Chalk Dust Memories
John Wildermuth (1969)
Everyone has seen priests on the altar at a parish, but Fr. Pallas gave me a different view of a priest. He was a wisecracking guy. I remember coming to school on a Saturday and seeing a guy wearing a watch cap and a beat up old sweatshirt sweeping the corridors. He looked up, and I saw it was Fr. Pallas. He growled, “Get out of the way.” He told corny jokes and related with kids on a personal level. Sometimes you forgot to wear a tie on First Friday, and you tried to get through the entire day without a teacher noticing you and sending you to Leo Hyde for detention. Anyone who had Fr. Pallas would try to make a trade for a tie, because he would notice.
Fr. Becker ran the English Department, which had a heavy emphasis on writing in each of the four years. Each week, freshmen wrote 100-word essays, sophomores wrote three 100-word essays, juniors 500-word essays with a first draft, and seniors had various styles of writing to emulate. That helped me in college because I was used to putting words on paper. He was a kind man, not a “jump-on-top-of-you” guy, who gave you the idea that writing was important and that anyone could do it. And with his syllabus, even some rookie, not too experienced (or even trained) teachers could learn how to teach English by following Fr. Becker’s very detailed day-by-day routine of memory work, vocabulary, grammar, literature and writing.
I stayed in 1F with the same guys all day, every class, for my first year. Then SI began offering modern languages to freshmen in my sophomore year; from then on, you didn’t stay with the same group for all your classes because of the language alternatives. It could have been worse. When my father went to SI, he stayed in the same classroom and the teachers switched. Anyone who did well in Latin had to take Greek. That wasn’t my concern. In the 1960s, kids who didn’t do well in Latin as freshmen had to take double English with Leo LaRocca in their sophomore year. The “powers that be” dumped our second year Latin class and replaced it with a second English course. It was the same English class everyone else took, only taken twice as slowly. There were few future valedictorians in the class. I did poorly in English and Latin my freshman year, and when I found myself in double English, I looked at the people around me, and said, “Jeez! They think I’m like one of these guys?” That jump-started my stalled academic career at SI. When I was at Loyola University and editing the college newspaper, I was told by some younger, Latin-phobic friends that La Rocca was showing his students my name in the newspaper staff box to prove there was academic life after double English.
We had an active life outside SI. Even though we attended an all-boys school, we weren’t in the seminary. We saw plenty of girls at the games, and teen club dances were big in the parishes. They were a great meeting place for kids from all the high schools. They even provided a popular teen basketball league for the kids who weren’t good enough to play for the school.
We were supposed to be the first class to graduate from the new school, but construction problems prevented that. I think it’s better that we graduated from the old school. We’re part of the history of Stanyan Street.
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