Personal Memories: Seminary Entertainment in the 1930’s

The following article was originally published in Emeritus, Volume 1, Issue 5.

Seminary Entertainment in the 1930’s

By Monsignor Vincent Foy

It was not all prayer and studies in St. Augustine’s Seminary in the nineteen-thirties. Spirits and the energy level were high. The general atmosphere was of exuberant good will. It is not surprising that there were many expressions of this within the bounds of a rather confining Seminary Rule.

All recreation was communal. Seminarians were not permitted to walk alone except on Retreat. I discovered this in September of 1939 when I dared to walk alone to the Regina Cleri cemetery and was reminded that this was against the Rule. Particular friendships were to be avoided. It was forbidden to have a radio in one’s room. Early in the Fall of 1933, the rector, Father Francis P. Carroll, announced that perhaps a few of the new students were not aware of this strict regulation. He said it was known that two seminarians were in possessions of radios. If they left these outside the door of the Prefect of Discipline that night after night prayers, nothing more would be said. Six radios were left there that night, most of them, I was told, little crystal sets.

Sports, of course, varied with the season. There was baseball, hockey, tennis, handball, bowling in the “gym”, golf on the “flats” above the bluffs, cliff climbing, and hiking along the shore. I recall one important ball game between the seminarians of the China Foreign Seminary and those of St. Augustine’s. Emmett Lacey, with his fast ball, was our pitcher and great hope. For some strange reason I was appointed to be base referee. I have only one good eye, do not have three-dimensional vision, and was no expert on rules. In any case, my first call was to call one of the China players out at first. There was a great hue and cry, laughter and cheers on our side and boos and heated indignation on the other. I was summarily dismissed and so ended my career as a referee.

In the winter of 1933-34, after the Christmas break, in an evening recreation  period from 7.30 to 8.30 P.M., a grand skating costume carnival was held. Imaginations ran riot. There was Percy Johnson in a bathing suit over long underwear with the sign “George Young”, on his back. George Young was the great marathon swimmer of the twenties. Sal Cirivello  was dressed in a “maggie” uniform. Where he got it was a deep mystery. The “maggies “ were the ladies dressed in blue and white uniforms who helped  the Sisters in house-cleaning, looking after the quarters of the Seminary professors. Another participant was a China Mission seminarian, speed-skating, dressed in a nun’s habit, smoking a cigarette. I recall watching Father Carroll, the rector, watching this spectacle in apparent shock. The next evening during the spiritual lecture period, he announced that there would be no more female impersonations in seminary events.

Every year we had one great sports event. I still have in my files the program for the “Tenth Annual Track and Field Meet-Oct. 13, 1937”.  In charge were Roy Monahan and Ray Carpenter.  Assistants were J. Mattice and F. Marrocco (later Bishop Marrocco ). Sixteen events are listed, beginning at 1:15 sharp. Here are a few of the grand events: Foreward passing, sack race, obstacle race, relay race, wheel-barrow race, tug of war, and 440 yard dash. It is difficult to describe the intensity of enthusiasm that greeted these demonstrations of prowess and physical strength and agility.

Theatricals were a regular part of our entertainment. In the early and mid-thirties these took place in the old gym, where there was a dilapidated stage in the south end of the north side. I can still see, through the mists of time, a few cameos of the performances. There was Ray Morrison who did an energetic tap dance. The problem was that the dancing raised such a cloud of dust that he could hardly be seen, resulting in loud and sustained applause. In one presentation, little Joe Welch of Ottawa took the part of the lady known as “Lou” in “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”. In real life he did not smoke, but here he was rouged, puffing away at a cigarette and flashing his eyes. This performance, though it provoked loud laughter, led to a second banning of female impersonations, this time announced by our new President, Msgr. Edward Brennan. Another memory is of Gerry Cochran singing a plaintive “I Need Sympathy”. The loud laughter indicated that everyone agreed with him.

In the mid-thirties we had a much better stage, assembled and taken down after each performance. It was erected at the north end of the refectory. Here we had a grand minstrel show in which I was in the chorus. There were stars like Goetz and Kennedy who put on a hilarious magic act. Here we had a Passion Play, with John Carley as Our Blessed Mother, John Brennan as St. John, and Al DeLuca as a convincing Judas. We also had a fine rendering of “MacBeth” put on by the China Mission seminarians. Two episodes elicited unexpected and loud mirth. One was the scene of the three witches mixing their brew over a great black pot; the other was Lady MacBeth walking through a large window instead of a door. Next evening at spiritual lecture time , Msgr. Brennan  reprimanded us severely for our behaviour, when our guests were trying to elevate our literary tastes. He told us that “The ones who laughed so loudly last night were the very ones who, after they are ordained, will be reading the Saturday Evening Post”. We did not dare smile, but all of us knew that Dr. Lucius Barnett, our professor of Canon Law, was an avid reader of the Saturday Evening Post.

In my files is the mimeographed program of a presentation entitled “Silly Sympathy: The Little Red School House- with a Galaxy of Stars-Ten Years Run in New York- Closely Chased by Audience”.  Music was provided by “Steve McGillivrey and his Merry Men of Music”. One of the program Ads reads: “Do you suffer from: Fallen Arches, Athlete’s Foot, Dandruff? Then use Wheat Germ, sold exclusively by Dr. Ray Morrison”.  Another reads: “Why be Weak and Puny? By the Earl Liederman System you can make yourself a Physical Giant in 2 weeks- Apply to Percy Johnson”.

Worthy of mention were two lectures given by Dr. “Louie” Markle, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, illustrated with large colored slides. One was of the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. The other was about his pilgrimage to Oberammergau. Not to be forgotten were two perfomances of Dr. Kirkpatrick, our Professor of Elocution. Without notes and taking all the parts, he gave us, with changes of voice and appropriate gestures, the complete plays “Macbeth” and “Othello”.

These are some of the memories that appear like ghosts in the mists of time. Recreation was a happy interlude as we prayed and studied, with our hopes always on the great goal of the Priesthood.

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