Jack O’Dea ’28, a longtime supporter of SI who, at the time of this writing, still attends many SI events, recalls performing as a devilish imp in the Pageant of Youth in his freshman year at SI. The plot revolved around the devil tempting a youth, and the youth successfully resisting. “In addition to being a lot of fun, it was a great place for high school boys and girls to meet. Many students paired off, thanks to the Pageant.”
O’Dea also recalls his one algebra teacher at SI who made a big impression on him: David O’Keefe. As a college student at SI, O’Keefe played on the varsity baseball team that took on the Chicago White Sox and nearly won. “As a baseball legend, he inspired fear in us. All he had to do was turn around and look at you and you burned.” O’Dea also notes that over the years he has met “so many people who say they played on the team, that it’s no wonder they almost won. They must have had outfielders all over the place.”
The entire student body, as in years past and years to come, celebrated First Friday Mass together at St. Ignatius Church. (This tradition ended with the move to the Sunset District campus.) O’Dea recalls that afterwards, Fr. Whelan would announce the class awards for the month. As a freshman, O’Dea won the Latin Medal one month for having top marks in his class. Later, back in class, O’Dea listened attentively as his Latin teacher told him, “You fooled me this month O’Dea, but as long as I live, you will never get another medal!”
O’Dea won the Gold Medal Debate in his senior year and led SI in debate against Lowell and Santa Clara. The debates were taken so seriously that Fr. Whelan, the principal, wouldn’t let Charlie Casassa (who would join the order after high school and later become president of Loyola University in Los Angeles) or O’Dea play basketball for the 145-pound squad against Polytechnic High School because they had a debate that night.
The scores were never high for the games, O’Dea said. “We beat Poly 3–0 in football when Vin Casey dropped-kicked a field goal. We also beat SH that year, though we were never very good. We would always sit together in the rooting section. Fr. Whelan said at one game that he was astounded to see 250 students in the rooting section at Ewing Field (north of the former Presentation High School) even though the school had only sold 25 tickets. It was a pretty high fence to climb, but we made it!” He also recalled the SI baseball team winning the AAA in 1927 with a 3–0 record, coached by Lorenzo Malone, SJ.
The Class of ’28 also entertained themselves in other ways. During their lunch break, members of the class would play softball in the enclosed yard behind the school. Toward the back of the field was a shed with a row of toilet stalls with doors that didn’t quite reach the ground. “We posted two outfielders on the roof of that shed,” said O’Dea, “and one outfielder on the steps leading to the classrooms. Sometimes a ball would be hit and roll under a stall in the outfield. Without a ‘by your leave,’ an outfielder would kick open the door, regardless of who might be in there, get the ball, and throw it back into play.”
O’Dea adds that his four years at SI, from 1924–28, “were the greatest years of my life. We had such camaraderie. At one time there were 700 people in the school, and we knew everyone. I remember one holiday when we all came back to school because we enjoyed being there.”
Fourteen of O’Dea’s classmates entered the priesthood that year, with most joining the Society of Jesus. Those large numbers were typical of the time, spurred, in part, by active recruiting among the Jesuits and by the example of the young scholastics. O’Dea recalls the Jesuits taking students out of class to interview them to see if they had an interest in joining. “They never called me out to be interviewed. They called me out for other reasons, though!” His good friend Charles Casassa was one of those interviewed who did join the Society after leaving SI.
O’Dea, 92 at the time of the interview, graduated with a BA and law degree from USF and became an attorney. He sent his sons — John Francis O’Dea Jr. ’76 and Thomas Martin O’Dea ’79 — and his grandson, Ryan O’Dea ’07, to SI. He retired at 82 and is still an active member of the SI alumni association, attending the downtown business lunch and the annual golf and tennis tournament and all-class reunion each June.