This is the season for graduations and school reunions. I recently went back to Pennsylvania for a reunion and 50th anniversary celebration of my high school class of 1964.
It was a great weekend. My good friend and classmate (since fourth-grade!), Msgr. Robert Wargo not only gave to me free lodging in his rectory outside of Allentown, Pa., but he also gave to me use of his car.
On Saturday, I drove to visit my sister Pat in Hazelton and then made the short trip to the outskirts of Mahanoy City, my hometown nestled in a little valley. As is the case with many of the coal towns where I grew up, the hills outside the town provided a natural place to bury the dead. I stopped at the graves of my parents and brother and said a prayer. Then I took off for the reunion at a restaurant not far from the Catholic high school I attended — then called Immaculate Heart High School.
As I journeyed the 10 miles west to my high school, I realized that I was driving the same school bus route that I rode each day to high school. Memories flooded my mind as I retraced the steps.
It was an adventure to go to Catholic high school. I was the only one in my family to go there and, as I reflect, though it was only 10 miles away, it was the first time I left home and ventured out. Abram took that first step of a journey some 1800 years before the birth of Jesus, and God led him to the promised land of Canaan. Like all the vocations that followed, and mine was one of them, the decision to venture out is a big first step. It is often best appreciated by looking back and retracing the steps, and that is what I did as I drove to the reunion.
I passed by the high school and decided that I had a few minutes to stop. The school has since closed and so the gate was locked. I abandoned the car and walked the quarter mile up the long driveway, and 50 years ago seemed like yesterday. I took two photos to tweet and paused to say a prayer. While there must well have been changes to the buildings, they looked remarkably like my high school days in the 1960s.
Later that night, I received a special commemorative booklet prepared by the classmate organizers, who did a super job! Among the many details in the booklet, I was interested to see that we were taught by 15 sisters (Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters whose motherhouse still is outside Philadelphia), one lay woman (Mrs. Mack) and one lay man, who also was our fine basketball coach (Mr. Ratomski).
In addition, a little Memory Book was prepared for every classmate at the dinner. We had all been asked to contribute a memory and here is what I wrote:
I can remember the spring of ‘63 when we participated in “Ring Day.” It was a very special memory for me since I left our class at the end of that junior year to enter St. Charles Seminary to pursue formation for the priesthood. I recall having to make a little speech about the ring as a sign of faithfulness and loyalty during our Ring Day Ceremony. I also can remember our gathering in what seemed like a large auditorium that likely was very, very small. … Along the years my ring got lost, but the memory of the school event and the meaning of the ring did not. Now fifty-one years later, I wear a bishop’s ring that is meant to symbolize faithfulness and loyalty to Christ and to the people of Louisville whom I am called to serve. Of course, other classmates wear wedding rings and other signs of faithfulness and loyalty. What we share in common now a half-century later is the truth that we learned — faithfulness and loyalty — at IHHS and that foundation is with us today. For this I give thanks to God.
At the end of the meal, each person stood and told us about his or her life since graduation. It went quickly and included good-natured kidding that brought all of us back to our high school days. There were 35 present along with some spouses. Our class originally had 113. I found out that 22 have gone to the Lord since graduation, so the turnout was quite respectable. Many, of course, married, and it was uncanny, especially in this day and age, that virtually all have been faithfully married … some approaching 50 years but most for about 45 years. The faithful witness that was the focus of our “Ring Day” message has been heeded well by the Class of 1964! I pray for those graduating this year that the foundation of Catholic principles will similarly take root in their lives.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz