Dan Flynn ’57, who served as editor of Inside SI in his senior year, now teaches ESL in Belgium. Looking back on his days at SI, he sees several problems with the way he was taught and with what he was taught. Michael Corrigan ’60, the author of Confessions of a Shanty Irishman and The Irish Connection and Other Stories, also found SI at times to be an oppressive place.
The third critique, by C. T. (Terry) Gillin ’62, reflects on the value of Jesuit education in the 1950s; he praises the Jesuits for teaching him to read critically, for encouraging him to evaluate what he was learning and for inspiring him to model his own life after theirs.
SI changed drastically in the 1960s and 1970s to fix the problems discussed by Flynn and Corrigan while keeping alive the core values — the ones Gillin and many others found valuable. Spurring these changes were Vatican II, the needs of a new generation of students, and the desire of Principal Edward McFadden, SJ, and the faculty to turn SI into a modern school.
By Daniel C. Flynn, ’57
All in all, I am totally grateful for my years at SI. I just wish the Church at that time hadn’t been so uptight about sex. Women were portrayed as “occasions of sin.” Good grief. Nevertheless, life has “turned out well” for me and I am completely grateful for the life I have today.
Actually, people of my age were lucky. We were born in the United States of America too late for the Korean War and too early for the Vietnam War. We benefited from America having won World War II and having helped Japan and Germany recover from their defeat. We did suffer from the ailing President Roosevelt’s concessions to Stalin, the most malicious dictator of our century, to bring a more rapid end to World War II, but we survived the subsequent Cold War that resulted from those concessions.
First impressions of SI: Fifty years ago, I entered St. Ignatius High School at Turk and Stanyan Streets. My first impression was “gray.” (I have a picture of our senior retreat at El Retiro taken February 1957. It’s a grim gray picture with little evidence of joy.) After I spent eight years in the colorful classrooms of Notre Dame des Victoires and then St. Monica’s, the gray, dank rooms of SI stood ominously in stark contrast. (My Belgian friend and former SI classmate George De Cat ’57 will tell you that the SI classrooms were fantastic compared to his post-war primary school classrooms in Belgium. It all depends on your life experience and point of view.) Maybe it was the fact that we were no longer in class with beautiful young women — just guys. What were they trying to protect us from? Maybe it was because we had stepped back in time to the Middle Ages or even the Dark Ages when we entered SI. I learned years later that our Jesuit teachers had actually whipped themselves in the seminary for holiness!
Teachers: Mr. Piser, SJ, English, now Robert Blair Kaiser, journalist and author; Mr. Eugene Bianchi, SJ, Sociology and 4-A homeroom teacher, now a layman and professor emeritus at Emory University in Atlanta; Mr. Andrew Dachauer, SJ, chemistry; Mr. Leo Rock, SJ, Latin; Mr. Corwin, history; and Fr. Spohn, physics. Dachauer was a nice guy for me. I wonder where he is today. [Editor’s note: Fr. Dachauer is pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Mammoth Lakes, California.]
Moments: Being Editor-in-Chief of Inside SI and producing an innovative Sports Illustrated-style monthly magazine after Bob (Piser) Kaiser had replaced the typical high school style newsletter with a Time magazine-style publication the year before. Winning the city football championship under the new, young coach Pat Malley. Being one of five cheerleaders that season. Winning awards for acting out James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in citywide competition. Watching Fred LaCour lead SI to a city championship in basketball. Acquiring a lifelong skill by taking a pre-school morning typing class from Rene Herrerias, the basketball coach. Playing on the SI soccer and tennis teams and winning a block letter.
Classes: Mr. Rock giving up on our 4-A “Honors Program” class in Latin and having us read the rest of Caesar’s Gallic Wars in English. The walls of the classroom bending in an earthquake one year.
Antics: The Jesuits trying to teach us that kissing above the neck is a venial sin and below a mortal sin. They couldn’t have been serious, but they were, and some of us were so naïve as to have believed them. A Jesuit spiritual director preaching to us that we should pin a scapular to our pajama pants at night to protect us from temptation.
Tragedies: A symbol of the sexual revolution to come — a talented young student who played the guitar was thoroughly punished by the priests and scholastics for a mild imitation of Elvis Presley at a pre-game coed rally one afternoon.
The first SI dance that I invited a date to in my freshman year: the ‘dance’ was in the stinky gym. There were no decorations, no band, no nothing. My date was not impressed, and I did not see her again until a primary school reunion 50 years later. Having to take Latin and ancient Greek because I was selected for the honors program. How about useful modern languages such as Spanish (third in number of native speakers in the world) or Chinese (first in number of native speakers)? They are just as useful for “training the mind” — the excuse we were given as to why we were being trained in Latin and ancient Greek.
The sex advice I got from Fr. Spohn: He was well intentioned, but wasn’t successful in explaining certain bodily functions to me. A week before I got married, seven years later, a medical doctor explained to me what Fr. Spohn had not. (My dad had died when I was 10, and there was no one in the family to counsel me to take the Church’s teaching with a grain of salt.) We had a perfectly awful textbook called “Modern Youth and Chastity” to guide us in sexual matters.
Philosophic reflections: It seems our class was near the end of the medieval-style education that the highly educated, but insulated, Jesuits tried to pass on to us. Some Jesuits had worldly experience, but most lived in the luxurious men’s club that was known as the Society of Jesus so long as you played by their rules. The world was a shock after I left the Catholic cocoon of the 1950s and entered the Army for two years as an officer. Did I have more talented teachers at SI, especially among the scholastics and lay teachers like Mr. Corwin, than I would have had had I gone to public high school? I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t have gotten a more realistic education at a place like Lowell High School and at San Francisco State rather than Santa Clara University where I went after SI. It no longer matters. I’m grateful for this free gift of life that I do have. Today, SI appears to be a colorful, lively place. But it also appears to be a school primarily for rich people’s children. (Editor’s note: SI may appear this way, but the reality is quite different. SI awards more than $1 million in tuition assistance to about 20 percent of the student body, ensuring that no one is denied an SI education for lack of funding.)
I wound up winning the General Excellence Award at graduation, but it turned out to be a hollow award for me. I was extremely touched by the award, but I did not feel good about it. Many of my classmates were much more talented than I. I felt alone, apart and alienated from them by the award, while my self-esteem glowed in the false, ephemeral sustenance it gave me. Today, I feel my classmates are loveable guys, and my only regret is that I wasn’t capable at the time of getting to know them better. I had won the General Excellence Award by following rules that didn’t function well beyond my Catholic cocoon. So, despite the award, I was ill-equipped for the greater world at large. I survived, though, and I have a beautiful life in Europe today with a wonderful wife, and for that I’m grateful.
So, what is the residual value to me of that Jesuit high school education at SI 50 years ago? I still have quite positive memories and souvenirs of my years at SI. I have my big SI block letter that I won in sports and wore on my white cheerleader sweater. I still have copies of all the Inside SIs I edited. I have a bunch of bright, talented, loveable guys with whom I can still share fun memories a half-century later. Nonetheless, my two primary school reunions are even more fun. I can share memories with bright, talented, loveable women as well.
By Michael Corrigan ’60
I thought the curriculum at SI was broad and scholastically viable, though I didn’t want four more years of religion after eight years with the nuns of Notre Dame. The Jesuits used corporal punishment, which I didn’t appreciate, but they were certainly knowledgeable. The Modern Youth and Chastity course was ridiculous in retrospect, and the absence of girls and/or sex education was a flaw. I was amused at the quaint term, “self abuse” or “solitary use of the genitive faculty” for masturbation. I wanted to attend a public school but my father wouldn’t allow it.
I did like some aspects of SI. The drama teacher was also a singer, and I acted inPaint Your Wagon, which only confirmed my lifelong love of professional theatre. Fr. Becker brought literature to life. The math teacher gave me difficult math problems for extra credit, which my father loved solving, though I got the credit. Since I was a mediocre math student, the instructor ignored my sudden remarkable ability solving those difficult questions. Certainly, I did learn the value of discipline that helped me when I decided to take graduate school seriously.
I don’t remember much student camaraderie. Two friends left SI in their second year. I did feel somewhat alienated not being a superior athlete, and I was disconnected from SI by my final year, as most of my friends were outside the school.
The school was simply too strict, too much like a military camp for my tastes, though, when I visited SI in March 2004, I found it to be quite remarkable. In an odd way, SI did prompt me to better understand Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man and Camus’ work, which could be used as an argument against the Jesuit style of education in those days.
The Ignatian Spirit . . . Half a Century Later
By C.T. (Terry) Gillin ’62
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, we wrote “AMDG” at the top of our homework, essays and tests. Ad majorem Dei gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”) may be virtually all that remains of my four years of Latin, but it embodies the Ignatian spirit that lingers in my life almost half a century later. “AMDG” was a reminder that the work, however routine, bore the meaning we brought to it with our own intentions. It was a sign that our work was done with respect for ourselves as well as for the assignment.
In 1958, St Ignatius High School took a child and, over four years, turned him into an adult — as Jesuits have been doing for hundreds of years. The lessons of intentionality and responsibility expressed in their motto resonate throughout my life. They can be summarized in three points. First, the Jesuits taught me “to read.” Reading is not as simple as it seems; it requires interpreting, making sense out of the story or essay by understanding its assumptions and implications. It implies thinking analytically, applying the meaning of the text to one’s own life and contemporary world. Reading is an invitation to think about the kind of person one wants to be and the kind of society one wants to help build.
In our senior year, one of the novels we read was Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. As I recall it, the story concerns a “whiskey priest” caught in the turmoil of Mexico’s revolution that has outlawed the Church. The central figure has given up his priestly vows to save his life; he is living with a woman and struggling with his conscience. He hears that an escaped convict is in the mountains and wants to confess before he dies. The priest wonders if he should seek the convict, or if what he’s been told is just a trap set by the government to catch him. In the end, the priest chooses to search for the convict and is caught by the government. I remember the way Fr. Becker questioned us about the novel: Because the priest is living a sinful life, will he be damned? Or, because he lays down his life for another, will he be saved? Through the discussion that followed, we were invited to recognize something of the complexity of life, to move beyond the child’s world of black-and-white morality, and to think and evaluate for ourselves.
This remembrance leads me to a second point. The Jesuits taught us not only to think but also to evaluate: to recognize that our everyday actions, the ordinary things we think about and do, are important. Each thing we do matters: how I respond to family, friends, colleagues and strangers such as other drivers, people on the street and panhandlers. The Jesuits taught that we are all a little like the whiskey priest. Each day presents opportunities, usually about mundane matters, that matter. It seems to me, the Ignatian question is, How am I to respond? And the assumption is that we each have deep within ourselves the ability to know how to respond.
Thirdly, I remember being impressed by the Jesuits themselves, their commitment to teaching and their dedication to us, their students. At SI, the Jesuits gave us a place to define ourselves, to be grateful for our accomplishments and to be tolerant of the inevitable mistakes, our own as well as others’. I saw them as role models for a way to live that makes a difference — loving my family, dedicated to my work, contributing to the community, working toward the development of a just world. Inherent in the reading and discernment that they taught are the seeds of the kind of civic community we want to build. It was the experience of my Jesuit teachers that led me to become a teacher and inspired me to understand teaching as more than the transmission of ideas; rather, teaching helps students connect their understanding to their own actions. For me, the “more” (the “majorem”) in the Jesuit motto is the belief that I can come to a better understanding of my self and the world and that we each can make a difference.
Terry Gillin lives with his wife and son and is a professor of sociology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.