By J. Hugh Visser ’47
In September 1941, Holy Name School opened with 10 boys and 19 girls in the seventh grade, the highest class. Some three months later, December 7, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and we were suddenly thrust into a new and frightening world. San Francisco, and particularly the outer Sunset, seemed vulnerable to a sudden attack. Volunteers became air-raid wardens; there were blackouts and air-raid drills and, in a short time, rationing of gasoline, red stamps for meat and blue stamps for sugar and butter.
In the spring of our seventh grade year, the school had a newspaper drive, and we collected hundreds of pounds of paper. The money went for a Mass kit for an Army chaplain. One of our parish priests went into the military.
In the following year, when I was an eighth grader, our teacher, Sr. Canisius told me that there was to be a scholarship examination for Saint Ignatius High School and that she wanted me to take it. Both of my parents were immigrants from Europe and had no knowledge of high schools. Students from the outer Sunset usually went to Polytechnic High School, which we passed on the “N” Judah line as we took the streetcar downtown.
We had to find out where SI was and how to get there.
On the appointed day I went to SI and took the scholarship exam, which was also an entrance examination. The exam was given in various classrooms, each of which had a platform about 6 feet by 8 feet and raised about a foot above the floor. On this was a desk and chair for the teacher. On the wall of each classroom was an old-fashioned loudspeaker about three feet in diameter over which some of the instructions for the exam and the words to be spelled were announced. At one point after the exam, we were taken into an auditorium and shown movies of school activities, including a basketball game starring Kevin O’Shea. He was a senior at SI and an all-city player, but I had never even heard of him. So far as I knew, none of my Holy Name classmates had ever been to a high school football or basketball game.
A few months later the school received word that I was among the eight winners of a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to SI. I still have the newspaper clipping listing the names of the eight and the value of the full amount — $390 for the whole four years. That August, I went to register for school and met the office staff at that time — two secretaries.
The First Day
On the first day of school, we freshmen found our names and the classrooms to which we were assigned on the main office bulletin board. We found our way to class and took seats. Soon a young Jesuit came into the classroom, took roll and had us sit in alphabetical order. These were to be our seats for the year; we remained in the same classroom and the teachers changed. He told us that he was our registry teacher, that this was a class in Latin, and then told us some of the school rules. Schoolwork was to be done in pencil, homework in ink. Fountain pens and knives would be confiscated on sight. (Ballpoint pens had not been invented yet.) The young Jesuits on their way to the priesthood were “scholastics” and were to be addressed as “Mister.” And going out to your locker, except at recess and lunchtime was an offense punishable by JUG, which went from 3:15 to 5 p.m. Greater offenses were punishable by Saturday JUG — from 9 a.m. to noon.
He also wrote a long word in German, zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl, across the entire front blackboard. He explained that it meant a feeling of working and belonging together, and this was what he wanted his class to develop. He never did tell us his name. Later we found a schedule of classes and teachers on the class bulletin board and discovered that he was Mr. James Markey, SJ. At that time he stood, while teaching, at the back of the class. A student who misbehaved might find himself hit by a tennis ball or an eraser, which he then had to pick up and carry back to Mr. Markey.
The School Day
The school day consisted of two periods, recess, two more periods and lunch. After lunch came activity period for which the registry teacher reappeared. During this half-hour, you could go to school club meetings or stay in the room and study. Two more regular periods completed the day.
Early in the year we carried home to our parents a notice that if we were not doing at least three hours of homework a night, it was not because it hadn’t been assigned.
The curriculum in those days was standard for everyone. We all took Latin, English and math for four years. Freshmen took PE and a study period, though it was possible to take a semester of typing instead of study period. Mr. Tonge, also the 130s basketball coach, taught us to type on the old-fashioned standard machines.
At the end of our first year, those of us who had done well academically were put together in 2A or 2B, and Attic Greek was added to our classes. This was not a choice. About 32 of us who had taken two years of Greek did choose to take third year Greek from the same teacher. This and typing (instead of study period) were the only electives during the four years.
The science class taken by all freshmen was General Science. As juniors, we took chemistry, and as seniors, physics. No course in biology was ever given. At the same time, no modern language was offered. Some of our classmates could speak Italian, but because of the war and the government posters saying, “don’t speak the enemy’s language,” they didn’t advertise this ability. I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to learn another language at an early age.
Memorization and Translation
Our ability to memorize was valued and stimulated by having to memorize all of the vocabulary words in Latin and Greek together with the various changes in declensions, conjugations and tenses. Our English teachers also frequently had us memorize a daily stanza or two of poetry. You would be called on in class to start or continue the poem. One of the poems assigned by Mr. Willis Egan, SJ (whose less handsome brother was in the movies), was “Mia Carlotta.” It was written in Italian-English dialect, but perhaps to avoid hurting the feelings of some of our classmates, it was typically recited very prosaically. But then Mr. Egan called on Aldo Bozzini. Aldo, who later starred in our senior class production of Henry IVand went on to direct plays at Holy Names College, stood up and with voice and gesture gave a very dramatic presentation of the poem. He had set a new standard, and from then on everyone followed his example.
One day during our senior year Mr. William Richardson, SJ, our American History teacher, announced that we were going to memorize the names of all the presidents in order. The class emitted a loud groan. He replied, “It’s easy. It’s like a speech from Shakespeare.” Then in a rhythm and using some names as verbs, he had us recite with him:
“It’s two –four –two.
Jefferson Madison Monroe Adams
Harrison Tyler Polk Taylor
Fillmore Pierce Buchanan
Oh! Lincoln to Johnson Grant Hayes
Garfield Arthur, on to Cleveland,
McKinley Roosevelt Taft Wilson
tell him not to be so
Harding on Coolidge
For Hoover, Roosevelt and King Harry.” (Harry Truman was then president.)
In 15 minutes everyone in the class knew the presidents in order.
On another day in our senior year, Mr. Thomas Flynn, SJ, our Greek teacher, assigned in class a short passage for translation. He then collected the papers. The following day he had students write certain chosen translations on the board. We then voted for the best translation. When one was chosen, he asked the author to stand. No one did. He asked again that the author should not be bashful — that he should stand. Again, no one did. Then he said, “Maybe the author is standing.” He, of course, was the only one standing; it was his translation.
The faculty in 1943 was made up of some Jesuit priests, a large number of young Jesuit scholastics, and a few laymen. The principal was Father James King, SJ, a mild-mannered man, probably a little under 6 feet, who spoke with a slight lisp. He was, however, definitely in charge. On one occasion when I happened to be standing in the main corridor, I heard him speak to a member of the senior class, a student who was a football player and oarsman who stood a good 6 feet, 4 inches. Fr. King looked up at him and said, “child,” and then reprimanded him for some transgression. With that one word, I felt he had cut that boy off at the knees. When Fr. King was reassigned during our junior year, a farewell tribute in Greek, written by our teacher, Mr. Thomas Flynn, SJ, was delivered by Jim Fitzpatrick.
Lay faculty members included Mr. Bernie Murphy and Mr. Bernard Wehner, both long-time and excellent math teachers; Mr. Michael McNamara, an elderly teacher who was rumored to have been wounded in the Boer War; and Mr. “Red” Vacarro, Mr. Alex Schwartz and Mr. Walt Tonge, all of whom both taught classes and coached. After the Second World War ended, the school hired a great English teacher, Mr. Warren White, and a physics teacher, Mr. Ward. As seniors in 4A, we thought that Mr. Robert Ward was barely a page or two ahead of us in physics and sent a delegation to the principal, Fr. Ralph Tichenor, SJ, asking that we get Fr. Raymond Buckley, SJ, a long-time physics teacher, instead. He was not at all sympathetic to our plea and essentially told us that he made those decisions, period.
On another occasion the Class of ’47 made Fr. Tichenor very angry. As seniors, we made a closed three-day retreat at El Retiro in Los Altos. Nearing the school on the return bus, someone began singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and this continued as we started to climb the school steps. Fr. Tichenor came out of the front door, shouted for us to be silent, and threatened to expel anyone who sang or spoke on the way back to our classrooms.
The Jesuit faculty consisted of both priests and scholastics. Fr. William O’Farrell, SJ, the Prefect of Discipline, was known to the students as “Wild Bill.” He prowled the corridors reputedly on crepe-soled shoes, and if he caught you out of class, you were sure to end up in JUG. Also among the Jesuits was Fr. Charles McKee, SJ, who taught religion, a short, stocky man who was said to have been a boxer in his youth, who was also the guardian of the front door at noontime. It was the senior privilege to be allowed to leave the building during the lunch break, but you had to pass Fr. McKee, who stood at the front door checking senior IDs. He took no guff from anyone and made all decisions about your leaving. When we did leave at noontime, we often went a few blocks to Rossi Playground to play catch or talk.
Smoking was also strictly forbidden, and if caught doing it, a student would be expelled. Nonetheless, it was reported that at the market across Stanyan you could buy a single cigarette for 5 cents. A pack at that time was about 20 cents. It was, however, a “do as I say, not as I do” rule. Any student who went to the teachers’ lounge to speak to a teacher during recess or lunch time would, when the door was opened, be greeted by a huge cloud of smoke.
Another priest who taught religion was Fr. Charles Largan, SJ. He had a hearing problem and wore a hearing aid, a box about two inches square, on his lapel. Sometimes our class would make a low humming sound, and he would start to adjust the controls. A similar reaction followed when a student who had been called on would stand and silently mouth his answer. Several years later, a surgical operation was able to cure the cause of his deafness and he was able to discard the hearing aid.
The Jesuit scholastics were mostly about 8–10 years older than the students. Most of them had themselves gone to SI and were familiar with the school’s rules and customs. They taught various subjects, and while some were excellent teachers, others were not. They were, however, devoted to the school and the students, and, in addition to teaching, took on many other jobs. They served as athletic coaches and as moderators of the Sanctuary Society, Sodality, the debating societies and the Red and Blue school newspaper. They also coached participants in the Freshman Elocution and Sophomore Oratorical Contests. Some would go with small groups of students to Mill Valley, from where we would hike to Muir Woods or Muir Beach.
At least twice on Holy Thursday, after the Blessed Sacrament had been moved to the Altar of Repose, Mr. Vince McGinty, SJ, led a group of us from St. Ignatius Church across the street to the Carmelite Chapel and then on foot to visit the Altars of Repose at several other churches, a total walk of perhaps 4 or 5 miles.
Mr. McGinty was also the moderator of the Red and Blue, the school newspaper. Under editor John Jay O’Connor III, assisted by John Motheral, Watt Clinch, Jim Fitzpatrick and several others, the paper came out once a month. As business manager, I tried to get ads from various stores at $1 per column inch. Roos Bros., Ashley McMullin Undertakers and a barber shop on Grove Street took out an occasional ad. We took the typed stories to Flores Press in the Bayview, got the galley proofs and corrected them, and then returned them to the printer.
With every report card period the school gave ribbons for first and second honors. If your average was between 85 and 92, you would receive a red ribbon for second honors. An overall average above that earned a blue ribbon for first honors. Names of the winners were announced over the loudspeaker system, and the students who were called went to the principal’s office to receive their ribbon.
The week of review work before exams was called “repetitions.” If a student kept an “A” average all through the second semester and through repetitions, he could, except for his senior year, be excused from the final exam in June. If you got all “exemptions” in June, you got out of school a week early and got a head start on finding a summer job.
In due time, we became aware of the many extracurricular activities in which we could participate. One of these was the Sanctuary Society (the “Sanc”) whose members served Mass at Saint Ignatius Church. The Jesuit scholastics served the 5:30 and 6 a.m. Masses, and for about one week out of every month, each altar boy was assigned to serve a 6:30 or 7 a.m. mass daily at one of the side altars or at the domestic chapel in the Jesuit Residence. At about 8 a.m. each day, a breakfast was served behind the residence. Anyone who went to communion had fasted since midnight and was hungry.
Under the main altar was a large room with chairs and a pool table. Here the members of the Sanc could read or play pool or billiards between Masses and before school. Some became real “pool sharks.” At the end of the school year there were prizes given to the Sanc members who had served most often. The used basketballs from the intramural games were given to us. You got your pick; those who served most chose first and got the best balls. Bill Healy was often a winner.
On each First Friday, the entire student body attended the 8 a.m. Mass, which was frequently a missa cantata and some of us, directed by Mr. Leo Havorka, sang the Gloria, Credo, Kyrie and responses. After Mass there was time to go for a quick breakfast; Jeanette’s Donut Shop on Geary near 16th was a popular spot for that.
Fr. Alex Cody, SJ, directed the Junior Sodality. At some point, Fr. Cody spoke with each of us about becoming a Jesuit and several of our class did enter the Society. It was custom that on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day, the city officials, mayor, supervisors, fire and police chiefs and so on would go to St. Anne’s Home on Lake Street and serve as waiters for the elderly residents. Many were long-time San Franciscans who were delighted by this. Fr. Cody brought a group of boys from the Sodality to wash dishes for the day. At Christmas he had a group of Sodalists prepare a short play and some songs which were performed at Notre Dame School on Dolores Street for the girls who were from foreign countries and wouldn’t be returning home for the holidays.
The school also had three debating societies: Sophomores belonged to the Congress, juniors to the House, and seniors to the Senate. Each group had a Jesuit scholastic as a moderator, and we participated in inter- and intra-school debates. In the spring, a team from the House debated a team from the Senate in the Gold Medal Debate. One reason to join the debating societies was to be able to attend the House-Senate Dance.
Although various parishes sponsored dances for any high school student, at SI you couldn’t attend a school dance until your junior year. The House and Senate held a dance in the fall for members only. There was also the Junior Prom to which juniors or seniors could go, and the Senior Exclusive. These dances were all held at either the school auditorium or the USF auditorium and a bid cost about $3 or $4. The committee hired a band, usually made up of college students, for the evening, and the boys came in tuxedos rented from Selix or Uptown Clothiers for about $5. Mr. Murphy stood at the door to enforce the “no corsage” rule. If a boy bought his date a corsage, she was asked to leave it at the door. This prevented competition and saved each student at least $4 or $5. After the dance, we often drove to Mel’s Drive-In on Geary for a milkshake or root beer float before taking our dates home.
Ken Innes was one of the people who pushed to bring back the yearbook in 1946. His father took the individual pictures of the students.
During our second and third years, we were required to take ROTC. We were under the command of Capt. Harold Hamilton, whom we called “Cosmo.” The origin of the nickname was his frequent threat that if we misbehaved, he would have us there on Saturday cleaning cosmoline, a thick and tenacious grease, from the M1 rifles. On Wednesdays, the entire ROTC marched in formation. You were supposed to wear your uniforms to and from school, but some students found this onerous, and like Bob Matson, crammed their uniforms into their lockers. The wrinkled uniform then had a “locker press.”
At the south end of the field were some telephone poles topped by a transverse piece of lumber from which hung four ropes each about 2-inches thick. As part of our R.OTC training, we had to climb these ropes. We handled real rifles but never fired them. The school’s rifle team, which shot .22s, practiced in a range in the school basement.
Although only the freshman class at SI took physical education — and this was a mild exercise class because there was no gym and no facilities to shower — there were many opportunities to participate in athletic activities. The intramural program went on all year, but as the courts were outdoors, rain cancelled many games.
On the asphalt-covered yard on the northeast corner of the campus there was a daily noontime softball game. Homeruns were made when the balls went over the fence, and the players were often indebted to passersby who threw the balls back onto the field. The noon hours were also filled with basketball games, and each year there was a competition for which every registry class fielded a team. The games, played in the center court behind the school building, were well attended and hotly contested. A registry class that happened to have a couple of the stars of the thirties or varsity teams usually did very well and would often emerge as the winner.
Both SI and Sacred Heart were members of the AAA, the Academic Athletic Association. Varsity football games were played at Kezar Stadium and sometimes on the fields of Washington or Balboa High Schools. St. Mary’s, USF and Santa Clara also played at Kezar, but there were no professional teams at that time. I still remember our game against Sacred Heart that opened the season in 1945. The grass at Kezar, especially compared to the field at SI (now Negoesco Field), was so soft and lush that there was little incentive to get up after having fallen or having been knocked down. That was the first game of the season in which SI won its first AAA football championship.
Mr. “Red” Vacarro coached the “thirties,” the freshman-sophomore team, also known as the “goof squad.” The varsity had been coached by Mr. Alex Schwartz until he left for the public school system. Under Mr. John Golden, the varsity won SI’s first city football championship in 1945.
The school supplied shoulder and hip pads as well as pants and jerseys. There were perhaps 25 or 30 helmets for the team. Each player had to find one that fit him, and if you were sent in as a substitute, you either had to find a suitable one or use the one from the player you were replacing. We supplied our own socks, cleats, mouth guards and supporters.
The basketball teams — thirties and varsity — practiced at the Page Street Gym, now the San Francisco Boys and Girls Club. At the time, it was a barn-like building with few amenities. The lightweight teams practiced outside in the schoolyard.
In an effort to equalize competition, basketball players were divided into teams by “exponents.” So many exponents were given for age, height and weight. Basketball teams played as the 100s, the 110s, the 120s and the 130s. If a player wanted to make the 130s and was close to the limit, though he couldn’t control his age or height, he might, as some did, fast, dehydrate himself or even take laxatives for a short period before the weigh-ins.
Basketball games were played at Kezar Pavilion on Stanyan Street near the stadium. Before big games it was not unusual for a large number of cheering students to march down Stanyan from SI to Kezar. In fact, before basketball and football games, rallies were held at school. Fr. Giambastiani, who was from Italy and taught at USF, was sometimes invited to perform. He would stand in his cassock on the platform that was at the top of the steps above the basketball courts, jut out his chin and have the whole student body standing in the courts below raising their fists in the air, shouting, “Duce! Duce! Duce!” Then he’d quiet the crowd, pretend to give a speech in Italian, pause, and then the students would again shout, “Duce! Duce! Duce!” and this would go on for 10 or 15 minutes. Another frequent speaker was Donald Gordon ’43, a member of the U.S. Marines and a former football player at SI. The band, under Mr. Orlando Giosi, played at some rallies and most games, regaling us with renditions of the fight song.
The swim team practiced at a pool in the basement of the YMI Building on Oak Street.
Each year the student body put on a school play under the direction of Mr. James Gill. A large professional-looking glossy program was put out for the play, and students sold ads for the programs. The student raising the most money got a prize. Bob Mitchell, son of the Chief of Police, was a frequent winner. The money from the ads was to help build a gym, but our class had been out of school for a number of years before a gym was finally built.
Our parents came to school events such as the Elocution and Oratorical Contests and the school play; they also came if invited to the principal’s office to discuss a son’s problems. Mothers of boys at SI and USF also formed the Loyola Guild, and although they held an occasional tea, their main purpose was to raise funds for scholarships. They held an annual rummage sale, first at Polk Hall at Civic Center, and later at the Hall of Flowers. When my mother discovered the source of my scholarship money, she joined the Guild and worked in the furniture section of the sale for the next 40 years.
When we were juniors Mr. McGinty asked several of us to help move furniture and other large items for the sale. Our efforts were rewarded; the Guild had him take us to lunch at the Golden Pheasant and then to see The Student Prince at the Curran. This wasn’t my first visit to a stage play. During freshman year, Mr. Felton O’Toole SJ, our English teacher, suggested that for extra credit we go to the Geary Theatre to see The Merchant of Venice. While sitting in the upper balcony, I recognized several other SI freshmen nearby also watching John Carradine play the merchant.
Our junior class (3A) also decided to have a picnic at Searsville Lake near Stanford. Each of us put in $3 or $4. The war was over, and someone whose father had connections to a meat market bought T-bone steaks, and someone else bought spaghetti. A couple of us who had driver’s licenses went down to a truck rental place on the corner of 9th and Market Streets and arranged to rent a stakebed truck. We invited our registry teacher, Mr. Maurice Belval, SJ, and our chemistry teacher, Mr. Frank Koenig, SJ, to go along.
On the appointed Saturday, we got the truck, drove to SI to pick up the Jesuits and our classmates and drove to the lake, where we swam or played ball and stuffed ourselves, finally coming home in the late afternoon. No one worried about written permission, insurance or liability then. We never knew if the school administration was aware of the picnic or whether the scholastics told anyone.
There was no college counseling of any type at that time. Some fellows who wanted to be engineers went to Santa Clara; some from the East Bay enrolled at St. Mary’s; a half a dozen went to Cal or Stanford; and the rest of us moved up the hill to USF.
Our graduation ceremony was held twice. In the morning a ceremony was held at St. Ignatius Church, and in the afternoon, as part of a ceremony for all Catholic High Schools, we were given our diplomas by the bishop.
I think we were fortunate to have been at SI when we were. The friendships we formed with our teachers and with each other have lasted for over half a century and are still ongoing.