining enrollment and a belief that nurturing a potential vocation to the priesthood could be better accomplished in the home Catholic community. This change meant spending my senior year back in Augusta at Aquinas High School. Lost was the freedom of living away from home and enjoying friends in a structured Catholic environment. God had a plan, moving toward the next phase of my life, leading to marriage, a career, and being blessed with children. The memories of St. John’s live strong in the lives of so many fellow seminarians as we continue to this day discussing our shared experiences.
Next: Final reflection on St. John’s on bringing the “Passion Play” to Augusta’s Bell Auditorium in 1968.