Having served my apprenticeship, so to speak, growing up Catholic, during the 50’s surviving the convent, the priests and the nuns, then a strict Catholic boarding school, I felt pretty comfortable that I had come through this ordeal mostly intact. Oh there were scars and wounds that needed to heal, but as they say… “Time is a great healer”… or is it?
As I said previously, I was about to step into the unknown, the long lonely walk across the threshold into another world was about to begin.. I was one of the youngest seminarians to begin seven years of indoctrination in this foreboding place. I was greeted by one of the priests, a kindly old soul.. He was to take me under his wing and flood my mind with the dogma as he was instructed. It was to begin immediately and the intensity and pace at which he delivered his dissertation, made me begin to question my reasons for being in this place right from that first day… Never-the-less, I quickly settled into a routine…I was then to be taken under the wing of one the seniors, an older seminarian, who was to become my confidante as well as my mentor. (He is now a respected Cardinal) One of the others that I got to know very well, became one of the youngest Bishops to be appointed in Australasia. There were others too and I formed some great lasting friendships. Sadly, I could count on one hand, those that still remain as priests to this day. The days were long and hard and for a young teen, they were tough… Yes, I attended many many lectures..Ethics, Theology, Sociology, incorporating Latin, along with the ancient teachings of the catholic church…and on it went. All this time I was being seduced into the rigidity and uniformity of the church. I was made to give up most things I loved in the outside world. Music, certain books, theatre, arts etc. The guilt continued and I recall one afternoon, I went to the nearby mall, decided to treat myself to a scone and cup of coffee. The young waitress that served me was a pure delight. I had already been told of the evils of making eye contact with members of the opposite sex! as the Rector had put it! So, being young and open to persuasion, I tried to avoid this at all costs. It didn’t work, she had served many seminarians and could read the pattern well. Needless to say, we struck up a great conversation and I continued to find an excuse to visit on a regular basis.
After months of rosaries around the vast fields with a regular group of young men, I was called into the Rectors office…He was a stern autocratic Belgium Priest, a Psychologist and Jesuit to boot.. Had this huge read chair that he demanded I sit in…I refused and sat on the arm. This went down like a cup of cold sick!! He shouted at me, demanding I sit in his chair. I would not give him this power and he told me that I needed to face up to my reality.. He knew that I had been visiting the cafe in the mall and having long discussions with the young waitress.. He knew that I had been playing my music, (Leonard Cohen, Magna Carta, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and a whole bunch of rock, including Ozzy, Black Sabbath etc..) missing Matins and questioning the teachings in the classroom. One of the unique advantages of this seminary, was that it aligned to the fine arts University in the city. This was a new direction for the seminary and it was to be expected that we would challenge many things in our day to day interaction with other young students.It was something that displeased the rector.. I became involved in the theatre scene and started to enjoy many of the modern playwrights.. This was, as the Rector said…the devils work! He said that I would be severely punished by God.. (Here comes that guilt!!) You see, it had never gone away!! Right from that very early age, this guilt had been permanently ensconced into my brain..planted so deep, riddled with fear so that I would never forget! It was about this time that the Rector decided I needed extra ‘spiritual guidance’ and I was to be placed under the wing of the Bishops secretary….Saturday was to be the day this instruction would commence.
The day duly arrived and I sat in a little room the size of a cell. Cold, sterile and reeking of the stale putrid smell of camphor… I waited, listening for the heavy precise footsteps of leather slapping wood. Waiting for this priest to breath forth more hell-fire and brimstone!! He waltzed in, more to the point, to coin a phrase, minced in and in the gayest of voices said “Hi I’m Kevin and we are going to have some wonderful spiritual advising! It’s a gorgeous day, let’s not waste a moment!” I didn’t believe what I was hearing, let alone what I was staring at!! Here was this wonderful man, dressed in denim with white sneakers and a pink Cashmere Sweater, sleeves up, hands on hips and a swag that would make any woman proud!! What an absolute delight.. The rector looked on in disbelief as my best new friend just said..”we’ll be back when we are back” with the emphasis on the are!. Oh the delight!! Into the Canary Yellow BMW with its black leather upholstery and off we sped! I was in heaven and couldn’t believe my luck when we pulled into the pub down the road… “Right my dear boy” he said.. “It’s now time for your Spiritual Advising to begin… What’ll it be.. Whiskey, Bourbon or Brandy?” I was gob-smacked! but, after all this was the Bishop’s secretary and who was I to argue? We had a couple or drinks, then he said, “we have a rugby game to go to..I’ve got the bosses tickets, he doesn’t want to go..” We rocked up.. A group of priests were waiting for him.. Introductions all round and a few questions as to how I was handling life in the seminary, then to the bar and a few more to top up the craving. I couldn’t help but notice just how quickly a couple of this group became rather boisterous and fairly intoxicated.. It was as if they had been unshackled!! This was going to be one hell of a day!!!
To be continued….