It was an odd feeling, gazing out over the gentle contours of the grassy acres where my home once stood.
I was in Belleville yesterday for an all-class gathering to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the opening of St. Henry’s Prep Seminary—my home-away-from home in the early 1970s.
Not much remains of the place today: Only the cornerstone from what once was our chapel…and a few statues and grottos, most no longer in their familiar places. All the structures are gone: The “A” building…our gym, Mazenod Hall…the refectory…the dorm. Only their outlines were visible—marked out with wooden stakes and surveyor’s tape. This added a delicate eeriness to the afternoon’s proceedings, making it seem a bit like we were touring a crime scene.
In a sense, I suppose it was a crime scene: Alums from different eras shared tales aplenty of pranks and escapades—mostly harmless, but some that wound up humiliating teachers or classmates. We talked, too, about how we often chafed under the discipline of the priests and brothers who served in loco parentis for our high school years. I was reminded of my own youthful obliviousness when a schoolmate recalled what SHP had meant for him in the 1970s: The assurance, for the first time in his life, of three square meals a day. It boggles my mind that I’m only now—four decades later—coming to realize how much I’ve taken for granted through the years. How very deeply I have been blessed.
Far outweighing the ‘police blotter’ moments, though, were the recollections of the extraordinary gift of community we all seem to have shared during our time at St. Henry’s. There’s a prodigalness to the place, not unlike the strange parable we hear Jesus tell in Sunday’s gospel:
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?
Jesus makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world, to go after that one sheep—and to party hearty once it is found. That’s not at all like the ‘wisdom’ I encountered once I left St. Henry’s all those years ago. Our prevailing culture is much more likely to preach practicality and emphasize disposability.
What a blessing then, to spend a few hours in the company of those who think a bit differently than most of the world around them.
We received a gift during the time we spent at St. Henry’s. We found something precious, something most of us probably didn’t even know we were looking for.
In the words of Fr. Daniel Miller, OMI (Class of ’35)—lovingly preserved and presented by Dan Franklin (Class of ’66)…
[St. Henry’s] has never known the jading influence of total adequacy…Whether on the basketball court or curtained stage, the story has been the same: Use what you have and ask no quarter. No wonder her students are proud and loyal…She has taught her boys the meaning of heartache and pain…For each of her boys, she holds out…not the promise of wealth and ease, but the challenge of the blood-stained cross.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.