Chalk-Dust Memories: The 1980s

Phyllis Molinelli

Phyllis Molinelli started working at SI in 1978 as a secretary for counseling, campus ministry and student activities. In 1983 she became a sophomore counselor and has, over the years, served as department chair and head of various counseling task forces. She retired in 2005.

When I first started working at SI, I felt like a mother to all the students. I was in heaven because I am a mother, and boys have a tendency to invite you to mother them. I used to bake cakes for kids when they had birthdays. It was a smaller school then, and the teachers knew every student.

The atmosphere was also more relaxed than today. We used to string popcorn and cranberries for the school Christmas tree. The faculty used to play practical jokes on each other. Frank Corwin and Bill Love used to put frogs in the detention box to scare whoever was doing detention. One day Katie Robinson and I rearranged furniture in the faculty lounge to resemble an airplane, with Frank Corwin and J.B. Murphy as pilots, with their chairs in the front.

Adding women to the faculty has tempered the male energy and has calmed the storm. Students are more comfortable expressing affection for one another. People hug each other and hold hands, and the guys don’t hesitate to offer a hug at Mass during the sign of peace. When we were an all-male school, that just wasn’t done.

By Mike Menaster, MD ’82

I was in Steve Phelps social sciences/history class as a freshman (1978-1979). Steve was talking about guerilla warfare, and I asked if that had anything to do with monkeys. That question got me a detention.

I took Fr. Dodd for Homeric Greek, and one of my classmates, who was not doing well in the class, tried to bribe him with a bottle of Greek wine. I reminded Fr. Dodd, “Never trust a Greek bearing gifts.”

I attended college at Loyola Marymount University with a pre-med and chemistry major. One of the required courses was a physics laboratory. Predictably, the midterm test was very difficult. A couple of days later, classmates in another section came up to me and congratulated me. I asked them to explain. The instructor said that I earned the high score on the exam. He explained that people criticize American education, but that I was an exception because I had attended SI and studied Latin and Greek.

Latin is actually very useful in the medical profession, despite being a “dead language.” During a pre-med course in alcohol/drug studies, the instructor asked what NPO meant. I reflexively responded, “Nihil per orum.” After observing a puzzled look on her face, I translated, “the patient can’t eat or drink anything.”

Fr. Harrington taught me the classical pronunciation of Latin (1978–1979). We learned it so well that I cringed when I heard Ecclesiastical Latin pronounced. During medical school, we studied myasthenia gravis, a neurological disorder. Classmates didn’t understand me when I pronounced the letter “v” in gravis as a “w.” We proceeded to have a discussion about the merits of classical Latin as opposed to Ecclesiatical Latin. I still pronounce the disorder as “myasthenia grawis.”