Chalk Dust Memories
Paul Capitolo (1953)
I entered SI late in November 1949 after my family moved to San Francisco from Berkeley. I had Frank Corwin for history, and when he found out I had roots in Utah, he told me he had worked there the year before but had been almost fired for “moral turpitude” for smoking. I couldn’t believe that anyone would kick out a teacher straight from service in Africa. When I met Fr. Andy Gilligan, SJ, he looked at my name and said, “Oh no, not another Dago!” and he proceeded to tell Leo LaRocca and Frank Ravetti to come up and take care of me. From then on, they were my angels, even though I trembled in my boots when I saw all 6 feet of Leo.
Mr. Ed McFadden, SJ ’41, taught Latin by walking along the railing of the window with a yardstick acting out the role of Caesar. Geometry was taught by Fr. Ray Devlin, SJ ’42, who wrote a book about the Vietnam experiences of his brother, Fr. Joe Devlin, SJ. Br. Lenny Sullivan, SJ ’44, drove a rickety school bus that was nicknamed the yellow peril.
The classroom was like the movie The Blackboard Jungle. It was students against teachers. We had some crazy priests, including Fr. Charlie McKee, SJ, who claimed to be an ex-boxer. This man, who taught a course using Modern Youth & Chastity, shoved me down the center stairs and against a locker for something I did that angered him. At one point, he made derogatory remarks about Leo LaRocca’s date. Leo reached a point where he had all he could take. He grabbed the priest by the throat and said, “If you weren’t wearing this cassock, I’d clobber you,” or words to that effect.
The teachers running detention would come up with neat little tricks to punish us. We would kneel on the floor on pencils for 45 minutes, and if you squirmed, you stayed longer. If you got in the way of Fr. Ray Pallas, SJ ’32, he’d whack you with his cane.
I had some excellent teachers, such as Fr. Pierre Jacobs, SJ ’31, who taught chemistry. I was amazed to earn a “B” in that course, as he was a tough teacher. On the first day of class, he impressed upon us how dangerous the course could be by holding up a pair of pants minus the crotch that had been burned away from an acid spill. Warren White was a fantastic English teacher, and he inspired me to study English at USF. I worked stage crew for him for Billy Budd and Look Homeward Angel at the Marines Memorial Theatre.
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