Bishop Emeritus Kevin Boland of the Savannah Diocese told me a few years back that the concept of a minor seminary, designed for high school aged boys, was essentially a “hot house”, for young men, to grow their potential vocation to the priesthood. This method was in full swing in the Fall of 1965, when several of my Catholic school buddies and I were encouraged and later brought by our parents to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, then located at Grimball Point Road, on the Isle of Hope, in Savannah GA. St. John’s was a boarding school seminary started in 1959 with a rector and faculty who were mostly priests, with oversight and support provided by the Bishop of Savannah, then Thomas J. McDonough. Before arriving at St. John’s, I knew several students and former students of St. John’s, one of whom gave me his cassock and surplice to wear, saving my parents a few dollars.
We were selected to be seminarians, mostly through our parents’ influence, with the encouragement of the seminary rector, Fr. William Coleman, who visited Catholic schools in the Savannah diocese. Having been a faithful altar boy, a recipient of the annual diocesan altar boy award, and generally well behaved, I was one of several 8th graders at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Augusta who were selected to test out our potential for a calling to the priesthood. At that time, there was a severe shortage of priests in South Georgia, and Bishop Boland, whom I referenced earlier, had been recruited as a seminarian from Ireland to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Savannah, for which he crossed the ocean from Ireland, and began his priestly work in Savannah in the late 1950’s. Fr. Boland served on the faculty of St. John’s for a while. Lots of Irish priests came over to serve in Georgia during the 1960’s.
After we arrived, the first few weeks were scary, as we were homesick, adjusting to this new world, and learning right away the importance of getting along with 24 fellow freshman students, housed in one large dormitory room, who came from various cities in Georgia and beyond. It wasn’t that long before we began adjusting and learning to appreciate this living away from home experience.
During our orientation period, we were each given a book, entitled “The Young Seminarian”, which was chock full of information intended to help a 13-year-old embrace the life of an aspiring candidate for the priesthood. It was first published in 1946, and release again in 1963, prior to Vatican II. One chapter in the book, “The Essentials of Good Manners”, listed many recommended behaviors, including:
- Do not gurgle or draw in your breath when eating soup. As a guest, never refuse soup but do not ask for it a second time.
- Whenever you are at a loss how to do this or that, wait and see how others do.
- Do not wear garments with gaudy colors; this is a sign of bad taste
- Boisterous laughter is rude, and meaningless laughter is stupid.
- When on vacation – Avoid such company, reading and amusements as are not in keeping with your vocation.
Can’t say as a freshman that I completely understood or paid attention to these ideal behaviors, and don’t recall much reference being made to “The Young Seminarian”. Learning to adjust to a structured boarding school environment was enough of a challenge for us to handle.
A requirement imposed on new students was a required review and possible censorship of any reading materials brought to the seminary. This meant books and even record albums were subject to being banned based on evidence of objectionable content. I don’t recall having a problem with this, as I bought my first Beatles record, “The Beatles Second Album” at a W.T. Grant store in Savannah, and no one ever asked to look at the cover or list of songs. Maybe I was supposed to ask to have the cover reviewed but did not.
I was just reminded by my good friend and fellow classmate, Frank, that the record “Lady Godiva” by Peter and Gordon was censored. Oh well.
As young teens, we couldn’t help but notice on the first Halloween we were at St. John’s that the kids in the nearby subdivision were out trick or treating. Several of us somehow decided to go out into the neighborhood and roam around that evening and didn’t get caught. This wasn’t the only time we wandered off the grounds.
Next – Receiving “care packages” from home and bringing my new drum kit to St. John’s.