The seminary: An early but happy choice
The story of my vocation is probably not dissimilar from that of many other priests of my generation—and may not be particularly newsworthy.
I was born in 1934 in Massillon, Ohio, about forty miles south of Cleveland, and attended our parish grade school. Our family recited the rosary together each evening, and I began serving at Mass, the Latin Mass at the time, in the third grade, trained in part by my older brother, Jim, now a Holy Cross priest serving in Phoenix. Living about a mile from the parish church and school, we became well acquainted with most of the priests over the years, and they would occasionally visit our home. The Humility of Mary Sisters who taught in the grade school always encouraged priestly vocations, and I think each one probably hoped that at least one boy out of each class would eventually enter the seminary.
At that time, most active religious orders, and many dioceses, operated high school seminaries and, interested in exploring the possibility, I began writing in the eighth grade to a couple of vocation directors, chiefly the Dominicans (Saint Thomas Aquinas was my patron saint) and Holy Cross. Unknown to me, a friend at a neighboring parish school had decided to enter the high school seminary at Notre Dame and, when he heard I might be interested also, he encouraged me to join him, noting that we would then each have someone there we knew. After the eighth grade, then, in the summer of 1948, I decided to enter the seminary, although I had already registered to enroll at the local Catholic high school where my brother was a student. My companion left Holy Cross Seminary after one year and became a diocesan priest in our diocese of Youngstown, but I remained.
I spent four years at Holy Cross Seminary (on the hill overlooking Saint Mary’s Lake), was a fellow student for three years there with Michael Novak, who later became a prolific writer, and was also able to attend most of Notre Dame’s home football games during those last four years of Coach Frank Leahy’s illustrious career. I then spent a year of Novitiate in Jordan, Minnesota, learning more about the Congregation of Holy Cross, the history of the religious life, and different methods of prayer.
At the close of the year of Novitiate, our class pronounced vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for three years and returned to Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame for pre-theology studies, majoring in philosophy. Many of the classes we took on campus with other Notre Dame students, others were six-credit philosophy courses we took at the seminary, and I chose most of my electives in history, by then my favorite subject. We spent six weeks of the summers on the Notre Dame property in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, taking courses in education and relaxing, fishing, and playing baseball against neighboring teams. After three years in temporary vows, I pronounced final vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1956 and, after graduating from Notre Dame in 1957, was assigned to study theology in Rome.
The four years in Rome provided an excellent education, in and outside the classroom. We lived in our own seminary, not far from the Vatican, with Holy Cross seminarians from other countries, and took classes from the Jesuit-staffed Gregorian University, boasting outstanding professors Bernard Lonergan, John Alfaro, Francis Hurth, and Joseph Fuchs. We spent the summers reading and studying among the beautiful Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, took short trips into Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, and could visit Venice, Milan, Florence, Assisi, or Pisa on the way back to Rome. I was fortunate to be in Rome for the election of Pope Saint John XXIII in 1958 and, with thousands of others, crowded into the Piazza in front of Saint Peter’s to receive his first papal blessing. I was ordained a priest in the fall of 1960, completed my four years of study in 1961, and returned to the United States that summer.
I was assigned to Notre Dame for two years as an Assistant Rector, and then went to Columbia University in New York for doctoral studies in history. Having returned to Notre Dame in 1966, I have been here ever since, teaching history until my retirement from the classroom a couple of years ago, serving as University Archivist for nine years, Vice President of Student Affairs for two years, priest-in-residence in residence halls for thirty-some years, and regularly assisting with Masses and Confessions in the Basilica and Sacred Heart Parish in the Crypt. I have found each priestly assignment I have been given very satisfying: expanding students’ minds through classroom teaching, adding to the current fund of knowledge through research and writing, and sacramental ministry among students in such an important and beautiful period of their lives.