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Journal Entries - Seminary Days

Excerpts from Personal Journals of Philip G. Roets

May 11, 1983.
Last night, as we walked through the display at the high school Achievement Fair, I thought back to what I could have shown in my high school days. We had no such thing as Shop for the students. My achievements, other than academic, were Barbering; Fire Safety; Tree Maintenance; Cleaning; Hauling Coal, hay, corn; Dishwasher.

By the end of the first year of high school, I could cut hair well enough that the priests came to me regularly. Fire safety meant we had to refill all fire extinguishers once a year and paint all five escapes. Tree maintenance was a full time job. In the cold weather we split wood for the home of two maintenance men and their families. The rest of the year we trimmed, planted and removed trees and shrubbery. This also included all the lawn cutting. I was always on the clean-up crew and wash-gang. For two high school years, I was in charge of both. Coal came in coal cars at the (railroad) siding and a group of us were appointed to unload and haul the coal to the bins. We got 7 or 8 cars a year. Each car was one day’s work. Haying and cutting and hauling corn was all hand work. Dishwasher was primarily at the hospital in the summer.

(In additional to full academics) I had a lot of non-academic achievement in the survival area.

April 29, 1985.
Twenty days left for this school year. I can remember our last year at Kirkwood as clearly as if it were yesterday. We had actually finished our second year of college since we had the 4 years high school and 2 years college at that time. We got out a month earlier than the rest of the students because we were headed to the Novitiate on June 21. This was May 1, 19441. I was 20. The War had not begun for the USA, although it was 29 months old in Europe. We started what was called “dog days.” Classes were over and we had two weeks preparation for exams. Technically we could be tested on anything we had had in the 6 years. Ordinarily we were questioned only on the two years of college.

We could walk anywhere on the property. We had a lunch every morning and afternoon. We could wear our watches. We could listen to the radio during the 4:00-5:00 remission. We thought we had the world by the tail.

May 28, 1985.
As we discussed the movie on Salem and the tragedy of ignorance which had been perpetrated, I too thought of parallels in our world. The self-righteous, narrow-minded fundamentalists doted on a Supreme Being whom they called Love but was seen only in his ability to get even and show vengeance.

We had retreat masters in the course of our training who tried these scare tactics. I remember deliberately turning them out. I’d get a good history or philosophy book and read my own ideas. After the retreat was over, some guys would be scared until it wore off and the rest decided that was one approach not to use.

September 3, 1985.
I just remembered this was my final vow day in the CSsR. Forty years ago today I took final vows. We read them in chapel just before breakfast and then went down to our regular breakfast. We didn’t even get permission to talk at table. We started class that day. Three years later the “powers” decided there should be a celebration so we were allowed to talk at table from 1948 onward.

Fifty years ago today was my first day at Kirkwood (Minor seminary) I can still remember my first impression of the building. I couldn’t find a bathroom. You guessed it - I had to go. Finally, I relieved myself in one of the showers when no one was looking. Later I found the bathrooms. Hardly a propitious start - but a very real one!

September 22, 1985.
I enjoyed the drive down by the river and dam. We can go over on another evening when there is no rain spitting.

I liked the walking around in the parking lot right at water level. I used to do this at the lake in Oconomowoc (WI) so many times when I wanted to think. I’d go down boathouse hill and then walk along the shore. It was always thought provoking and peaceful, especially if I was riled up about some teaching or practice.

The museum or whatever it is called was certainly interesting. Those two men making cider reminded me of the hours we put in at the seminary in identically the same job. It was always a dirty, sticky, smelly job but three or four of us did it every year. Then we took all the cider to Sister Hermina in the kitchen on a given day. She pasteurized it for us and then we bottled it in gallon jugs and had it all winter except the first winter Sutton was boss, 1956. Sutten gave it out to his relatives and friends without a word to the community. About 40 complaint letters went to the Provincial. Sutton never tried that move again.

October 20, 1985.
It’s 50 at 5:30 - a cool, gray, cloud-covered fall day! These were the days when we had our best soccer games at Kirkwood as kids. It was cool enough to keep moving in order to stay warm and not too cold as to get uncomfortable between halves. Then I’d take a hot shower, get dressed and read till dinner time. Sunday dinner was always great. Then we had all afternoon to read or study. Supper was always my favorite “Kirkwood” dogs and beans.

September 27, 1986. (major seminary in Oconomowoc, WI – referred to as Oc-oc)
At the seminary, I liked to get out on an island in the middle of Pine Lake. It was about a mile from the closest canoe landing. Motor boats could not dock there because it was too shallow. So only the canoes could get there. We spent many an hour reading or talking there.

Lake Nagawicke also had about six islands but the lake was huge and when there was a wind whitecaps came up at once. Canoes had it rough there.

October 3, 1986.
Today will be the homecoming climax for the kids. I think I mentioned we had the equivalent of this celebration every year on Thanksgiving at Kirkwood and later at Edgerton. This was always the great soccer game of the season. All the classes played each other in the last weeks before Thanksgiving. Then on the day itself, the freshmen and sophomores in college would play. We all had sweaters in our class colors, a huge banner with our class motto and then a parade before and a big victory dinner afterwards. We were allowed to have individual “events” on each day of the week. Friday was always a holiday and an opportunity to savor the victory or lick the wounds.

February 21, 1997.
You asked me about prayer. The original prayer of the church was the collection of Psalms. These were read, sung, recited or chanted. Originally, all the Psalms were “occasional” songs to commemorate or describe some event, action or person and to express the people's feelings.

These Psalms were taken right over into the Last Supper and we are told Christ and the apostles chanted the final Psalms on the way to the Garden of Olives. The first Christians continued this practice at their commemorative suppers. Then the monks took over and spread the Psalter through the whole day and night.

The “Our Father” was to have been a short outline for meditative prayer. Chapter 17 of John is one example of such practice. This was the notion of prayer we were taught in novitiate by John Zeller & which I followed through my whole life and still do, today. Each morning, I run through the day in this meditative fashion. Sometimes I have questions to answer, problems to solve, works to do, people to meet - what have you.

January 30, 1987.
I really watch a high school wrestling match intensely. I clench my teeth and tighten my stomach and make little twists with my body to help the wrestler break a hold. We did so much of that sparring at Kirkwood as juniors and seniors in high school and 1st year of college. There were six of us who were close friends, the same weight and wanting a couple hours of exercise. We brought old mattresses out of the attic to the gym. We sewed them together with gunny sack needles and cord string. It was ingenious. It was a lot of fun, demanding and took care of exercise for the week. Father Flanagan often came over and watched for awhile and gave bits of advice. I had lots of advantages. I had strong arms, a good chest, a strong back and legs, and I was squat. One of the guys learned some Ju-Jutsu from a book. We tried that but we always felt a couple of pages were missing in the instruction.

February 12, 1987.
Today is Abe Lincoln’s birthday. I think I’ve read every life of Abe I’ve ever seen. In 4th grade we had a nun, Sister Zita. She was from Illinois and “had a thing” about Abe. So she read us stories from some book. It might have been her collection. I really looked forward to these stories and became hooked on the homespun philosophy that was Abe. Years later, I learned that many of these stories were spurious and Abe would have had to double his life span to get all the stories told. That, however, did not bother me. I like the stories and the ruggedness of the man.

I also liked to read about the heroism of the people during the Civil War. I always saw the war as the evil juggernaut trying to destroy the country. The people, themselves, I could see as victimized by the place in which they lived or the convictions with which they grew up. There were a lot of powerful novels in our library at Kirkwood which revolved around the heroism of the people in Civil War times. I’m sure I read them all.

February 28, 1987.
I like all the seasons but I think spring has always had the edge with me. At Kirkwood, it always meant coming out of the gym with rakes, hoes and shovels to tackle the gulleys cut across the ball fields by the late fall and winter rains. The property all slanted downward at a steep incline from Rose Hill Road to the pond. In between lay our two ball fields so we always had a lot of work to get ready for baseball. Several people suggested hiring graders, etc. Father Flanagan said we wanted exercise and this was good exercise while it was too late to play basketball in the gym and too cold to play baseball. He won out, each year.

August 24, 1987.
There blows the train whistle as the morning train goes through. I really like that sound. The Mo-Pac train ran a 1/2 block from our grade school and a 1/2 mile from our dorms at Kirkwood. One of the first sounds we heard each day was the train whistle.

September 3, 1987.
Each time I start thinking of the middle 1930's I think of that food line at Kirkwood. Each evening when we came out of class at 4:00, there was a line of cars from the back drive on Rose Hill Road to the water tower. That was about 3 city blocks. As they waited, the men smoked, drank beer or played cards. Sometimes the women participated.

As those cars got their baskets, others would pull until about 6:00 p.m. They received bread, fruit, meat, eggs, and milk. Some of these things came from our farm at the seminary and the rest were bought. That continued from 1935 to 1942 after the war started. It really bothered a lot of us. We felt we were being “taken.”

September 30 1987.
Last night was the first time I have acted as a game official in any capacity since I left the seminary in 1948. I did a lot of umping and reffing in baseball and soccer and some football during the seminary days. We did not need any special hand signals at that time. We could “holler” our decisions and all could hear and react.

October 16, 1987.
I recall my own grade school days. I never got bored with school. I enjoyed books as far back as I can remember and school was the place and source of books. From 4th grade through 8th we had a reading period of a 1/2 hour to an hour every afternoon. The students were picked to do the reading to the group. I read part of that time every day. The books were always of great interest so everyone listened.

Once I got to Kirkwood, talent and effort were always fostered and praised. We were always encouraged to go beyond the classroom limits. We had 5 hours of class and 4 hours of study hall every class day. Opportunity and encouragement to do well were always present.

November 27, 1987.
I woke up this morning and I was immediately reminded of the day after Thanksgiving in 1940- 47 years ago. At Kirkwood, there was a tradition of the Thanksgiving Classic. This was a Soccer Game on Thanksgiving morning between the college freshman and sophomore teams. We were the freshman in 1940. The upper class had a better team on paper but we had speed, guts and determination. We won by a score of 3-1. Naturally, we talked a lot about it the rest of the day and rubbed salt in the Soph’s wounds when we could. On the next day, (Fr) Juli Grehan called both classes together in our classroom. He congratulated us on the game and then asked how many would even remember the game 50 years from then.

This morning, 47 years later, I can remember the pep talk and the score of the game but I cannot remember a single play of the game. So geht es! (German for “So it goes.”)

January 25, 1988.
Last night, as I heard the wind roaring outside, I thought of the big dormitories at Kirkwood. We had three dormitories. One held 80-90, another 60-70 and the 3rd held 15-20. In the wintertime they were big drafty barns with high ceilings, on the 3rd floor, oodles of big windows that rattled in their casings, and open to the wind on 3 sides. I remember how we would rush to brush our teeth, wash up a bit, get into pajamas and dive under the covers. Then in a few minutes all was snug & toasty - until the bell, next morning at 5:00 a.m. Once we got to the Novitiate we got our private rooms and that was delightful.

More entries about Seminary Days will be added as Phil's
personal journals are reviewed.

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