Thursday, July 6, 2006

Chicago Priests Coffee Klatsch Reveals Wide Differences in Seminary Training Between the Old Days and Now. Did Relaxed Discipline Produce the Permissiveness We Have Now?

[A recent story from the nation’s oldest Catholic weekly newspaper, The Wanderer].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Not long ago, I was a layman mouse in the corner as a group of Chicago priests discussed the structure of the archdiocese which, compared to the era of George Cardinal Mundelein, appears to be governed so loosely as to resemble a rope of sand. Given that I had nothing to say, merely observed and changed the names to protect the innocent, I was asked to return to another coffee klatsch—this time with an expanded membership.

The subject was the state of seminary training—contrasting the discipline of a bygone era and the flaccid tolerance of today. Again the names are fictionalized, although the views are not.

The group, ranging in age from 34 to 78 with the median age in the fifties, met in the assisted living quarters of an elderly priest, retired and in a wheel-chair, Fr. Desmond McInerney, 78. He gloried in telling the group the routine the seminarians followed when he attended St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein.

“Don’t regard this as a war story or an exaggerated yarn to impress you that the snow was much deeper when I was a boy,” he said in a voice that had a hoarse quaver to it. “Old Cardinal Mundelein had long gone when I left Quigley [the pre-divinity minor seminary] and came to the seminary in the late forties and early fifties but his ghost lived on. His successor, Cardinal [Samuel] Stritch carried on the same drill. A U.S. flag and the papal banner were flown whenever this Prince of the Church was in residence. Everybody followed a regimen based on a military drill: we found it difficult to find a few minutes during the day for un-programmed activity. We had to wear a Roman cassock, buttoned from head to toe with a collar. In the winter we wore a zimarra, a coat that looked very much like the cadets at West Point wore. That was a vestige of the Mundelein era: Mundelein had been considered for West Point but he chose the priesthood instead. But he made sure when he became archbishop that seminarians hued to the military line.”

“Far different than when I went there in 1964,” said a middle aged Fr. Richard McGuinness. “I began that year and was ordained twelve years later, in 1976. After Quigley there was the Niles college seminary, affiliated with Loyola, now called St. Joseph’s seminary still affiliated with Loyola.”

“God help us, ” commented another oldster, Fr. Casmir Stoupolski, as he stirred his coffee. “--given what Loyola has become.”

“If I could finish--,” said Fr. McGuinness with affectation of sarcasm. “Niles college was followed by four years in the major seminary at Mundelein. Let me tell old-timers like Fr. McInerney this: We didn’t have to go to bed at night; we didn’t have to get up in the morning. Not long ago I challenged several of my classmates to name one rule—one rule—that we had. I can’t remember any.”

“What about the Ten Commandments?” rasped the white-haired Fr. McInerney from his wheel-chair.

“We rarely heard even about them, Father. We were not required to pray the Hours or go to Mass except perhaps on Wednesday. I daresay every major seminary was similar. Interestingly enough, men, someone would have to calculate from the list the archdiocese has handed out how many priests who skipped [left the priesthood either by resignation or were pulled due to problems] went to the older more rigid seminary. I’ll bet right now that as many or more went to the old seminary.”

“That’s rubbish,” interrupted Fr. McInerney. “I’ll have more to say about that when you finish.”

“Fair enough,” said Fr. McGuinness. “Perhaps the old structure of discipline was an element but I rather suspect that there was a longstanding network of problem priests who in key roles in the archdiocese recruited and groomed like-minded men whom they sensed would lean their way. And they corrupted them! To tell you the truth, it may well go back as far as St. Peter Damian [bishop and monk who lived from 1007 to 1072 who preached against laxity in the Church].”

They laughed uneasily.

“Of course problem priests have held sway since about your time and until today—but my point is that these potential problem people—the likely bad apples—were weeded out in my time by the very regimentation, which I insist was very good,” said the old priest. “Look—Mundelein was right. The priesthood should be regarded as a military life. Listen to this: we had to get up every morning at 5:25 a.m. and would have to be in the chapel at 10 minutes to six for morning prayer. Then after morning prayer we’d have meditation for a half-hour. At 6:30 there’d be Mass. Mass would be over at about 7 a.m. and we’d spend fifteen minutes in thanksgiving after that. We’d go to breakfast at 7:15.”

“I don’t believe--,” said Fr. Michael Moore.

“I’m not through yet! After breakfast we’d have a short time to regroup until 8 a.m. Then we’d have to go to our room. . By 8:55 we’d have to be in the lecture hall. We’d be in class to 10. From 10:15 to 10:45 we’d be in our rooms. Class would resume at 11 to 11:45. From 11:45 to noon we’d be in the chapel for what was called particular examen.”

“What?” asked Fr. John O’Neill, the youngest at age 34.

“You wouldn’t know what that means, my son, because it’s Latin,” said the ancient priest acidly. “Look it up somewhere. Then from noon to 12:15 p.m. there’d be a break.”

“Nice of them,” said Fr. Moore.

“We treasured those fifteen minutes, let me tell you! Twelve-fifteen was lunch which was hurried so that we could work in a visit to the chapel to be completed by 1 p.m. From 1 to 1:30 we had free time. From 1:30 to 2 we studied in our rooms. Class resumed at 2 and lasted to 3:55. From 4 to 5 we could take off our cassocks, play a bit of basketball or swim. From 5:15 to 6 we had chapel. Six p.m. was dinner. Six-thirty, a visit to the chapel. From 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. we had free time. From 7:15 to 9 we had to study—and I mean study because the academic work was rigorous. From 9 to 9:30 p.m. we were back in the chapel. By 9:30 p.m. we had returned to our rooms and lights out at 9:45 p.m. when we were so exhausted we fell immediately to sleep. No time for morally corrosive thoughts there. You tell me whether or not that wasn’t good not just for the mind and body but the soul. You see, the potential problem priests to whom Fr. McGuinness refers who were active corrupting the younger ones in his era, had been weeded out with that regimen. And I must say it was an exhausting day, exhausting years, but the military style prepared me for an active life in the priesthood and I never regretted the schedule.”

“There’s no doubt,” said Fr. Moore, “that old George Mundelein believed the old adage of an idle—what is it?”

“Idle time is the devil’s workshop,” said Fr. McGuinness. “There’s much to be said for that. Let me ask you, Father” addressing Fr. McInerney, “whether there were cautionary strictures about what used to be referred to as particular friendships or--.”

“Not just particular friendships, by which was meant other young men,” said Fr. McInerney. “But—and this was more healthy—even more stress was placed against not putting ourselves in positions with attractive young women, perhaps girl friends of our sisters. Our summer vacations were usually taken up by our recruitments as Andy Frain ushers at sporting events, where again we wore uniforms. Our holiday vacations were spaced differently from those of other colleges so we didn’t fraternize much. But even more than that, there was an attitude inculcated which I particularly valued and have never seen or heard since those days until I found those thoughts in a book that has just been published.”

Everyone seemed to say at the same time: Really!

“Yes, really,” said the old priest. “It’s really priceless. I have it here. I like it very much but for the garish title: After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests, published by The Linacre Institute. The Linacre Institute, let me say, is I believe an adjunct to the Catholic Medical Association here in Chicago and was founded to provide research on sexual ethics and the treatment of disturbed priests. It’s head is a physician I value highly as a friend, Dr. Eugene Diamond. You should all send for it. Let’s see, the address is Catholic Medical Association, Box 214, Oak Park, Illinois 60303 and its phone number is listed here as (708) 383-5353.”

“I hope you’re not saying that we are disturbed!” said Fr. Moore. “That we’re all meeting together and are of the same authenticist mind is proof enough that we are not!”

“Come off it, Mike,” said Fr. McGuinness, “just because you’re the baby robin here doesn’t mean you’re not goofy.”

Fr. Moore’s smile vanished. “I really sort of resent that, you know.”

“Oh come on,” said the old priest. “Half the joy of life among priests in my time has been kidding! Can’t you take a little ribbing?”

The young priest reddened and grinned a bit.

“Listen to this book,” said Fr. McInerney. “I quote: Religious devotion nourishes the psychological state of hope and hope is the indispensable support in the arduous task of maintaining chastity…Sensuality is the fermentation for loneliness and confusion and…persons with elevated sex drive, including the homosexually inclined, are particularly susceptible to sexual preoccupation and other forms of sensuality. The enemies of hope, and therefore the enemies of chastity, are found in the contrary states of despair, presumption and spiritual sloth. The attacks on hope are advanced by sensuous indulgence in food and other creature comforts and, because of the great strength of its pleasure, by sex. This, gentlemen, is a general paraphrase of the lessons on chastity that were taught in my years at Mundelein—and which, I daresay, have not been taught in yours.”

“Who is the author?” asked Fr. McGuinness.

“A man I know quite well, actually. Dr. Patrick Guinan of Chicago who is not only a renowned surgeon but a fine Catholic, an authenticist. In fact he volunteered to go to Vietnam as a medical doctor and was there from 1969 to `73. Now if we had clout with the Cardinal or his chancellor, the man who was christened Jimmy not James Lago—and whose twin brother we read in a laudatory article in the Tribune was named Timmy (official names Jimmy and Timmy)--we could get this into the seminary. But since we don’t have clout—since we as pastors have been term-limited by our liberal fellows while liberal favorites have been kept on in pastorates in perpetuity such as our esteemed colleague Fr. Pfleger who has threatened to start his own religion if he were to be removed from St. Sabina’s—well, all we can do is try to send copies to seminarians we know and hope they read it. Anybody can get it by going to ”

“You’re really in tune with the times!” said Fr. Moore. “Amazon and all! Rather catchy title. If I put it in the reading rack at my church it’d be gone in a minute—with that title, After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests.”

“Which gives me an idea,” said the old priest. “I don’t know if they read books any more at Mundelein, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to slip a few copies into the library out there. With so much time on their hands as you have pointed out, Dick [referring to Fr. McGuinness] we could make a few converts to chastity in no time if they started reading it.”

“Great idea!” said Fr. Moore. “I’ll smuggle a few copies out there, knock on their door and when they appear say, `pssssst: I’ve got a book here you might like to read—about sex, prayer and deviant priests. Don’t tell them where you got it. Goodbye!”

They all laughed, looked at their watches and were gone leaving the ancient priest, sitting in his wheel-chair, smiling broadly at the thought.

1 comment:

  1. John Thomas McGeeanJuly 7, 2006 at 6:26 PM

    The picture is that of Samuel Cardinal Stritch, rahther than George Cardinal Mundelein.