St. John’s class of ’67 reflect on their seminary years

BY CAROL BAASS SOWA | TODAY’S CATHOLIC

SAN ANTONIO • St. John’s Seminary class of 1967, which has met every five years for a class reunion, celebrated the 50th anniversary of their high school graduation Oct. 3-4. Eighteen of the 26-member class, including the four ordained to the priesthood, were present, with two classmates having passed away. During their busy schedule of events and catching up on each other’s news, they paused to reflect on the impact of St. John’s seminary on their lives. Here is what some of them shared:

Father David Garcia: The day our parents brought us here, we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know what we were getting into. But there was some attraction. There was some call. We thought, “I’m not going to go to a regular high school like all my friends. I’m going to go to St. John’s Seminary. And I don’t know why I’m going there exactly, but I think I’m going to figure it out.” The commitment was there. And there was something about that brotherhood that we formed here. I think God has blessed us incredibly.

Mike Burns: It was great formation years and it taught me a real sense of brotherhood and friendship. After 50 years, we still get together. When we met last night, it was like we saw each other yesterday instead of five years ago. And some we haven’t seen for 40 or 50 years.

James Bartosh: To me, it was a great influence. I don’t think I could have gotten a better education than I got. And these guys — we definitely touched each other’s lives, and I think we have a very, very special bond that none of the other classes had in the seminary.

Jim Sprague: It made me look at the world a different way than I think most people do, more of a caring, loving way.

Daniel Cernoch: What kind of influence? The Christian way of life.

Roger Rodriguez: It gave me a sense of brotherhood.

Father Robert Crisp: I was born and raised in Dallas, started studying in Dallas and started in 1963, here in the seminary, through 1967. We started in ninth grade, so we went through 12 years of seminary. To me, as a history major — I have a history degree — it was a very fun and interesting time, but a very difficult time, with changes in the church. Society was changing in the mid-60s — the politics, politics of Vietnam. But there was some kind of holiness. We just gelled as a class. We’re like a brotherhood. We’re like brothers. And the guys who chose to leave after a certain amount of time in the seminary, we are still connected with in our hearts — the guys who were in the priesthood, walking these 50 years with them in our friendship, connectedness, memories. It (St. John’s) touched all of us in some way or another in our hearts.

Msgr. John Bell: I’m one of the latecomers. I came here in my sophomore year because they closed down the minor seminary that I had been in my freshman year. So, it was a change of pace in the sense of going from a seminary that had maybe 40 students in it to — at that time, I think we (St. John’s) had 180. So it was overwhelming in that sense of the word, just names and faces and routine. But I enjoyed my years here. And our class had somewhat of a unique chemistry. A part of it had to do with I came in the same year that Father Tom Grace came in as prefect of students. The Second Vatican Council was still going on, so it was a bit of a period of change, liturgically, administratively and, of course, vocation-wise, so that may have been the reason why we tended to bond together. You hold onto something that remains solid or dependable and that’s your fellow classmates.

Msgr. John Peters: I cannot imagine what my life would be without what I experienced at the seminary. I have great memories. And I learned so many things that have really been put to good use. We’re the only class that’s done it (a reunion) every five years for 50 years, and this is our biggest gathering we have had since our first one.

Msgr. Peters added that he had a special story to share. Now vicar general and vicar of clergy for the Diocese of Victoria, he is also pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Hallettsville and related that one of his parishioners there, a subscriber to Today’s Catholic, had excitedly brought him a copy of the May 12 issue.

“I’ve got to show you this,” she told him, pointing to the paper’s monthly “In Retrospect” column, which features excerpts of past stories from the newspaper’s archives. There, in the “Fifty Years Ago” section for 1967, was Weimar, Msgr. Peter’s hometown.

“It talked about our senior class taking a trip from the seminary to Weimar to introduce the new folk music,” said the monsignor. In his introduction at that long ago folk Mass at St. Michael’s Church, he was quoted saying, “These Masses are mainly to reach out to the youth of today and bring them to a greater interest and participation in the Mass,” but that “one does not have to be very young to be young at heart.”

“I showed it to the guys last night,” said Msgr. Peters, referring to his young at heart seminary classmates.

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