I’ve made reference more than once in previous blogs about my seminary experience. I believe with all my heart I was called to the seminary by God. I also believe I was given the boot from there by God. Scripture says you hear the voice of God in the whispering wind. I heard it loud and clear and I don’t think He was whispering. When I told mom I decided to leave the seminary her response was, with a flip of her hand, “I knew you would never be a priest.”
Mom and God definitely had an understanding and communicated often.
I was a good seminarian. I followed all the rules. I am not a radical. There were a few things that I found hard to conform too, but I fell in line. I never missed morning prayer. I rallied in our work crew details which included cutting acres of grass and making regular runs to the seminary farm with an old Army surplus dump truck (which will be a story in itself someday.)
All was good with God, the seminary administration and my spiritual life…until my senior year.
In the seminary your life is run by bells. You have a bell to rise in the morning. A bell to attend chapel for morning prayer, a bell to end morning prayer. You get the pattern. As an eighteen year old freshman you conform to these bells. As a twenty-two year old senior you start to exercise some of your new found freedoms and adult views. After four years of bells you start to have a Pavlov Dogs experience to the ringing of any bell. Show me a man that drops to his knees when he hears the bell of a Salvation Army Santa and I will show you a Catholic seminarian from the sixties and seventies.
Let me say right now, I don’t regret my time in the seminary. For some reason I was sent there and the experiences I had with my seminary brothers I cherish. But…..the bells.
One night in my senior year a plot was hatched. Four fellow classmates, who of course will not be named, met in my room after the official lights out bell. Our subversive plot was hatched with little thought to the consequences. The supplies for our plan were simple; a screwdriver, black friction tape and towels, all the necessary ingredients for a successful overthrow of the establishment.
We met again early in the morning most likely around two or three. You have not walked down silent halls, until you have crept down the halls housing sleeping prayerful men. The silence was greater than what you would hear dropping a feather on cotton balls. Our footsteps could easily give us away if we weren’t careful. We skulked through the passages which were only illuminated by the red exit lights and an occasional votive light under a statue.
Our first target of attack was the electronic bell located right outside of the faculty dining room. It was a particularly annoying bell for nothing more than the volume. If you were unfortunate to be standing under it when the bell went off, your ears rang in full echo of the bell.
The bell was just a little out of the reach of the average six foot guy. This meant that some sort of boosting was necessary. To fix this we hijacked a table from the student dining hall. With two guys securing the table, and one standing guard, left me to climb the table to secure the bell.
Screwdriver. Check. Friction tape. Check.
Using the screwdriver, access was quickly gained to the workings of the bell. The next step was to wrap the knocker of the bell with the black friction tape. Countless wrappings turned the knocker into a black glob of tape.
The screen was reattached. The table returned to the hall. Now it was time to move on to the next bell.
Target number two was the main chapel bell located high in the bell tower. This was the mother of all bells. This one called us to chapel, signaled the start of the most sacred of liturgies and beckoned us to assemble when community meetings were necessary.
To reach the bell was no hard task. A small door behind the massive pipe organ in the choir loft gave you easy access to the bell. An open invitation to mischief.
Now the towel comes into play. The bell hung free and within easy reach. It was not difficult to wrap the knocker of this beauty with the towel and secure this wrap with the tape. When finished, the bell looked as if it had a Q- tip hanging out of it.
The attack on the bells was over. We each went back to our respective rooms under the cover of darkness and silence. I doubt if any of us fell asleep after our little escapade. Most likely, we were the first in chapel for morning prayer later in the morning.
As the hour of morning prayer approached the chapel began filling with sleep walking seminarians. Most were dressed in long cassocks which hid pajamas underneath. Others, the show offs, showed up brushed and polished as if they had been up for hours preparing for this time of the day. The minutes ticked by for the final call to chapel. One tug on the bell rope by the student assigned the task demonstrated our handiwork. The bell yielded a resounding, thunk, thunk, thunk with each pull.
Morning prayer was lost for that hour. We were dismissed from chapel to attend community breakfast. A hundred plus men, living together, day in and day out form a pretty tight community bond. Every man in the dining hall knew what happened but it was not necessary for anyone to utter a word about the chapel incident. Those conversations would take place behind closed doors or on walks well out of faculty ears.
Then, the bell to signal the end of breakfast and the start of the class day sounded. The sound of a stick drawn across a picket fence was announced from the bell housing. Because it was an electric bell and on a timer, it went through its normal run sounding the tapping up and down the hall. Every seminarian knew this day would lead to lectures and searching out the “Bell Kidnappers.” Before the day was over, both bells were restored to the rightful dignity by seminary maintenance men.
The four midnight ninja’s knew we would live under suspicion until we graduated but it was worth the challenge. Each of us felt like we exerted a little bit of adult freedom and recaptured some childish foolishness.
It was all part of growing up.