Personal Memories of Msgr. Vincent Foy: Apples and Applesauce, Dining at St. Augustine’s Seminary in the nineteen thirties

By Msgr. Vincent Foy

Apples and Applesauce

Dining at St. Augustine’s Seminary in the nineteen thirties

Ordinarily, during recreation periods at St. Augustine’s Seminary, we were not permitted to walk alone. That rule did not apply during retreats, when silence was to be observed. I remember that on retreat in September of 1934 I was walking in the apple orchard, which took up the large patch of land from the entrance-gate to the seminary on the eastside. By a remarkable coincidence, I was just reaching up to pick an apple when there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked around to see Fr. Martin Johnson, our bursar (later Bishop Johnson of Nelson, B.C., and still later Archbishop of Vancouver). “Mr. Foy”, he said, “You are not allowed to pick the apples in the orchard. You will get your apples in the form of applesauce in the refectory”. Indeed, our dessert was often applesauce from that bountiful orchard.

Dining at St. Augustine’s in the nineteen thirties was somewhat different from dining there today. Seminarians sat at approximately twenty oblong tables, ten students at each table. There was a Prefect, a Deacon, at each table. There was also a special table for Deacons who were not table Prefects. They sat at Table No.1, directly beneath the raised platform at the south end of the refectory where the professors sat at the head table.The rector sat at the center of this table, facing the students. He had charge of the dinner bell, signaling when talking could begin or when to stand for concluding grace.

The students of each table took turns in waiting on the others. Two were assigned to the head table. Each of the others was assigned to two or three tables. It was by drawing lots that the head table waiters were chosen. This was not an envied duty. I remember that in my first year Clem Dougherty drew the head table. He begged me to take his place, which I did, and remained a head table waiter for most of my seminary days. On his first experience at the head table, Leo Murray was so nervous that he spilled the soup on the lap of the rector, then Msgr. Francis Carroll, later bishop of Calgary. “Get down out of here” said the rector “and never come back”. Leo was happy to comply.

Waiters never saw the St. Martha Sisters and their help in the kitchen. Staples like the soup tureen and bread and butter and milk were on the table when we entered the refectory. The main dishes were served on a revolving drum from which the waiters took the plates to their hungry companions. After meals the waiters had their fill, and I mean fill, because they had free access to whatever was left over at the head table. The pickings there were good indeed-meat and vegetables and pies. Al Goetz, once a butcher’s assistant, had an astonishing appetite for meat and eggs. I recall that after one waiting duty he finished off eight or nine eggs from a head table platter.

Meals were good, but appetites were even better. When I went to the seminary in 1933, we had bacon and eggs every Sunday morning. I was told that before our time bacon and eggs were served every morning. In the thirties that privilege was reserved to the head table. One or two professors even had a breakfast steak. Two or three times a week we were served two pies per table. I had the distinguished honor of being pie-cutter at my end of the table. The secret of retaining that position was to cut oneself a portion slightly smaller than the others. It was then easy to cut the remainder into four equal parts. During Lent some of us gave up pie and the extra pieces were graciously devoured by Lenten pie-eaters.

Seminary pies bring to mind our best checker player, a seminarian from Winnipeg known as the “The Sheriff”. At St.Augustine’s we could not stay indoors during the evening recreation hour. Seminarians at the China Mission Seminary were allowed that privilege and sometimes we joined them. The Sheriff habitually sat at a table with a checker board and challenged all comers. If he did not win five games in a row, he would send you his next piece of pie. If you lost five games in a row you would send him your next pie slice. I challenged him once and lost my next pie. It was a rare occasion when he did not have two or three portions of pie on pie days.

Our food was wholesome. Bread was baked by the Sisters, and there was an unlimited supply. Many vegetables came from the seminary farm. Milk was from our own dairy herd. It was not pasteurized, though the herd was regularly inspected. About 1936 Jim Meehan of Ogdensburg and Fr. Leonard Hodgins, our bursar, came down with undulant fever from the milk, and were seriously ill. That was the end of our nonpasteurized milk. It was the recurring fever which was the principal cause of Fr. Hodgins’s death in January, 1943, at the age of 44.

Alcohol was a no-no. On the Easter Monday free day about 1936, two seminarians returned from downtown Toronto with alcohol on their breath and were immediately expelled. The penalty for drinking an alcoholic beverage during vacation was dismissal. All Toronto students, before becoming Deacons, were required to take a solemn pledge, in the chapel with hand on the bible, to abstain from alcoholic beverages for a period of ten years.

Shortly after he arrived in Toronto, Archbishop McGuigan, concerned about the large Archdiocesan debt, employed an efficiency expert, a Mr. Stoeckle, to cut down seminary expenses. Gone went the Sunday morning bacon and eggs, up went the frequency of applesauce desserts. Whereas formerly pancakes and syrup were served occasionally as dessert, now they became a main course. Once tripe was served for dinner, but so widespread was its rejection that the rector promised it would never be served again.

It was a rule that no food was to be kept in one’s room. Like all rules without serious consequences it was often honored in the breach. In the Fall of 1933, Dr. Davis (later Msgr.), the Prefect of Discipline, announced there would be an official visitation of all rooms. When the knock came on the door (incidentally, no locks were allowed on doors) we were to open our trunk or any other containers and stand at attention outside the door until the inspection was complete. One autumn evening the knock came on my door–room H in the basement of the main building. After the examination Dr.Davis reported that all was in order except some fluff under the bed, which I was to take care of immediately. I do not recall that any seminarian was found with contraband in his room.

A few weeks later, Dr. Davis replaced the rector at 5.30 p.m. in the spiritual lecture room. He informed us that though he informed us beforehand of his visitation while we were in our rooms, we were not told of a subsequent visitation when we were not in our rooms. He said that some had broken an important disciplinary rule and were to be admonished. He read a list of about twelve seminarians: “Mr. Albert De Luca, you had cheese and crackers in your desk drawer. Mr. Matthew Darby, you had an apple in your bookcase. Mr.Percy Johnson, you had a Sweet Marie chocolate bar under some papers. Mr.Bernard Belanger, you had two packages of Planters’ Peanuts in plain view”. etc.

The public admonition did not entirely correct this abuse. Sometimes concerned parents smuggled in edibles on the two Sunday afternoon visiting periods allowed per month. I recall one occasion when Art McMahon had been brought a large paper bag full of apples. As he was rushing from the outer to the inner door, the bag broke and apples went rolling over the floor in full view of the visitors. There was much laughter as Art gathered up his forbidden fruit and disappeared in great haste. It must be said that in my time, to my knowledge, no one broke the rule against having a magazine or newspaper in one’s room. That would have resulted in expulsion.

There was another breach of the rule for which many should have later struck their breasts and said “mea culpa”. On Thursday afternoons we were allowed to trek as far as we could go along the shore or even along the top of the bluffs to the East. Then there were nothing but open fields until one came to the Guild of all Arts buildings. Occasionally in good weather some seminarians participated in a grand wiener roast on the fields not far to the East. By some mysterious communication a truck delivering wieners and buns was met on the road leading down from the China Mission Seminary. By another mysterious connection with the Sisters of St. Martha, a good supply of butter was obtained. All of this resulted in a grand picnic over a good fire. I have photographic evidence of this delinquent behavior. There is Ross Guernsey, Frank Flynn, Al DeLuca, Matt Darby, Gerry Loftus, Bill O’Flaherty, myself and others in festive mood.

On the one occasion, when I could not make it to the picnic, the revelers were discovered by a hiking professor. This was reported to Dr. Davis and there was a public reprimand. Each hot-dog consumer was named in the spiritual lecture hall and required to pay an individual visit to Dr.Davis in his study. So our picnics came to an inglorious end.

In the Fall of 1934 it was discovered that a few seminarians were in the habit of visiting Wade’s Dance Hall, on top of the bluffs just to the West of our property. There on Thursday afternoons one could relax over a cup of coffee or coke and biscuits. There was even a five-cent slot machine. It was rumored that a certain student, who shall be unnamed, lost $5.00 on that greedy machine. This was during the depression when most of us had no more than a dollar or two to our names. Word got around, and Wade’s was declared off limits.

All in all, we dined well at St.Augustine’s in the nineteen thirties. It was not exactly like dining at the Ritz but the curbs on our voracious appetites was a lesson in temperance. There was little danger of obesity. It was a bit of a mystery how Louie, “butter-ball” Hickey maintained his avoirdupois. Surely, among our happiest seminary memories were the times at table, enjoying not only the meals, but especially the good company, high spirits and cheerful banter of our companions.

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