Fr. John's Memoir - Chapter 1
Family Life and Early Influences
by M. John Farrelly, O.S.B.
My parents, John Farrelly and Cordelia Gross, were married in 1920 and had a quick succession of children: John (1921), William (1922), Caroline (1923), Elizabeth (1925), “the four big kids,” and then Thomas (1926) and myself (October 1927). I was born in a St. Louis suburb, Normandy, where my mother had grown up. At one point many years later, when I was in my mid-teens, my mother put her hand lovingly on my arm, and laughing at herself, said, “My first words to your father after you were born were: ‘We didn’t really need another baby.’” But, surely not by design, they went on to have Edward (1928), who with Thomas and me were “the three boys,”and then Cordelia (1930), Francis (1931), Peter (1932), Julia (1934), “the four little kids,” and David (1938)!
Both my father and mother were born into dedicated Catholic families. My father was born in St. Louis in 1889, and was a descendent of a family that emigrated from Ireland to Atlanta in 1840 before the potato famine. Before the Civil War they moved to St. Louis where my father’s father was a real estate agent respected for his honesty and a minor official of the city of St. Louis. My father’s mother, Elizabeth Dougherty had a sister who was a Visitation nun. His father seems to have lost much in a recession during my father’s childhood, and wanted to take his family to a farm he had in Illinois. But his wife’s family prevailed; and she continued to live in St. Louis, supported in part by a wealthy uncle, Edward Scott, who had married her sister Nellie. Four of my father’s siblings died in childhood, some because of an influenza epidemic. His sister, Julia, whom we knew as Juge, was his one sibling we knew; she was close to our family. She was a spinster who taught first grade for many decades and lived with her aunts Nellie and Jennie and with her cousin Margaret who had two adopted children about my age, Jack and Barbara Stephens, in a large house in Westminster Place where we older boys in my family visited frequently during our high school and college years…
My mother’s father (Jacob Gross) grew up in Baltimore, a son of a family that had come to the United States in the 1770′s from Alsace to escape the Seven Years War. Two of my grandfather’s brothers were ordained priests; and one, William Gross, was later bishop in Savannah and archbishop in Oregon territory. The other priest brother, Mark, was appointed bishop of North Carolina, but turned it down saying, “One bishop in a family is enough.” Jacob Gross went west to New Mexico to make his fortune working at a wholesale goods store, later becoming partner of that company, Gross and Kelly. He met his future wife in St. Louis. My mother’s mother (Caroline Linton) was the daughter of Moses Linton, a convert to Catholicism, professor of medicine at St. Louis University medical school and founder and long time editor of the first medical journal west of the Mississippi. He was also the first president of the first St. Vincent de Paul Society in the United States; there is a small mosaic of him in the St. Louis Cathedral.
My father went through St. Louis University High School and learned the printing trade, exercising this early for advertising. He was inducted into the army and served in France in the First World War in the same company as Francis Gross, my mother’s youngest brother. He had requested an appointment where he would not have to kill anyone, and so was made a courier between the front lines and the command post further back. My mother attended a finishing school at Maryville College after high school. Out of her 9 siblings, one became a Jesuit and one a Religious of the Sacred Heart; most of the others had large Catholic families.
For a while, before I was born, my family moved to Florida for a year or two because of a building boom there that gave hope of being good for the printing and advertising business. But this bubble burst and they returned to St. Louis. The depression started in 1929, and it was perhaps even before that that my father turned to real estate. We moved to different locations in and around St. Louis in those years. I was in the first grade at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Charles, just north of St. Louis over the Missouri river. I made my first communion there, but what stands out in my memory was my mother taking me shopping to buy shorts and a shirt for me for the occasion and our having an ice cream soda together. I suppose there were very few occasions when I had her special one-on-one attention. My father frequently took us younger children on a walk in the evening. When many years later I commended him for this, he said that he was just trying to tire us out. I have a vague memory of having stolen a dime from someone in the family while we lived in St. Charles. My second grade was at St. Mark’s School in St. Louis.
My third grade was at St. Monica’s School in Creve Coeur, west of St. Louis. I have more memories of that year. One of these is that I received a pair of skates for Christmas, when I was eight; and on Christmas day skated what seemed to me a long distance on Olive Street Rd. on which our house fronted. That year my father had started an ice cream parlor, but for whatever reason it did not work out. I remember my mother being upset over the sameness of our cheap food over a period of time, and my father cooking a large batch of doughnuts for us at one point. I also remember that one Sunday my mother must have had reason to think I was sick and took my temperature. When she was out of the room but some siblings were there I held the thermometer up to the radiator and missed mass. I don’t remember disliking mass; it must have been just a trick, but at my first confession in the monastery before my novitiate I confessed this and the dime incident amid tears.
In 1936 the family moved about twenty-five miles west of St. Louis to a small farm (23 acres) which, because it was in a curve at the end of a valley we called Pinook. My mother loved the country; my father enjoyed being a gentleman farmer; and it was a wonderful location for children. We had to entertain ourselves largely; and older members of the family, particularly my eldest brother, John, were very creative in this. There was a man, Herman St. Onge, whom my father hired to take care of our few cows, our chickens, a half-dozen sheep and, with time, a donkey (Modesta), an Indian pony (Patches) and a five gaited horse (Lady Pie, named after an ancestor of my father). We, including my mother, rode these from time to time.
My father had turned his hand to prospecting for oil; he became an oil well broker. That is, with the help of geologists he tried to find a likely location for oil, leased the mineral rights to that area, sought people who would buy shares in the enterprise, and then drilled an exploratory well. The first well he drilled, about 1938, was a ‘gusher.’ Those with him in the business wanted to organize it one way and he another, so he sold out his share. He received a sizeable sum of money, but if he had stayed in he would have made millions. We lived well for a while, but later as he sought oil elsewhere, none so successfully, we had rather serious economic up and down times. While we were flush, my mother went to Santa Fe to visit her sister Margaret Kelly and family; and my older brothers John and William visited Mexico. While my mother was away, a friend of the family, Mary Morrison, helped to take care of the children. I recall that during this period we children, in disobedience to Mary, had a vigorous but good natured shoe fight, some throwing shoes up the stairs at those on the second floor and others throwing them down. When my father returned from work, he whipped us boys, the only such punishment I remember.
More often than not my mother had help with the household work and children. She loved reading the English classics and children’s books such as those by Edith Nesbitt (The Five Children and It) and passed this love down to her children. From time to time she wrote poems. I give an example, one on Pinook (1944):
All Pinook’s bathed in moonlight and there’s nothing waking here
But breezes lilac-laden and the young leaves stirring near.
And over on the hillside sings the haunting whip-poor-will.
He is calling in the night time and at my window sill.
Other nights in May time and the magic of the Spring
Stir in me as I hear him like the feathers of his wing.
And I long to have you listening – and I wait for you to say
You are coming where the magic held you captive yesterday!
My mother had her daily devotions, particularly her prayers to our Lady, Mother of Perpetual Help. Occasionally we as a family would pray the rosary together. My father went to mass virtually every day and prayed the rosary daily, perhaps in part to beg help to feed and clothe our large family.
A number of my siblings were very expressive. I remember at times viewing this with wonder that they felt or expressed themselves so strongly about things. During our early years at Pinook my older brothers attended St. Louis University High School, driving into the city daily with my father. And my older sisters boarded at the Academy of the Sacred Heart run by Religious of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles. We frequently had weekend visitors and at times large parties to which friends and relatives in St. Louis would come. In the Spring this could be difficult because to get to our house we had to pass through two creek beds, and Spring floods made this hazardous at times. At one Spring party, when I was in the eighth grade, to which my brother John invited some young professors at St. Louis University, the guests had to put on bathing suits or be carried across the creeks. Among those who came were Marshall McLuhan who later taught at the University of Toronto and became famous for his writing on the medium as the message, and a friend of his, Marius Bewley, who had been in touch with St. Anselm’s Priory at one point about the possibility of trying his vocation there. One of my brother John’s friends at the university was the philosophy professor Bernard Muller-Thym, whom, the rumor was, Etienne Gilson considered his best student and who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the mystic Meister Eckhart. Later he had to leave teaching philosophy because it did not pay enough for him to raise his family; he became a consultant to business enterprises to help them rationalize their companies.
Other than “the four big kids” those of us in school went to our parish school, St. Bridget’s, in Pacific, six miles from our home. I started there in the fourth grade. I was first aware of a presidential contest that year, and I was for Alf Landon against Franklin Roosevelt. My father had voted for Roosevelt for his first term, but from then on he voted Republican. He had a great interest in national politics from a conservative perspective. I particularly remember my fifth to eighth grade at St. Bridget’s, taught in one classroom by Sister Laetitia, SSND. She taught two levels each year, so if one entered on an odd year one went from the fifth to the sixth to the seventh and the eight. But if one entered on an even year one went from the sixth to the fifth, etc. I owe a great deal to Sister Laetitia. If as a middle child I did not shine at home, she made me shine in the classroom, calling me out more than others, I thought, to do a math problem on the blackboard. I enjoyed the education and my classmates in the recreation periods and at parties on the occasion of our graduation. During those years (1936-1941) I read a great deal, some of the English classics and about thirty four Rover boys books, which my father brought me each week from a St. Louis library. I also remember that after Christmas in my eighth grade I bought with money given me James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and a sled. Perhaps this reflects the influence of my eldest brother, John, who later became a literary critic, and William who was much more athletic. – From time to time many of us would go into St. Louis for a visit or go to the movies in Pacific. I particularly remember seeing “Pygmalion,” and “Gone with the Wind,” both of which made a lasting impression on me. We had a collection of classical and popular music; and I remember going to Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis at least once for Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.”
At the beginning of Lent in my eighth grade my father asked if any of us children would like to attend daily mass with him for Lent, and I volunteered. After Lent, I spoke for the first time of possibly wanting to be a priest. This was to our pastor, Fr. Ward, in the confessional. And he wisely said simply, “Speak to Jesus about it at communion time.” In reference to this theme, in my freshman year in high school my father took my mother and some of my elder siblings on a business trip to Indiana; and they came back with a glowing account of a large Benedictine monastery there, St. Meinrad Abbey. I wrote the Abbey and asked how one entered the community. They responded that a boy my age would go there for a year of high school first. I did not even raise this question with my father because the tuition, etc. was $400 – a great deal at that time for our family. And I certainly was not ready for that step.
I started high school in 1941 at St. Louis University High School. Shortly after the beginning of the school year the Second World War began for the United States, and in the following year my oldest brothers who were then studying at St. Louis University, decided, rather than to be drafted, to enter a service that would not involve combat. John entered the Merchant Marines, eventually becoming a purser. William entered the American Field Service, becoming an ambulance driver with the English Army in North Africa and then in Italy through Anzio. There is a trove of letters my brother John wrote during the war years, particularly to my mother, which my sister Elizabeth much later, in fact while she was suffering from Lou Gehrig disease, typed out and published privately.
High school was a radically different experience from grade school for me. There was, unfortunately, little contact with my classmates outside the classroom and lunch period. I was involved in only one extra-curricular activity, the elocution contests in my freshman and sophomore years. After school, Tommy, I, and later Edward would wait at a glass door for my father to pick us up and drive us home. Virtually all our teachers were Jesuits, and most of these were young scholastics. Some of them made a deep impression on me. Mr. Colin Daly, S.J., who taught me European history in my freshman year was a good teacher and an engaging young Irishman who in later years taught European history at St. Louis University for decades. In my junior year Fr. Kelly was mesmerizing as he taught us Greek, walking forward and then backing up in an aisle between desks and giving us a daily quiz. Fr. Hochhaus taught us religion or Latin in the same year and a few times brought into class brass knuckles and a shillelagh.
These men also kept the idea of a possible vocation to the priesthood in my mind, though I did not spend much time considering it in high school. Mr., later, Fr. Daly, some years after I had him in class, wrote a book on The Benedictine Centuries. Many years after entering St. Anselm’s Abbey I wrote him and told him that his teaching may have had an impact on my interest in the Benedictines. Fr. Hochhaus once gave us a talk saying that if we loved God and Jesus enough we would seek to be priests or religious; I remember that I challenged this view in class. Fr. Kelly, as director of the sodality, had a private talk with me and probably every other junior. What I remember of this is that he cautioned that I might have a tendency to start something and then not see it through.
During these high school years I read many novels, including some by Dostoievsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Henry James. I remember reading War and Peace one summer and then immediately reading it again. Perhaps it was in part its vivid characters or its relevance to the Second World War that was being fought at this time. By these novels I was exposed to a world of characters and situations I never met in real life; this undoubtedly stimulated and broadened my imagination. – I remember sitting near our furnace on some evenings one Christmas vacation with my sister Elizabeth and brother Tommy reading Pushkin stories to one another. A few of my Jesuit teachers did not approve of a boy my age reading these books. In fact, in response to my speaking during a school assembly, Mr. Daly insisted that I read Little Lord Fauntleroy as a punishment!
In the summer of 1943, because of the war-time food rationing, my father decided that we should raise more of our own food. I was given the job of organizing work for the outside, and my sister Elizabeth a similar job for the inside. We raised 100′s of Spring chickens, and, after killing and cleaning them, stocked them in a deep freeze facility in Pacific. And we raised, froze and canned a lot of vegetables. I had to get some younger brothers to help with the work. Years later one of them told me that they would hide from me and call me Simon Lagree, a slave driver in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Toward the end of that summer my father, I am sure at my mother’s suggestion, invited me to take a business trip with him to Illinois and Indiana. I did feel privileged. A few striking experiences: once, when my father drove onto a farm and we got out of the car and approached the house, a woman came out wearing an open vest with nothing beneath it. Later, my father’s one comment on this was that there are all sorts of strange people on these farms. One night we had a flat tire on a country rode. My father took the tire off, flagged down a passing car, asked the driver to take me to the nearest gas station, have them repair the tire and take me and the tire back to where he was. This all happened, but I was a bit frightened. Also, we spent a night in an old hotel in Tell City, Indiana, and that evening we went to the Catholic Church in town where Benediction or some service was going on. I was surprised that the whole community sang lustily. Later I learned that this church was staffed by a Benedictine priest from St. Meinrad’s.
In 1944, I was preparing to skip the fourth year high school and go on to St. Louis University, where the first semester would take the place of my last year of high school. So, at the beginning of the summer vacation, I hitchhiked into St. Louis to look for a job to earn money for college. A man stopped an picked me up, and during the ride I told him why I was going to St. Louis. He was from personnel in a big shoe company in St. Louis, and he offered me a job. This was to lightly sand the soles and heels of shoes that had been worn briefly and returned to one of their stores and then shellack them so they could be once more offered for sale.
I had this job for a month, but was then offered a job by my Uncle Pip (my mother’s youngest brother, Francis) and Aunt Pat in the suburbs of St. Louis, our wealthiest relations. They had a small property of 10 to 20 acres, and asked me to help by cutting grass, feeding chickens, raising some vegetables, digging postholes and repairing fences, because they kept some white faced Hereford cattle there during the summer. I accepted their invitation, much preferring to work outside than inside, and worked six hours a day Monday through Friday and a half day on Saturday, usually with my cousin Francis when he was at home. After work, I would at times go with cousins my age, Patricia and Francis, to the St. Louis Country Club for a swim and/or dinner. – Particularly after the family had gone away on vacation and I was there alone with the help, I struggled through sections of the Anabasis in Greek that I would have read in the fourth year high school. I am sure that this work for three summers on farms helped me to get more in touch with the rhythms of the earth and life and prepared me for some rigors of sustained work. They were one more blessing for which I thank God. – Another gift of these years for which I thank God is that I joined my sister Elizabeth and my brother Tommy in becoming Third Order Franciscans and went to their meetings at their church in South St. Louis. We also began praying the Little Office of Our Lady.
It may have been a mistake to skip the fourth year high school. I missed taking Virgil’s Aeneid and having Fr. Divine, a teacher in English literature and a favorite of my brother John. About twelve of my high school classmates entered the Jesuits when they graduated from high school. There is, unfortunately, only one of them whom I met from time to time in later years. This was Fr. James Swetnam, later a professor and administrator at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome for many years. I attended my first semester at St. Louis University in the fall of 1944. Not much stands out in that semester. I do remember taking a Greek course in which we read Plato’s Apology and a Latin course.
After that semester, I went to New York City to join my brother Tommy, who preceded me to New York and had a cold water flat on West 34th St. He had been given a 4F status in the draft because in his preliminary physical examination he had handed in to the psychiatrist a short essay he had written on how incompatible war was with the New Testament. In New York he worked in Jewish garment district, little knowing that this was a kind of preparation for his later many decades of living as a monk priest in a small Melkite monastery in Galilee. My reason for going to New York was to enter the Merchant Marines before the draft took me. I never succeeded in this because I was never able to reach the minimal weight they demanded for a recruit. But it was a good experience as my first extended stay away from St. Louis. I did have a job, initially and briefly working an Addressograph, but then at greater length cutting out patterns for felt toy animals, Fran Lee toys. This business was run from her home by Frances Farrelly who was no relation but, on the basis of the same family name, had volunteered to offer a home away from home for my brother William when he was in New York. Frances and, perhaps reluctantly, her husband Gerald became good friends of my brother John and got to know many of the Missouri Farrelly’s. In fact, at one point in my several month stay in New York, the five or six eldest of us were in New York at one time, – with my brother William and John both back in port either at the same or different times for a brief stay. Among other things, I went to museums and a few operas (Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute) and met a couple of the literary crowd with whom my brother John was now acquainted, attended the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and was there for Easter. No doubt, the experience enlarged my very narrow vision of the world; I interacted with people who were different from any I had met before. I left New York before V E day (May and returned home.
My brother Tommy returned to St. Louis not long after I had. On his way back by bus, at the suggestion of Marius Bewley, he stopped in Washington D.C. and briefly visited St. Anselm’s Priory, seeking, unsuccessfully, to meet Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, the main founder of St. Anselm’s. In the summer of 1945 Tommy entered the Trappists at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped. My father saw an account of them in the ‘rotogravure’ section of a St. Louis Sunday paper and handed the section to Tommy, mentioning that it might be something that might interest him. Tommy decided that it was for him, and simply packed a small suitcase, took a bus there and entered within a week!
At St. Louis University during the following academic year, I began to get interested in philosophy. Perhaps it was a course by Fr. William Wade, S.J., that initially sparked this. But there may have been an underlying receptivity to this in me. I remember, years before, being in our station wagon with many brothers and sisters returning from swimming. My brother Tommy accidentally slipped his elbow onto my thigh and then apologized for hitting me. I said that that was not me, but my leg. His response was, if that was the case, he would do it again, which he did. That period was the zenith of Thomism in Catholic circles in the United States, and St. Louis University was a stronghold for this revival. It seemed to me that the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas could give some objective moral bases for human living.
During this year I missed an exam in a metaphysics course because that morning we had a flat tire while driving in to St. Louis. The professor said that I could make it up by writing a paper on an article by Hilary Carpenter, O.P. of Oxford on “The Ontological Roots of Thomism.” I wrote the paper after reading the article 11 times. This gave me a particularly solid grounding in some central themes of St. Thomas’ philosophy. Years later, I found that in the Second World War Hilary Carpenter was a chaplain in the British army with Fr. Alban Boultwood, my first superior and my novice master at St. Anselm’s Priory, and that the book in which his article was published was dedicated to the memory of two Benedictines, Fr. Augustine Walsh of St. Anselm’s Priory, and Fr. Virgil Michael of St. John’s Abbey. Among my philosophy professors was James Collins, the most prominent Catholic historian of modern philosophy in the United States at the time. I took a course on modern philosophy from him, and was particularly struck by Hegel’s philosophy of history. I remember laughing out loud while reading excerpts from this, delighted at Hegel’s manipulation of history to suit his thesis.
On the day I missed my metaphysics exam I also missed an exam in psychology. I liked the professor of this course, and at one point went to him with a recent dream I had and asked him what it meant. It was a dream I had also had some years earlier and been frightened by, and remember having once later at St. Anselm’s. It was of three dimensional soft geometrical shapes slowly and endlessly rolling and eliding into one another. My professor, who taught empirical psychology, told me it was probably something I ate. He also invited me to play chess with him. For some reason, I simply never made up that exam. I had not been much moved by the content of the course; and, as on occasion later in life, I projected my disinterest onto it and so the whole thing seemed somewhat unreal.
During this year my Aunt Pat had given me a present of enrolling me in the Cotillion, a group that put on semi-formal dances for young people every few weeks during the school year. I went to an Arthur Murray studio and took some dance lessons, and then went to all the dances and enjoyed them. I regret being too shy to ask a particularly beautiful girl whether she would like to follow up our acquaintance by going to a movie with me. I also went to a few university dances and invited a classmate to one. When I dropped her off at her dormitory and she spoke of how beautiful the moon was I was too slow to think what invitation was included in that remark.– Also during that year I worked for Bruno Fredericks who had a catering business and hired young men to set up bars at private homes for parties and serve dinners at such parties. The pay was very good for that time, $1 an hour. I enjoyed the work; one saw from the sidelines people who were enjoying themselves and had let down their guard. From time to time I would meet a cousin at a party.
In the summer of 1946 I spent a month with Frances Farrelly and her children on a small island they had in Maine in Penobscot Bay near Little Deer Island. Her husband and a few other guests were there from time to time, but the attention I had from Frances must have been rather marked. When I returned home after that visit, I felt very lonely, no doubt because I was once more simply one of many children; and out of that feeling I composed the only poem I ever wrote. Also, Frances put into my mind the possibility of becoming a medical doctor, and in the fall at St. Louis University I took a course in chemistry. Fortunately, after just a few weeks I had a minor explosion in the lab section of the course, and dropped the course and the idea of studying pre-med.
In the Spring of that year my mother had complained of health problems, had gone to a country doctor who told her that it was beyond him and that she should go to some doctor in St. Louis. She did and after the tests that were possible at that time she was told that she was healthy and should not worry. Early in the fall semester I had the flu and she took care of me for a few days. Shortly after that, she returned to the St. Louis doctor who now discovered that she had inoperable colon cancer. She was not told this but was put in a St. Louis hospital where she died on December 3rd. This was of course an enormous loss and shock to my father and all of us. I remember that at the funeral parlor when only the family was present my father wept and said that he should have provided better for her; my eldest brother responded that money was not important to her; family was. I will add a few words my father wrote to me at St. Anselm’s several years after my mother’s death, with perhaps an overly idealized view of monasticism:
It is not given to but a few of us in this so called outside world to pursue our service of God with the intensity and freedom from distractions that you can enjoy. Undoubtedly there are others outside of Monasteries, but the only one in my observance who attained such heights of devotion and service was your very dear Mother. Knowing her as I did, she always seemed to walk on a different strata from all of us around her. I think her every thought was that she was serving God and she suffered silently, when it was her lot. Her only fault – and that a very small one – was that she did get irritated at times, but it was you and I caused that irritation (of course, there were a few others) but it was fleeting. Some might accuse her of being proud; perhaps rightly, but not that they understood her pride. She was proud of her family; proud of the service she was giving to God in raising that family; proud, but grateful to God, in the health, spirit, ability and accomplishments of her family.
Years later my sister Caroline said that she never saw our parents fight, and I concurred.
The funeral mass was held at the St. Louis University Church, and the celebrant was Fr. Morrison. He gave a very moving homily and testimony to my mother, adding that the children of such a woman could never be petty. As we walked out of the Church, I burst into tears, moved all the more by the memory that she took care of me when I had the flu and she had a terminal disease.
Family life was of course very different after my mother died. For the most part we now lived in St. Louis, initially spread out but soon in a rented house in the mid-west end in the Cathedral parish. We did spend the Christmas period at Pinook. In January a number of us – my father, John and his new wife, Emily, Elizabeth and I – drove to Gethsemani to visit my brother Tommy. I remember my brother John asking Tommy whether Thomas Merton was there, Tommy not knowing but later telling us, yes, that is Brother Louis. I also remember how cold it was. There was noise from the radiator in the section of the Church allowed for the laity, but John said it came from a monk in the basement who had been told to tap on the pipes. I was given the job of driving Elizabeth and Emily to Bardstown where they would spend the night. On the way back I got lost in the Kentucky knobs or hills, but finally made it back to Gethsemani by compline. At compline I was so moved by the beauty of the liturgy, particularly the Lady antiphon, and the generosity of the men that I burst into tears.
On this visit, aside from our general conversations with Tommy, each of us had a private conversation with him. In my time with him, I told him that I was considering the possibility of religious life, but was also interested in teaching philosophy. He gave me a copy of St. Benedict’s Rule, with the inscription, “Never despair of God’s mercy and he shall send you the Light of the world to lead you to Himself. Vado at Patrem (John 14:12: ‘I am going to the Father.’)”
In the second semester that year at St. Louis University, I did check out the University Law School, but solidified my major as philosophy and began seriously thinking of going on to graduate school and eventually teaching philosophy. At the end of the semester I decided that I had to make up my mind whether to go on in philosophy or try my religious vocation. So I went down to Gethsemani for a little retreat and while there spoke to the retreat master about my question. I was so concerned about the restrictions on guests for the monks that I did not even ask to see my brother! When I returned to St. Louis I announced that I was going to try my vocation at St. Anselm’s Priory in Washington. I wanted monastic life, but I also wanted to teach; and St. Anselm’s had education as its primary ministry. I remember speaking to my Aunt Pat about my intention and adding that I felt like a bird let out of a cage.
I visited my brother John in New York and wrote St. Anselm’s from there. I took a train down to Washington and called the Prior, Fr. Alban Boultwood, from the station. He suggested that I leave my luggage there and take public transportation out to St. Anselm’s. When I spoke with him, he expressed surprise at how sure I seemed that life at St. Anselm’s was for me. He allowed me to stay overnight and the next day I returned to New York. I wrote again in a couple of weeks asking whether I could now enter St. Anselm’s. Fr. Prior responded that I could – but not in the middle of the night!