Memoirs of an Alumnus

William R. Bernard attended Saint Mary's High School from 1927 to 1931, the year the school (both College and High School) closed and became a Jesuit seminary. In the summer of 1996, he returned with his brother, Edward, to Saint Mary's after 65 years, and his visit brought back many memories. Mr. Bernard was kind enough to write some of his memoirs for this chronicle, and as you read, you will see that some things never change in a boarding school...

In the summer of 1996, when my brother Edward and I returned to the area after an absence of some 65 years (that's kind of hard to believe), we did receive a pleasant welcome. It saddened both of us to see that the beautiful old Immaculata Chapel had been destroyed by fire. Because of a retreat, we were unable to visit most of the buildings, but those that we did see, and the wall of old photos, were recognized with fondest memories.

I attended the old Jesuit College High School from September 1927 to June 1931, when the institution as I knew it closed because of the Depression and lack of funds. Prior to my attending the school, two of my mother's brothers were educated here during World War I, and two cousins attended in between that time. Attending St. Mary's, Kansas, at that time was almost a safari. To many of the people from Illinois, I was leaving for the "far West" and Indian country. Actually, there were many of the Native Tribes -- Potawatomi, Osawatomi, and others in the area, and some even worked at St. Mary's. While there were some native Kansans at the school, most of the students came from Illinois, Missouri, California, Iowa, and even from Mexico, with a few other states thrown in.

[Boys lined up waiting for the train to take them home for holidays] At that time, there was only rail travel to the area aboard the Union Pacific Railroad which ran many freight trains daily through the area, and two or three passenger trains. Travel arrangements were made for all of us to meet at the beautiful Central Station in Kansas City, Missouri, and then travel by special train to St. Mary's where the train stopped directly in front of the school very close to the now dilapidated, but then beautiful, WWI memorial. Our baggage was hand trucked to the storage area for all of us. Travel from Springfield, Illinois, at that time took 18 to 20 hours of train ride. In 1996, my brother and I spent about 5 hours and 45 minutes travel time round in my airplane and car rental. We visited, had lunch, reminisced, and still made it back home in time for dinner.

I have scouted all of the storage place my late wife had, and have been unable to find any of the old photos I remember having taken with a Box Brownie Camera while attending school, so I'll try to rely on my not-so-good memory to fill you in.

For the most part college and high school were kept pretty much separate, and had very little intermingling. All freshmen and sophomore high school students were housed in what was then known as the small yard dormitory. This was a five or six story red brick building without an elevator. The top floor was a dormitory where we all slept in curtained-off areas, with the windows kept open the year around, and closed only when it would either rain or snow in. One of the scholastics had a private room there and monitored the dormitory. The floor below was a library of sorts, and it included a radio so that we could listen to sporting events and the news, as well as some evening entertainment. Also on this floor was the permanent lock storage for the clothes we would not need for a while. Study halls which we used several times daily were on the second floor. The first floor contained toilet facilities, and each student was assigned a wash basin with sometimes hot and cold water, but most of the time cold, and a small daily-use locker under the sink. A Jesuit Brother George ran a book and supply store of sorts in the building next door, and everyone was required to purchase a "Brother George lock." The prefect kept a master key for emergencies and perhaps, as we also suspected, but could not prove, for hunts for "contraband." Boys in the small yard were not permitted to use any type of tobacco products. Disobeying this rule was rewarded with swift and severe punishment, including spanking.

Outside the building was a recreational area containing several softball diamonds and also some outdoor handball courts. The area was gravel-covered and between the junior and senior areas was a sort of small grass and tree-filled area surrounded by a cast iron fence. This area was off limits to all.

We arose at 6:00 a.m., dressed, and went to the study hall for morning prayers, and then to Mass at the Immaculata Chapel up the hill. In the winter time, with blowing snow and very high winds, this sometimes became a chore. After morning Mass, we all marched to our assigned tables in the building you now use as a church.

All the high school and College students ate in the same room at the same time in silence as someone read from a religious book. Breakfast was always the same. Each day we received a 4 x 6 x 1 - inch slab of the most delicious corn bread topped with one patty of butter and some syrup. Cooked cereal was also served daily except on Thursdays and Sundays, when we had round steak cooked in deep batter and accompanied by almost tasteless gravy. The other two meals were so rotated that you never were able to forget which day it was. As it was traditional at the time, all of the meals had a specific name, some of which were not spoken in polite society. All pasta meals were accompanied with some sort of beans, and this was known as "beans and worms." The meals were always filling, and even though we did not particularly care for certain foods we all ate heartily and most of us gained weight. We even learned to enjoy the Friday meals which we called "sewer trout."

If I remember rightly, Father O'Hern, S.J., was president. Father William Tracy, S.J., was principal. Messrs. Kelly, S.J., Roche, S.J., and Weber, S.J., were the close-contact scholastics when I arrived. Most of them departed the area to finish their priestly studies either before I graduated in 1931 or shortly thereafter. Father Tracy, however, left at the end of my junior year for what was then Belize British Honduras. He died before the year as out in a hurricane which hit the area. Father O'Hern later became President of St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Kelly became Father Gerald A. Kelly, S.J., and was the instigator and writer of the first of many books and dissertations on medical ethics.

[Rodman Hall (now Bellarmine)] Up on the hill beyond the church was our classroom building, Rodman Hall [Bellarmine]. All students attended classes there. Next to it was what we called Loyola Hall. It was the residence of many of the college students, most of the senior high school students as well as a few junior high school students. Students living there were permitted to smoke or chew in their rooms and everyone was provided with a spittoon which the employed janitor cleaned daily except Sunday. By today's standards, these facilities would be considered very poor, but then they were luxurious. Toilet and shower facilities were provided in a separate area, and the walk to the dining hall was increased considerably.

[Dormitory room shared by two students] The area above the present chapel was known as "the Flats" [second floor of Canisius] where two, and even three, students had to share a room. There was also a separate dormitory for those "troubled" students, who either were loud snorers, sleep talkers, sleep walkers, or bed wetters. At the far end of the building was some sort of carpenter shop. This area was off-limits to all but the people who worked there. Behind this building was a railroad siding and across the tracks the power house, now in disrepair and no longer used. Behind Rodman Hall was a water tower with a rotating platform on the top. It was great fun, although probably extremely dangerous, to ride this. I think that tower is still there, but I don't remember from our last visit.

The gym we used is still standing and apparently used. At that time, it was divided into the Junior and Senior sections. The junior bathing and shower facilities were here, and I can tell you, coming out of a hot shower in the winter time and returning to the small yard building was an experience most did not forget. Each gym had at least one basketball court, an area laid out for "indoor" baseball, trapezes, parallel bars, pommel horses, and weights. All of the students were required to partake in some type of recreation daily. There were several basketball, softball, baseball, and football leagues, with attempts made to equalize the abilities of all of the various teams, so that one team or group would not constantly dominate.

Junior and Senior varsity teams were available for the better and stronger athletes both for high school and for college. All of the high school students were required to attend all of the college athletic events, but the reverse was not true. The main college sport was baseball and our coach was also a major league scout. As a result at least two, and sometimes three, major league teams visited annually. St. Mary's College even won some of these games. The most fun though was when the colored league teams came. Those players were something else. I remember one of the exhibitions between one of the colored teams (I think it was the Kansas City Monarchs), and the New York Giants. The Giants were absolutely no match, and were soundly trounced.

Down at the bottom of the hill, where there is now a parking lot, our swimming pool stood. Originally a building burned down, and the basement was turned into a swimming pool with exceptionally cold water, but enjoyed just the same. The golf course we used has been much enhanced, and the old oiled sand greens have given way to nice grass greens. It also looked as if it were better kept. An airplane landing strip of sorts was available just beyond the confines of the course for those alumni we cared to fly in. During my sophomore year there, some sort of aviation meet took place and many of the students, with parental permission in writing, were invited to take a ride. I was one of the lucky ones who was permitted the chance.

After I left St. Mary's in June 1931, I attended the University of Notre Dame, receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in bacteriology, and then attended Washington University in St. Louis for medical school. During my intervening years I had no contact with any of my graduating classmates. Fifty years after graduation I was visiting my sister in her summer house in Michigan, and her next door neighbor was one of them. For a few years, we saw him on our return visits. He has since died, and as a result I don't know whether any more are alive or not. Three of my classmates did live in St. Mary's Kansas: Joe Gibbons' family operated a hotel; Joe Guilfoyle's family had a drugstore and also operated the only theater in town; and the third was Rudean Higgins, whose family were farmers.

By the way, I only remember the good things that happened to me while a resident,


William R. Bernard, M.D.