THE SEMINARY : LIFE AND LEAVING Previous Posts in this Series may be found at BUT NOUGHT

High Mass as it was celebrated at the time.

Holy Week and Easter are, dare I risk being accused of a pun, crucial times in the Church's liturgical and spiritual life. I have loved them since I was a little child, and year by year, my love has grown as my knowledge and appreciation have grown. The liturgical ceremonies were conducted with all appropriate devotion at St. Columba's.

At the completion of the Easter Vigil,  very late in the night, we repaired to the Refectory to celebrate Easter in a human way with an abundant supply of various cakes -  the Nuns in the Kitchen had excelled themselves. And there was also Coffee!!This very special High Tea was greeted with simple joy and a genuine air of relaxed celebration.


As I said, we had designated tables for our meals. There was a Table Prefect appointed for each table, responsible for organizing collection of the food from the kitchen servers. The food was prepared by Nuns, though I only ever got distant glimpses of them. The food was then served onto the plates stacked at the aisle end of the table, and then passed along to each individual. The food provided followed a fairly predictable routine.


Breakfast consisted of Cereal or Porridge with fresh milk from the Dairy on the College grounds. This was followed by sausages and eggs or "Cannon Balls" (VERY large rissoles - probably the ultimate favorite meal of all the students) served with gravy. Then Tea with bread/toast with butter and jam or honey.

Dinner (Lunch)
Meat and vegetables and a simple dessert or fruit to follow.

Tea (Dinner)

A lighter meal with a simple sweets dish and tea and bread and butter and jam (I think) to follow.

The food was always good and plain- never anything exotic, but I never felt let down or hungry. In fact at my table, there were a number of real trenchermen. I recall one fellow- C.A. - who later enjoyed some small media fame as "the surfing Priest, who sat on my right and would frequently say to me If you are going to leave that, Ill have it!" So his diet was regularly supplemented as was that of another good fellow- F.W. - who sat on my left, a really nice bloke and certainly less wiry than the first, who also often assisted in clearing the substantial meals from my plate. They both had great appetites, but I always ate enough to never be hungry.

I previously noted that most meals were eaten in silence, unless there was a visitor or it was a major Feast Day. On those occasions, the Rector would tap a glass with a piece of cutlery to indicate we were free to talk.

I recall Bishop (later Archbishop and then Cardinal) Freeman visiting us on one occasion and the Rector becoming so engrossed in conversing with his guest that he forgot to tap the glass" I have never known silence to be so "aggressive"! But it seemed to have become like a battering ram and the Bishop felt it. He drew the omission to the Rector's attention and the traditional signal was given. The silence broke with a thunderous combination of laughter and talk!

But during most meals there was reading by one of the students. On some occasions it was from the Roman Martyrology on others, something from Hilaire Belloc, e.g. "The Path to Rome". Various students brought very different skills to the task. Sometimes this also produced some relieving humor. One such unfortunate was a late vocation. He had been a carpenter before entering the Seminary and was in his late thirties. He was a nice man and one would imagine his trade would provide a suitable background, considering the occupation of the Great High Priest prior to his public life. This fellow had a high-pitched rather scratchy voice which did not make for ideal delivery, and it happened that one morning instead of reading "and camels in throngs" he read " and camels in thongs"(the Australian term for what are called "flip- flops in some countries) he caused uncontrollable laughter to break out in waves until the Rector demanded silence. The Queen of Sheba had never raised such mirth before, nor has she since, I'll wager.

It is of course the constriction of an ordered life, be it religious, naval or military or civil ceremonial that makes these small accidental events so delightful - simple pleasures! Lacking that rigorous order in our modern free form lives, entertainment is more and more sought for its own sake and ever more forcefully , so that it has come to be confused with reality , as so often in the United States for some little while and now increasingly here.

Our Recreation walks around the grounds in Cassocks gave us good opportunities to get to know one another better, and to simply relax. The evening walk caused one Italian late vocation- J.P.- to say to a group of us once:" tonight I think you can't understand me, because you can't see my gesturing!" we all enjoyed the joke. He was a very nice fellow and we all enjoyed talking to him and learning a little about Italy.

On Sundays we occasionally got to have a half day off when, in casual gear, we would go for a hike along the well established bush tracks to a variety of known destinations such as St.Joseph's Bower, Our Lady Of Mt.Carmel Grotto and "Egg Rock". On one such occasion to a rarely visited spot we found ourselves off the track and confronted by a high sandstone rock face. The decision was taken to go around its face.Easier said than done. As it happened, I, never a great or even a minor athlete, became stuck - unable to go back or forward, spread eagled on the effective cliff face. I was petrified by fear of disaster in the shape of a deep fall down the rock face. Others were pre-occupied with their own problems, but one capable but kind soul who was from a lower class, perhaps Special Latin or 5th Year came to my aid. It would have been so easy for a more capable person to be dismissive or overly assertive in such a situation. But not him. His Surname was Grainger and I think his Christian Name was Jim- yet I can't find his name on the Class lists. Anyway, he was the very model of calm and self-effacing ease of manner, he climbed across to me and then putting himself around me gradually moved my hands and got me to place my feet on his until in a few minutes all was well and I could move independently. His manner throughout was one of kindness and helpfulness, making light of the situation during and afterwards as well. In my mind he deserved a Medal! He has my undying gratitude.


In general I was surprised by the diversity of the personalities composing the student body. But by and large, I liked and, in many cases, admired them. There were a very few , no more than three, I would rather have nothing to do with, they either did not make it through to Ordination or, those who did, subsequently left the Priesthood in the post- Conciliar turmoil. One, now a retired judge has written a distasteful book about his time there. He evidently feels the need to put down the institution to build himself up. Failed. his reminiscences about the Seminary say more adverse about him than the Seminary. Googling his legal career is not fun.

My decision to leave the Seminary in May of that first year was certainly not because of any perceived fault in the Seminary or its staff or students or the Church, either then or  in retrospect. In fact I loved the place and the people. The problem was my lack of maturity I believe. I had led a very quiet and sheltered life in a very loving family environment. I was a shy person and had not had any systematic opportunity to deal with others and with organizations other than schools. But I did have an almost insatiable desire to be involved in all that was going on in the world. This was the nub of the issue of my immaturity, for that desire overcame my commitment to the vocation I had aspired to. Well, I can see that now, 54 years later, but not then, not so clearly. It was more intuitive and felt. I was in the wrong place and should leave.Any non-Catholic reader might be surprised to learn,that although I had all the normal sexual impulses, these matters were not remotely an issue in my decision.

I was certainly devout and earnest, but then, lacked that spiritual depth I have begun to achieve with age , and I lacked the mental rigor which oddly enough did not come to me from any academic source but from the disciplines of the commercial world , and  in the Naval Reserve in later years and from my own private reading and study and prayerful reflection. 

In my earlier schooling I had always done very well without ever seriously studying- coming first and second in my classes. In my later Secondary schooling I still came 5th in my classes without changing my habits. But no-one, least of all me, perceived the problem that I was never seriously, systematically, studying and never reading or  doing more than was prescribed. It was a hopeless approach in any academic endeavour, and yet another reflection of immaturity.


I have often wondered what might have been the result,  if I had continued and had been Ordained. The Class I belonged to was among those newly-ordained Priests who hardly had time to get on their knees before the maelstrom of post Vatican II stresses descended on them and rocked the ground beneath their feet! Several of those I knew bent to the winds of deceit so far, that they have become false "spirit of the Council" types. Others ended up leaving the Priesthood and others still fought the good fight staying true to the continuing Church and the letter of the Council, even in the face of radically wrong Bishops. How would I have contributed? Would I have been a relevant force for good, or a rigid stumbling block in difficult situations? How would I have been affected? The questions are irrelevant. It did not happen. Only one Person knows. Perhaps I was saved from doing harm in that time of trial, or saved for later action in other ways.

It is, nevertheless, interesting to reflect that every time we cross a set of points (to use a railway analogy) in life, one group of possibilities opens and another is closed.

Had I not left the Seminary, my dear wife would have married someone else; ten people would not have been born (our three children and seven grandchildren). The spouses of our children would have married someone else, or not married. The Secretariat of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy would have been without free service for the eight years we operated it and did much moreand the lesser number of years my wife desktop published its magazine "THE PRIEST". The many thousands of Catholic books and magazines we promoted and sold for ten years would not have been promoted and sold, and on and on it goes. God knows, and it is to Him we must all give an account for all we have done, and all we have failed to do, or failed in doing.


The manner of leaving the Seminary in those days was to do so with with the minimum of attention, so as not to disturb the student body. When I had made my mind up, a process evolving over several weeks -  largely in my head and on my knees, I made an appointment with the Spiritual Director Father Ted shepherd and gave him a very polite , carefully worded letter indicating my desire to leave and thanking all involved for their assistance during my time at St. Columba's. He asked a few telling questions to test my resolve, and that was it. I had expected a difficult process, but no - I had made my decision and he wished me well.

I was a little surprised by this lack of contrary persuasive effort. I still am.

I was leaving a great group of friends whom I really liked and respected, but I knew that the nature of their commitment and my decision would make it hard to maintain contact with them.

And so one morning (a pity about the morning, a reference to "nacht und knebel "would have been nice, but morning it was!) a taxi called and whisked me off to Springwood Station, where in due course, a good reliable C36 Class Steam Loco hauled its train in from the West, to take me swiftly down to the coastal plain and on to Strathfield where I changed to catch an electric train back to Lidcombe and a taxi home.

I felt rather deflated. The hopes of years past and for years to come, the noble intention, the sacred proposal, had been derailed , all of these  were crushed, and by my own decision. And I had no clear direction, hope or inspiration to guide me for the weeks and months, let alone years ahead. What would I do now? Had I done the right thing? And how would I handle the succession of contacts with relatives and friends? Would people think less of me for having left?

But others had their own pre-occupations.


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