The following article was originally published in Emeritus.
Dr. Markle’s Call-Wheel
By Monsignor Vincent Foy
As star differs from star, so does teacher differ from teacher. That was the way it was with our professors at St. Augustine’s Seminary in the nineteen-thirties. There were bright star teachers and less bright star teachers. One thing they had in common: all were dedicated priests doing their best to mold the rough clay of seminarians into fit vessels for the priesthood.
The rector until late 1935, when he was named bishop of Calgary, was Father, later Msgr., Francis P. Carroll. He taught Sacred Scripture, but our class did not have the privilege of listening to his lectures. I imagine he was an excellent teacher. Who can forget those piercing eyes and intensity of delivery as he gave us our half-hour spiritual lectures five days a week? Every lecture was written by hand, but reading them did not prevent eye contact. One felt that he was talking to each of us personally. In his presentation the Seminary Rule took on the gravity of the Ten Commandments. A great priest and rector!
Our Spiritual Director and professor of Ascetic Theology was Dr. Cyril Kehoe, a Carmelite Father who had been at St. Augustine’s from its opening. He was well past his prime, but we had great respect for him. We called him “The Chief”. He taught well with a question and answer method. So trusting was he that when we had our term exams he presented us with the questions and then announced: “Gentlemen, I know that I can trust you completely”. He would then retire to his room and return shortly before the end of the test time. I am ashamed to report that in his absence two or three students pulled out their notebooks to refresh their memories-proof of original sin even in those hallowed halls.
Fr.Richard “Dickie” Dobell taught us English Literature and Rhetoric in our philosophy years and Sacred Scripture in our theology years.He was methodical and dedicated and in my opinion a good teacher. His notes were those used by Fr. Carroll and for the most part handed down from the noted Scripture scholar Msgr. Kissane who taught at St. Augustine’s in its early years and later was rector of Maynooth in Ireland. Fr. Dobell was not charismatic and I do not recall that he ever told us a joke. Once he asked for a quote from Scripture illustrating God’s Providence. Howard MacMillan raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. MacMillan?”. Howard answered: “Dr., ‘The hairs of your head are numbered’ .”. There was loud laughter, for Fr. Dobell, then in his thirties, was quite bald. His face blushed crimson as he replied : “Mr. MacMillan, one day you may come to this same sorry state.”
Fr. John “Buck Ingoldsby taught us Latin and Philosophy from the Latin text by Lortie. We respected him greatly for his dedication and sincerity. He taught by the book; even jokes he told every year were written in the margin of his text. One of his favorite expressions was: “Gentlemen, I say to you now what I have said before: learn to profit from your mistakes.”
Dr. Lucius Barnett was our teacher of Canon Law. His course in Canon Law was really a post-graduate course. He rarely came into class without an armful of books and was able to give an assortment of opinions on any given point, so that often we were confused by the abundance of contradictory pronouncements. I confess to often nodding during his classes. Once I kept awake by counting the frequency of his use of the word “then”. I tallied 133 “thens” in one lecture. Dr. Barnett’s zeal and expertise made him an invaluable resource for pastors, the chancellor and the marriage tribunal.
Church history was taught by Dr. J.B. O’Reilly, (“J. B.”). I confess that I enjoyed his lectures more than any others. Although our text was the great four-volume “History of the Church” by Philip Hughes, “J. B.” found it impossible to stay with any text or program. His talks were wide-ranging, the fruit of his voracious reading. Books were piled high in his one-room quarters, giving him a narrow passageway to the sink and his bed.
Head and shoulders over all our professors as a teacher was Dr. William Davis. He taught moral theology, with three volumes of Noldin, in Latin, as our text. Dr. Davis was not a scholar, but imparted expertly what he knew, with clarity, emphasis and enthusiasm. Who will ever forget the principles of double effect when they were taught by Dr. “Bill” Davis? Hardly any extra study was needed in moral theology, so well were we taught. All who came under his tutelage were especially grateful to Dr. Davis.
Other stars in the professorial galaxy were Fr. Basil Ellard, Fr. Alphonse Belanger and Fr. Gerald Quinlan. They are remembered with gratitude..
All the above is prologue. The teacher who influenced my studies above all others was Dr. Louis, “Louie” Markle, our professor of Dogmatic Theology. He was ordained in 1921. When he taught our class from 1936 to 1939 he was in his early forties, though to us he seemed older. In the second and third year of our theology course he taught us from the Latin text of Herve. In fourth year theology, the text was the Latin “Summa” of St.Thomas Aquinas.
Dr. Markle had the reputation of being an excellent spiritual director, but he was a poor teacher. His method centred around a call-wheel. This instrument of torture was a small aluminum wheel mounted on a metal base. It was marked along the circumference with as many numbers as there were students- about seventy, for second and third theology students took their dogma together. Each of us had a number, recorded in a notebook on Dr. Markle’s desk. At the beginning of the class the call-wheel was given a whirl and when it stopped a little arrow indicated the fateful number. The name of the unlucky seminarian corresponding to the number was called and then began a perhaps twenty or thirty minute grilling on the matter assigned the previous day. Sometimes there was only one call, sometime two.
In the normal course of events, one could expect two or three calls in a term. So intelligent was the wheel that some seminarians were never called, or very rarely. Albert Goetz, who repaired the professors’ watches, and had been out of school for a few years, and had now reached the advanced age of about thirty, was never called. Towards the end of the class we were assigned a section of Herve for study, with very little explanation. Because Dr. Markle believed that dogmatic theology was more important than any other subject, he insisted that we should spend an hour and a half of study each day on his assignment. Our longest study period was from 7.30 p.m. to 9.15 p.m.., when we went to chapel for the rosary and night prayers. Lights were out at 9.45. So, according to Dr. Markle, the study of all other subjects was to take place in the brief study periods before or after each lecture. This seemed unreasonable to me.
Early in the Fall of 1936 , I made an analysis of Dr. Markle’s calls and found that by making a point by point summary I could “get up” a call in about half an hour. Using this method I survived my first call quite well and so continued in blissful ignorance of what was to come.
One evening I was out walking with my good friend and classmate Leo Austin. We had been friends and classmates all through De La Salle High School from 1928 to 1933. At the seminary I had chosen the newly-ordained (1933) Fr. Alphonse Belanger as my Spiritual Director; Leo had chosen Dr. Markle. I explained to Leo my method of preparing for the inevitable calls in Dogma and how it could be done in half an hour. In all innocence, when he next went for weekly Confession and spiritual direction, he mentioned how Foy could get up a call in half an hour.
The following Monday morning, greeting us with his usual good-natured smile, Dr. Markle spun the call-wheel, but before it had stopped he called out “Number 12-Mr. Foy!”. I had no idea of the inquisition to follow. He questioned me on points not in the text and in the foot-notes and in general made me look like a perfect ignoramus. At the end of a long call he asked “Mr. Foy, how much time did you spend on this assignment?” I truthfully replied “Half an hour, Dr.”. He said “How much time did I say you should spend?”. “An hour and a half, Dr.”. He replied with a frown, “Now you see the reason”. I had no idea at this point that Leo Austin had told him of my brilliant method.
Thinking that I was safe from a call for two or three weeks at least, I went back to my method. That was a big mistake. The next day, again before the wheel had stopped , Dr. Markle called out my number and name. This time the inquisition was even more detailed and the humiliation more complete. Again I was asked how much time I had spent on the call and again I replied honestly “Half an hour”, and I was rebuked more severely. A third day I was “put to the blush”. This time I said truthfully I had spent an hour on the subject and was told “Evidently that is not enough”.
I realized I was in deep trouble. My worst fears were confirmed. I learned that Leo Austin had innocently betrayed me. It was also obvious that Dr. Markle thought I had told many in the class of my technique and that his authority had been undermined. Actually, I had told only Leo.
From then on, until ordination, I spent an hour and a half in preparation for each class of Dogmatic Theology. In the Fall of 1936 I had at least 15 calls. Until May of 1939 I had many more than my share of calls. The result was that I had the highest marks in Dogma, and it became my favorite subject.
My good friend and class-mate Matt Darby had a favorite subject: Canon Law. That was my worst. He was always apprehensive about making a poor showing during the Dogma calls. After ordination we were both sent to Laval University in Quebec City for post-graduate studies: he to study Theology and I to study Canon Law. We never knew whether Archbishop McGuigan had made a mistake or whether he over-ruled the recommendation of the Seminary. We never asked.
That is the story of Dr. Markle’s call-wheel. It was a smart wheel. A few it ignored. Some it remembered only occasionally. Some it treated kindly. For those suspected of not recognizing Dogma as the Queen of all Ecclesiastical Studies, it could be a little severe. For some time after seminary days, in my dreams I could see a little spinning wheel and then a mellifluous voice call out: “No.12!. Mr. Foy!!”