Saturday, July 2, 2016

Remembrance Of Things Past - St. Johns Fairview Class Of 1966

I have to admit that I am a bit pleased with myself for having pulled off a fiftieth reunion for my grammar school class - St. John the Baptist of Fairview NJ Class of 1966

Those eight people in civilian clothes represent 20% of the original class of 40, which is a pretty good turnout on a percentage basis.  The two nuns, Sister Gloria and Sister Anna Maria are standing in for their Franciscan sisters who have all moved on to the next level.  The last Sister Ellen Michael, who taught us how to read and sold us pretzels for two cents each in first grade, was promoted in 2014.

That Black Robed Crew

 There might be some hope for Sister Joachim, who went over the wall, so the sisters in Peekskill who did some research for me did not have anything on her.  Then there is Mrs. Campagna of the uncertain spelling who taught us in fourth grade. Regardless like Sister Ellen Michael who hung on the longest, Sister Christine, Sister Clara, Sister Jane Aloysius, Sister Marie Antoinette and Sister Miriam Anthony have all moved on.

To be honest my memories of the sisters are not entirely fond.  My current working theory is that they were proto-radical feminists.  Patrick O'Brien was speculating that a few of them probably didn't really want to be teachers.  And it was actually pretty clear that there were some qualification gaps here and there.  Sister Jane Aloysius getting "new math" thrown at her is sixth grade was really unfair particularly in the Catholic school economy where textbooks were loaned by the school but workbooks were paid for.  So we had "old math" text books and "new math" workbooks.

Catholic education during the period was based on the theory that any high school graduate could teach elementary school.  In secondary school the follow on was that anybody could teach Latin or history, so that is what the coaches taught who didn't teach gym.

The Civilians

The laity in the picture from left to right with married women going by their eighth grade names are Patrick O'Brien, Lucia Scarnecchia, Karen Keady, Genevieve Houston, Peter Reilly, Julia Scotti, Paulette Bolcick and Donna Mikulka.  I cribbed the article from the paper giving an account of our graduation so you can see who missed out.

Of course several of our classmates have also moved on, but much of my information on that is a little sketchy, so I won't give you my accounting on that.

The Inspiration

I used to be quite a reunion goer.  Both my college and high school are very organized about it having all the five year classes back each year with, something to look forward to, the fifty plus classes invited back every year.  I let it slide after 25 though. In part because reunions at the College of the Holy Cross are not as much fun if you are not drinking and my declining stamina made down and back to Manhattan in a day a little more challenging.

As it happens though my son was going to college in Brooklyn so I was able to combine my 45th Xavier High School reunion with a visit with him.  I left my car in Waterbury and took the commuter train in.  I had a really good time and that reawakened my desire for a grammar school reunion.


I'll spare you the thinking that went into the project and go straight to the event.  The Mass intention for the 11:00 AM Mass was for our class.  Evie and I were staying in Edgewater.  It took us a bit to find a place to park.  Ended up on Delano place.  Julia was out front when we got there.  One of my ideas was that later there would be a walking tour and that everybody would have their picture taken in front of their old home.  We were able to take care of that for Julia right then because she had lived across the street from the school.

It seemed like it would just be three of us for the Mass as Patrick O'Brien was the only one to join us on the stairs.

As it turned out Lucia Scarnecchia had found out about the event while googling and came with her husband and sister.  The sisters were also there as was Evie of course who took all these pictures.  So I think we can consider ourselves well represented and it is here that I need to wander a bit on the subject of identity.

You Can Take The Boy Out Of The Parish But You Can't Take The Parish Out Of The Boy

There was a part of the Mass that strongly confirmed my identity as a Unitarian Universalist.  That would be the reciting of the Nicene Creed

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

What the heck does that mean?  I had a problem with faith early on.  That is why I chose Thomas as my confirmation name.

But there was some other factors that push the other way.  You see the Catholic Church with its billion or so members is much for universal than the UUA.  The priest and the altar boys (and girl) were all quite a bit more dark skinned than our crowd.  The lightly attended eleven O'clock Mass is the only Mass in English which the recently ordained priest was struggling with it just a bit.  Of course he speaks English about a thousand time better than I speak any other language.  And there is this connection that transcends.

For example,  there is what is going on with Sister Anna Maria and Sister Gloria.  They are running something called the Franciscan Community Development Center in a small space squeezed between the rectory and the church and in a converted garage where Monsignor O'Brien would keep the nice car he rarely drove.  They provide a host of services including a food pantry that operates 24/7.  The food pantry is located where Boy Scout Troop 193 used to store its equipment.

Corporal Works Of Mercy

Susan Colacurcio, the executive director, led us on a tour and told us a bit about what was going on.

Sister Anna Maria told me that they were looking for a way to serve people and Fairview seemed like a spot that needed some help.  Then somebody, probably up in Peekskill told them that they beat up building across the driveway from the rectory used to house sisters of their order.  So they took it back over and that is where they live now.  The other thing they learned was that their ministry was very similar to that of Father Charles McTague, one of the curates at St. John's, who was very engaged in helping refugees.  Boys in the parish were aware that the sight of Father McTague driving a beat up truck meant the possibility of being drafted into a corporal work of mercy.

Father McTague would go on to be moderately famous.  There is a biography of him called Christ With a Priest's Face/.  One of the best stories about him is the time he was in Princeton NJ and, apparently on a whim, called on Albert Einstein.  He explained transubstantiation to Einstein, who apparently was quite intrigued by the notion.  Too bad Father Charley hadn't caught old Albert when he was a young man.  Maybe we would have replicators instead of nuclear weapons.

My favorite memory of Fr. McTague was when he gave the eighth grade boys the vocation talk.  That was something you were supposed to think about whether you had a vocation or not.  Anyway in a spirit of reassurance he wanted us to know that seminaries were not the boring places we thought they were.  I don't think he realized that at 13, I  and presumably the other boys had no preconceived notion of what seminaries were like.  He went on to tell us that they got all the ice cream they wanted for desert and that they frequently played baseball.  To this day whenever I hear the word "seminary", I have an image of strapping young men in baseball uniforms eating from large bowls of ice cream.

Regardless there is definitely something just a bit mystical about these two women, one from Italy and one from Chile, finding themselves in Fairview with a ready made convent haunted by their sisters and a storied priest whose mission they could pick up and execute in probably a much more organized fashion than he ever did.

From 9 To 3 It's Misery At St. John's Penitentiary

Next we had a tour of the school renamed the McTague Education Center and now leased to the town for use as a public school.

I should mention that Lucia was with us, but was shy about being photographed.  That's her sister below.

When we got to the gym we broke into a rousing rendition of "I have often walked down this street before"

That was seventh grade.  It was an extra bonus that Paulette who's role was to be walking up and down the metaphorical street as we sang the song made it to the main event at Patsy's.

Even though there were only four of us and we had already ticked off Julia's my walking tour of Fairview/Cliffside to stop in front of each house was overly ambitious.  Julia did want to make it to the famous Pop's Park though.

Which is barely a hop skip and a jump from 380 Kennedy Drive so at least that part of the mission was accomplished.

We finished phase 1 with lunch at The Point.

There were a couple of hours to kill which Evie and I spent in Hudson County Park and then it was on to the big event at Patsy's

The Main Event

And here I have to admit a shortcoming on my part.  I did not spend nearly as much time talking to "the girls" including Genevieve Houston who sat next to me in eighth grade.  I felt kind of responsible for acting as a host to the Fransican crowd a the end of the table.

There were two not quite awkward moments.  One was when Executive Director Sue asked me what parish I belonged to and I had to cop to being a Unitarian Universalist regularly attending services at Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester where we usually don't have obscure references to a mish mash of Greek philosophical concepts in every service.

Then there was Julia showing the sisters this picture of our class

Sister Gloria wanted to know which one was Julia and she had to explain that she was not Julia back then.  I have a post about Julia coming up, so we will leave it at that.

Constructing A Narrative

Patrick and his wife got together with Evie and me to round out the evening in Edgewater and I was able to do some more catching up.  In the process, I learned something about memory.  Our stories about the past are, of necessity, narratives that we construct with a few scattered incidents telling the stories of years.

Patrick had a couple of incidents that I was involved in, that I don't remember at all, but have no doubt happened.  One was a story about how I would beat the new New Jersey sales tax by breaking down my purchases to stay below a minimum.

As we talked about things I remembered how close we were and how much experience we shared even though he had kind of dropped out my narrative.  As it happens I probably have more in common with him than any of the other St. John's graduates in some ways.  We both went to Jesuit high schools, Patrick to Fordham Prep and me to Xavier (By the way that is the oldest high school football rivalry in the history of New York City).  Patrick started working in his father's business though and was quite absorbed by the Fordham Prep world.  So unlike me he did not really have a Fairview crowd that he hung with even in the summers.

Talking to him I remembered how we had been tent mates at Camp Nobebosco.  Oddly enough he remembered that we had gone into Manhattan together to take the Regis exams and the New York Diocesan exam, but I still don't remember him being with me.  Go figure.

Bobby Einhorn who I continued to hang with through high school and even beyond had said he was coming, but unfortunately forgot.  He would have helped even the gender ratio at the event which Julia has thrown out of whack, but it was a great day regardless.

Peter J. Reilly CPA hopes to be the first tax blogger to give up his day job.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Came across this blog and I too am an alumni. I graduated 89-90 can't remember this very second. Nevertheless I wanted to do some research on the schools past because most recently somebody mentioned to me about spirits they have encountered in the school office Gyms classrooms etc.would you have any knowledge or ever heard of such what sites have you come across with information of our school