Franciscan

1968 class reunion

Seems like old times: Years fall away at reunion of seminarians

BY BILL FARRIS, OFM

Our freshmen class at St. Francis Seminary numbered 80 students. Four years later in 1968 there were only 30 of us in our graduation class. The next phase of seminary life would resume at our college in Southfield, Mich., after the summer break, but as we left, we wondered when we would all see each other again.

Fifty years later, the Franciscan Alumni Association gave us the opportunity to come together again at the yearly reunion it organizes every June. Fortunately our class had several individuals who were ready to take on the task of locating classmates scattered around the United States. Soon we had e-mails for almost everyone, and preparations began in earnest.


Fr. Bill Farris preaching at the reunion Mass.

The first invitation dropped into my inbox on May 9, 2017, from classmate Mike Hertel: "I’m toying with the idea of driving to Cincinnati for the Friday and Saturday parts of the reunion," he wrote. "It would be great to catch up with a few of the guys from the class of ‘68." In the following weeks 238 e-mails would collect as more and more classmates got involved in the planning.

Someone proposed that we each write up a 500-word summary of the previous 50 years. As the reunion drew nearer we all had in hand the collection of well-written, humorous, and reflective autobiographies. Our conversations over the three-day reunion often referred to the information they contained.

Shared memories

We started on Thursday evening, June 21, with a get-reacquainted supper. Binders and scrapbooks supplemented and tweaked our shared memories of our friar teachers, misadventures, good times and deceased classmates.


A stroll dowm memory lane at the reunion

On Friday morning a group from our class visited several special places in Over-the-Rhine, stopping for a quick visit at the Motherhouse, and then on to St. Anthony Center next door. There we were treated to an overview by Chris Schuermann, Executive Director of St. Francis Seraph Ministries, of the work done for the poor and homeless in OTR. More than one classmate told me later how impressed they were with what had been done to transform the old St. Anthony Messenger building into a center of services for neighbors in need.

Friday afternoon we gathered at Winton Woods for a picnic featuring bluegill caught and fried by Mike Pine. The conversations flowed into the evening at a restaurant in Glendale.


Br. Norbert Bertram with 1968 graduate and fish fryer Mike Pine

Saturday’s activities were focused on the old seminary grounds, now a retirement community. For many of our class, this was their first opportunity in 50 years to walk through the halls and woods. Although I return there more often, many of my class hadn’t visited since an earlier reunion in ‘83. Being there with them triggered memories that hadn’t stirred in many years, like this one:

During the final months of our senior year, several classmates kept busy with a covert digging project in the woods. Over the years it came to be known simply as "The Hole." The reason why it was dug remains a secret, and as to its location, that became a mystery. At the reunion, several of us spread out through the woods behind the Poor Clare Monastery trying to find traces of our work. Some sinkholes looked promising, but the only thing we found was an old Coke bottle. Fifty years had erased all traces of the clandestine excavations.

Reconnecting

We joined the other alumni for the final hours of our reunion, beginning with Mass in the chapel, dinner in the activity room (the main study hall) and the regular business meeting of the Franciscan Alumni Association. Our classmate Fr. Al Hirt was presented with the Humanitarian Award. I felt blessed that five of our faculty from so long ago were able to join in the reunion: Bill Pellman, Fr. Valentine Young, Fr. Ric Schneider, Fr. Tom Richstatter and Fr. Murray Bodo.


Fr. Al Hirt receives the Humanitarian Award.

At the close of the evening as the crowds dispersed, a small group of us took a sentimental walk around the building, remembering the friendships that were made and the dreams that were shared so long ago.

What did this reunion mean to me? I was happy to see everyone and discover that the years have been kind to us. We went our separate ways in 1968 when so much of our world was shifting under our feet. It was heart-warming to me to see that we had all found our footing, found someone to love, had raised families and engaged in meaningful work, but most of all, were able to return and find each other again.

The e-mails have continued, though the pace is slowing down now, with messages such as:

"It was great spending a few days with so many friends where the polarization and distrust of today’s world seemed to just disappear."

"For me and many in our group, it felt like both a special and magical weekend. Hard to describe. Best felt."

"Our journeys have been long, and for many, arduous. But now that we’re old men, or nearly so, how did we turn out? Pretty damn well, if you ask me."


Br. Gabriel Balassone was given the Christian Life Award.

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