My High School Class Reunion

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Well, dear reader, I hope you’ve had an enjoyable and relaxing summer. But now it’s time to get back to work, and so I reclaim my regular spot here in the Rhode Island Catholic.

During the summer I didn’t travel much at all, but the highlight of the season was a quick 3-day trip to Pittsburgh to visit family and friends, and then to Ohio to attend our high school class reunion on the 50th anniversary of our graduation from St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, PA.

Back in the day, as they say, when Catholic families had more kids and there was more incentive and support for a young man to become a priest, high school seminaries were pretty common. Obviously the scene has changed and there are few, if any, diocesan high school seminaries operating any more. St. Mark’s was one of the largest and most “modern” of its era, training students from several dioceses in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.

Some numbers about the Class of 1966 might be interesting. When we started as freshmen, there were about seventy of us. Four years later, forty graduated. Of the forty, seven are deceased, God rest them. And of the forty, six were eventually ordained. One of those has passed; three departed from ministry; and two of us remain in ministry, one diocesan priest and myself.

My preparation for the reunion was itself an adventure down memory lane. I retrieved from the cedar chest where I keep such things lots of memorabilia from the seminary, all of which had been carefully saved by my mom over the years. (Thank you, Mom!) The cache included graduation certificates, year books, photos and four-years-worth of report cards. I was mortified to learn that my lowest grade as a high school senior was in physical-education, gym class, where I earned an 85 percent! My lowest grade, in gym class – how embarrassing! Hey, I’m from Pittsburgh, the home of great athletes! But, I digress . . .

The reunion itself was held on a beautiful farm owned by a classmate and his wife in rural Ohio. Because our class is scattered all over the county, and because it’s been such a long time since we’ve been together, the two couples who took the lead in organizing the event had their hands full, but did a remarkable job in gathering us in.

Of the forty graduates, twenty-one attended the reunion. As a bonus, several of the guys were accompanied by their lovely wives. (It was fun trying to describe to them what their husbands were like in high school, and the foibles of seminary life in those days!) We were also thrilled to have one of our former teachers with us – still as personable and caring as we remembered him from fifty years ago!

As we gathered at the scenic farm surrounded by rolling hills, it was interesting as the various classmates arrived, drove up the long road, and got out of their cars. Those of us already there had exchanges like: “Who’s that . . . I don’t know . . . Man has he changed!” You’ve probably noticed from your own experience – appearances change a little bit over fifty years, don’t they?

But after the re-introductions, it was wonderful to hear what and how the guys have been doing. They’ve settled into various professions and activities. Some are now retired or semi-retired. Many spoke of their children and grandchildren. We discussed the changes we’ve seen over the years (especially in technology) and predictably our conversation turned to health issues, the surgeries we’ve had, and the meds we’re now taking.

One of the personal highlights for me was the reunion of the “Ethnics,” The five-man folk-group we formed in high school. Four of the five were there and we took the stage once again, two-guitars in hand, and sang some of our favorites, especially from the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook, including “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and the ever-popular “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Before dinner we paused for a brief “Prayer of Remembrance and Gratitude,” which I had prepared for the group. We thanked God for all the blessings we had enjoyed at the seminary and in subsequent years. We prayed for our families and friends, and especially our deceased classmates. The prayer became a very nostalgic and emotional moment for me, and, I think, for others too.

One of the things I was pleased about was that most of the classmates seem to have continued a good relationship with the Church. Several spoke of being personally involved with their parishes and were well-informed about current Church issues. It’s clear that our time at St. Mark’s, whether or not we were ordained, created good, lifetime memories and gave us a strong but flexible Christian foundation on which to build our lives.

At the end of the prayer service, I included these words from “Marks in Time,” our 1966 Yearbook: “On every page, and in every picture of this book, we will see our brothers. Everyone at St. Mark’s is our brother and we should treasure each and all, for they walk in the light of the Lord, and by reflecting that light, take a little darkness out of our lives.”

Our class reunion recalled and renewed the very special brotherhood we had at St. Mark’s. The reunion was wonderful and I will remember it forever.