Sal’s first night in the seminary was anything but peaceful. He tossed and turned most of the night, and at one point actually got up sat in a chair and stared out the window. Unlike the sounds of the city, there were no buses,police sirens or the bellows of patrons leaving the bars at 2 am; there was only silence . After a few more fitful starts he actually dozed off .The next sound he heard was”Benedicamus Domino” a voice in the hallway beckoning him to greet the new day. He learned the night before that he was to respond with”Deo Gratias.” Quickly rising he splashed cold water on his face which reinforced the fact that this was no longer a dream ;he was actually in the seminary. As he shaved he looked into the mirror and thought “well here goes nothing”. Opening the door he joined the procession of equally dazed seminarians who were making their way to the chapel.
Before Mass the schedule identified this time as a period of meditation Sal was clueless because he had never done this in his life He gazed around the chapel and noticed that most of the seminarians, especially those who were tabbed as deacons had their eyes closed .He began the process by having his eyes closed, but he didn’t know exactly what he was supposed to be doing. Literally hundreds of thoughts were running through his head, and there was a high degree of anxiety. Finally the bell indicated that the Mass was about to begin. The rector came from the sacristy and the celebration of his first Eucharistic experience at Darlington began..
After mass the seminarians proceeded to the cafeteria .One of the deacons offered a blessing in gratitude for the food. After the blessing it was now permissible to speak. There were introductions as each seminarian became acquainted with the other people at the table Sal was encouraged because it seemed that everyone at the table was as anxious as he was Most had very little knowledge as to what would transpire for the rest of the summer. After breakfast the new seminarians were s instructed to go to their rooms and collect their notebooks At precisely 8:45 they were to go to the mansion where they would have class from 9 to 12. The summer classes for the new seminarians consisted of two courses. One was entitled the “gentlemanly priest” and the other was” introduction to the holy rule.” Sal could not fathom in his wildest dreams what would be the content of the first course.
The mansion was absolutely exquisite and had been the residence of James Darling .It was built by James Crocker and took six years from 1901 to 1907.It was a magnificent residence that rivaled the palaces of Europe.The mansion was a replica of Bramshill the residence of the Prince of Wales built in the sixteenth century. Crocker imported Bavarian sculptors to literally create a palace. The walls,ceilings and staircases were all hand carved and the great ballroom had glittering Tiffany chandeliers .Entering the classroom Sal observed that there was a table at the front of the classroom which had place settings. His initial reaction was that there would be a snack during a break between classes.. However what he didn’t realize was that somewhere along the line the seminary had gotten the idea that perhaps the seminarians had fallen out of a tree and had never been exposed to a normal meal. The course which could have been a parody at a comedy club introduced the new seminarians into the fundamental eating rituals that most civilized human beings had experienced in the first 18 years of their lives. The instructor was a young faculty member who had the unenviable task of teaching seminarians where to put the napkin, where the knife and fork went ,and how to have civil discourse at a meal. This marvelous revolutionary information was followed by other breakthrough concepts like shining your shoes, combing your hair, brushing your teeth and how to shake one’s hand when you are at a social event.. Needless to say whenever there was a break in the course and the students would move out onto the veranda to have a cigarette some of the comments were priceless. Sal facetiously offered ”I think there is a presumption that most of us dropped out of a tree because this course is beyond imagination.” This opening comment was met with a barrage of similar ones” I’ve been putting my napkin on the wrong side of my lap for the last 20 years ,and I’m now feel like I have had a breakthrough ,this insight will really explode my spiritual growth.” Another offered” I was always wondering what that instrument was on the table, and now I know that it’s a fork. One by one members on the veranda made poignant observations. “At my house we eat soup with our hands and so I saw no value in trying to pick up the soup with a fork, but I know now after that brilliant lecture that the fork is to stab things like meat. Sal was pleased that there was going to be a great deal of humor in this new life because that was such a vital part of his growing up in Jersey City
The second course which followed “ the gentlemanly priest” focused on spirituality . The seminary philosophy was built on a particular set of traditional beliefs. These composed the holy rule and silence was a major part of this. There were significant periods during the day when seminarians were expected to be absolutely silent whenever the bell rang their silence was to be immediate without exception. The spiritual advisor who taught the course conveyed the belief that these periods of silence were based on the need for seminarians to reflect on their relationship with God .He indicated in every lecture that over a period of time following the religious rule would shape and form them spiritually .. Sal ever a chatterbox found these periods of silence difficult ,and though he absolutely followed the law to the letter initially he could not see the great value in this requirement. At this time Sal had promised that he would not question every single rule or belief because if he were going to be here he would try to be as passionate and committed to the process as possible. This course was certainly more thought-provoking than” the gentlemanly priest “and the faculty member that taught it was the spiritual director who had been an Navy salt before he entered the priesthood. He was a feisty ,no nonsense person who spoke straight from the shoulder He more than occasionally warned the new seminarians not to take themselves too seriously. One of his favorite lines was “put a Roman collar on a broomstick and someone will fall in love with it. “ During the summer the spiritual advisor on a very hot day had just on slacks and a sports shirt and on his left arm was a large tattoo that he had acquired sometime in his naval career
Sal was pleased to realize that whenever you gather group of individuals together in a somewhat confined life all sorts of humorous behavior begins to occur. The seminary certainly was a primary example of this because despite the religious settings there was also the reality that humor and practical jokes were part and parcel of Seminary life. Some of the ways in which this was evidenced was during the summer every room had a transom window which was kept open in order to have circulation of air because there was no air-conditioning in the building. Sal was immediately aware that not only were these opportunities for the free flow of air they will also provided perfect access for water balloons. That summer the floating of a water balloon through the transom was transferred from the deacons to the new seminarians, and when that water balloon hit the entire room would be flooded. This bit of juvenile behavior was also accompanied by short sheeting people’s beds ,and especially during the grand silence you could hear the person trying to get into bed ,and occasionally there would be the use of the Lord’s name and certainly at that time it would be used in vain.
Sal survived the summer but was incredibly grateful that there would be a. vacation at the end before they would begin the new school year. When the vacation was over Sal’s s level of apprehension was not nearly as high as the first time he had visited in June., it still was somewhat dubious as to whether this was the right path for him to follow.