Chalk Dust Memories
Michael Thomas (1971)
It never entered my mind that we needed a new school. The old place had a mystique to it. My brother had gone there, and it was full of tradition. I had great teachers, such as Michael Burke for history, Bill Muller, SJ, for English, Bob Grady and Gene Growney, SJ. Then we’d get ready for the rallies, conducted by Vince Tringali in the old gym. You had to experience it — 1,000 guys in the gym and you could hear a pin drop. He would talk for 40 minutes every Friday before the game. During one game I recall being at the top of the SI block that we formed in the stands — we were told what to wear: either a white shirt or school jacket to form the block. I was picked up and passed all the way down to the first row within seconds.
I can’t remember ever being called in by a counselor, but Fr. Becker took me under his wing. I worked in the print shop over the summer, and he taught me how to run the old printing presses and burn plates. I would have been in his first group to go to Europe in the summer of 1970, but I had to cancel.
I loved the all-male environment. Teaching at a coed school is wonderful, but I wouldn’t trade those four years for anything. I had a cross section of friends then (they are still my friends today) who made my time wonderful.
I spent two years at the old school and two years at the new school. We loved the half-day sessions in our first year at the new school. We started at 8:10 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m. with no lunch or recess. After we left, work could continue on the school. When we had basketball practice, we would hop in Leo La Rocca’s car and drive to Glen Park to practice there because SI’s gym wasn’t finished.
Fr. McFadden didn’t talk to me until I was a senior, and Br. Draper commanded respect from the first. We had an elevator at the new school, and in the very early days, students were never allowed to use it. To be on that elevator was a privileged experience. My buddy Mark Stahl and I were there after hours, and somehow we managed to get on the elevator. In typical 16-year-old fashion, we kept telling ourselves, “This is so great!” Then the elevator opened at the third floor, and we saw Fr. Spohn standing there. We hit the “close door” button and hightailed it out of there as soon as we got off on the first floor.
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.
Thomas Carroll (1968)
When SI moved to the new school, my parents, Tom ’43 and Peg, wanted to celebrate the occasion with a gift to the school. I suggested the gift of a chalice and paten, the chalice to feature on opposite sides simple crosses centered on two styles of SI rings. One of the rings had belonged to a cousin, Roger Carroll ’14.
I designed the chalice and paten in 1969, and my parents had them fashioned in a metalsmith’s shop in San Francisco, right near the Bluxome Street firehouse where my father worked. The chalice features the face of my father’s ring, with its SI block relief on one side, and the face of my own class of ’68 ring, with its red stone, on the other side.
When the chalice and paten had been completed, my parents gave them to Fr. Harry Carlin, SJ, then the president, for the use by the school. It was presented not on any major occasion, but just in an informal visit to Fr. Carlin’s office. Our family has borrowed the chalice and paten on a number of occasions, using them for family weddings and for my first Mass at St. Gabriel Church in 1984.
Boris Koodrin (1967)
The senior retreat towards the end of the year was very important to me. I started by fooling around with the group, but when we were split up into our separate rooms, I found that the introspection really touched me. It woke something in me that was very powerful. That’s one of my fondest memories of being at SI. It set me on a deeper search for meaning.
David Mezzera (1964)
On football games days, we followed an activity schedule and finished school 20 minutes earlier than on regular class days. The entire student body would proceed to the gym for a spirit rally, and from there would march en masse down Stanyan Street and directly into Kezar Stadium for the football game. About 85–90 percent of the student body would join in the police-escorted march down to Golden Gate Park to enter the cheering section. The cheerleaders would lead the pack, carrying the SI banner to the game. Block SI’s really worked in the cheering section at football games: Seniors and juniors wore their red and blue jackets to form the block SI and underclassmen would all wear white shirts to provide the background. To me, that was what school spirit was all about.
Due to the ingenuity and contacts of Fr. Richard Spohn, SJ, SI had its own ruby laser rod in 1964 and was able to display holographic images.
Rainy day schedule still existed in the early 1960s. The last 20 minutes of the school day, titled Activities Period, would be canceled on a rainy day or before a big game to give us an early start.
SI's librarian in the 1960s, Br. Len Sullivan, SJ ’44, would not allow students to take textbooks into the Stanyan Street campus first floor library. He would announce that "the library is for library books, not to do homework!" Also, students were not allowed above the basement in the Stanyan Street building until the first bell rang to begin the school day unless going to the library, main office or vice-principal's office.
Each school year began with a fund raiser, and we sold World's Finest Chocolates. Once, when I rang a doorbell in the Sunset District trying to sell a candy bar “to raise funds for a new field house,” the occupant of the home said that that was the same excuse he used when he was an SI student a number of years prior, and SI still hadn't built the new field house.
On May 30 and June 1 and 2, 1963, the Stanyan Street gymnasium was transformed into an ice arena, with a portable ice rink brought in and assembled on the floor of the gym and a portable compressor up on the field to run the brine through the pipes and freeze the ice. A hole was punched through the wall of the gym to accommodate the pipes and hoses, which caused all sorts of consternation from SI. A local ice skating school used the venue to put on its yearly ice review mainly for parents of the young skaters. The company cut a deal with SI that year — all profits would benefit the SI building fund, and students were given quotas to sell two ads in the program and to purchase two tickets for the show, with chairs set up around the rink and the bleachers of the gym pulled out for more seating. For each ad sold, students received a raffle ticket for a scooter. Charlie Dullea, who only sold one ad, won the contest. Prior to the event, in order to pique SI student curiosity, a dozen or so teenaged girls performing in the show came to an SI rally in costume and were introduced to the catcalls of the SI students. The idea was to encourage students to buy tickets to see the show. Three SI students ended up skating. I had a solo and did a pair routine with a partner. Also, for each night of the show, the names of two SI students were drawn from a hat and ice skates were placed on their feet as young ladies gave them a quick skating lesson. The whole thing was a setup; Paul Hanley and Phil Woodard were chosen each night and took part in a well-rehearsed skit featuring pratfalls, real and spontaneous. Some of the young women in the show, many years later, sent their children to SI, and one of the skaters later married Ray Calcagno. The June 1964 fund raiser was a concert production held at USF's Memorial Gymnasium featuring Vince Guaraldi, Ronnie Shell, the Gateway Singers and Bola Sete.
Mark Cleary (1964)
One of Vince Tringali’s axioms was for his football players to be “fast getting off the line.” If we were to go on the “first count,” he wanted us to go on the first noise we heard. One day during practice while I was on the line, he came out with a starter’s pistol hidden in his pocket and got down behind us. We didn’t see the gun, but when we heard the shot, we certainly were fast getting off the line.
We also had isometric bars in the field against the gym made of 1-inch thick tempered steel bars. Part of our training was to squat under them and try to stand up. John Deschler, our All City tight end, stood up and bent the bar. He didn’t know he couldn’t do it, so he did it.
Our time at SI was also marked by the assassination of President Kennedy and the tragic death of Denny Carter on the basketball floor. Denny was a good friend, and I served as one of the pall bearers. The entire school participated in mourning him.
Paul Vangelisti (1963)
Fr. Jake Enright was Caryl Chessman’s confessor. He was a liberal priest who came to SI by way of Los Angeles. Whenever he taught a lesson on birth control, we would all snicker as he drew diagrams of a penis and vagina that weren’t very good. Another guy, Mr. Thomas Franxman, knew dozens of languages even though he was only 27. He could write Greek with either hand from either direction. He was gearing up to become a New Testament scholar and was the most brilliant man I ever met at SI, and that’s saying a lot.
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.
My first year at SI was marked by austerity, symbolized by Bellarmine beating us 55–7. We had a small playground but great camaraderie with 1,000 guys from all over the city thrown together. In those days, you stayed together with same 30 people all day and all year, and after four years, the friendships were strong. Pat Malley was one of three lay teachers in the whole school. Even though he taught freshman math and coached football, he also taught religion between the lines, and it was more than I learned in religion class. One day he told about some kids who knocked an old lady down in a bus, and he made an impression about how rotten a thing that was. He explained that war isn’t against bad people but against evil.
Because of the lack of facilities, we had to take physics during the upperclass lunch period and had lunch with the lowerclassmen. We never ate anything. About 15 of us would make a mad dash to the basketball courts outside the chapel, to the one good basketball court. The first 10 guys that made a basket got to play, and we’d play the entire lunch period. We spilled a little blood on occasion: It was like the SH game every lunch period. With all I was doing, I felt life was flying by and just wanted to savor every minute. It was also a great way to relieve stress.
When I came back to SI, I found that it still had the same spirit as when I was a student. You still asked what parish the students came from. I was here with nine young Jesuits, and I recall Fr. Curtis Bryant, SJ, coming to SI wearing a mustache. He wasn’t going to shave it off, and that opened the door for the rest of us to wear one.
I don’t see much difference now that we are coed. Possibly the boys are more subdued. When SI was all boys, the school was like a living organism that rolls through the doors each morning. The student body had great camaraderie, with boys patting each other on the back and punching each other on the shoulders like a bunch of pups.
Charles Murphy (1961)
When disputes arose among boys at SI, they settled them in a place we called The Pits. There had been a large building in Golden Gate Park across from St. Mary’s Hospital, but only the foundations remained. It was a big deal in the 1950s and 1960s for kids to go there to fight after school, and sometimes those fights would draw hundreds of students.
When I started at SI, only four or five lay teachers were on the faculty. Most had another job. Some worked for the Chronicle delivering papers in a truck; my dad worked for Hamm’s and Burgermeister Breweries. I was in a unique position being the first (and at the time, the only) child of a faculty member to attend SI. The school, in those days, represented much of what it does today: strong academics with extracurricular involvement. As an eighth grader, I had to decide which high school to attend when I took the entrance exam. It wasn’t a hard decision. I always wanted to go to SI because my dad worked here, and SI sports were always in the news.
Kids today don’t realize the impact the media had on high school sports. Every week in the News or Call, you would have two full pages on high school sports coverage, where you would see caricatures of star athletes. They were bigger than life. I knew who all the top high school athletes were in the city. The coverage rivaled that of the pro teams.
Schools competed to see which game would draw the highest percentage of students to attend. SI and SH would always win the award and always tie each other with 100 percent attendance. The numbers were huge.
The climate in the school was very much top to bottom. You knew your place. Seniors were gods, the Block Club was the most powerful organization in the student body — much more powerful than the Student Council. Everyone knew who the Block Club officers were, but not the Student Council officers. Rallies were optional and not always attended by everyone. SI could be a hard place for some kids. It took a strong kid to break away from the mainstream, as there was tremendous pressure to be a part of the team as a spectator. It gave you a feeling of togetherness. When SI won, you felt you had a part in the victory.
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