In 1967, a new intake of fresh faced innocent young boys started on a new adventure (loosely speaking) in the corridors of St. Peter’s College, Summerhill, Wexford. Noted as a distinguished lay school and also as a diocesan seminary, it turned those raw youths into fine young men who served their communities, county and country in matters vocational, sporting and cultural from the early 19th century and continues to do so today. Our class consisted of 66 wiser and fitter lads who graduated in 1972 and 38 of of us showed up for the 40th reunion at SPC for a Mass and school tour followed by dinner in the Ferrycarrig Hotel.
Summoned to attend the College for a Reunion Mass, our classmates arrived in dribs and drabs, looking curiously at several faces trying to wind back 40 years to match a hazy name to a somewhat older visage. I was stumped by several but fortunately, I wasn’t the only one, and we had great fun watching each others reactions as new arrivals tested our memory cells. A quick visit to the Ref (refectory), where the not so delectable fare was served up by the St. John of God sisters aided by young girls and boys in their care was followed by a slow “procession” to the famous Pugin Chapel, built in the mid 19th century.
Fr Jim Butler, the only priest still serving (from 5 in our class), did the honours by celebrating Mass for us. I would think that he had a more attentive congregation than most of his peers in our day enjoyed. After our trip down memory lane, we were brought on a quick tour of the new college buildings by the Principal, Robert O Callaghan. It is great to see the modern college that the current students now enjoy – our classrooms were a mix of 19th and 20th century styles but managed to do the business in equipping us academically for the real world.
The majority of us were boarders and the dorms were our places of refuge after a day of learning or on the sports fields and elsewhere. St Josephs, St Aidans, the Attic and the Tower all brought back memories to us. Nowadays, there are no students (or priests) living in the College during school term, the one major change from our day. The Far Side, the ecclesiastical wing of SPC, is also dormant and probably a good thing too. More than one bad egg put on a Roman collar from those young men – giving the College a bad name as a breeding ground for paedophiles.
After our tour, we congregated on the College steps for a final photo before departing to our hotel for the meal. The old school looked the same with a few embellishments but the new section has certainly taken our Alma Mater into the 21st Century and hopefully will continue the tradition of turning out fine young Wexford men for many more generations.
Dick Bates and his organising Committee had arranged for a 4 course meal in the Ferrycarrig Hotel, the same place we had congregated 19 years previously. It was very gratifying to see 38 of our buddies at the gathering but alas not all could be present. Sadly, since we left in 1972, 5 of our classmates have passed on – Richard Culleton, Joe Ralph, John Jordan, Willie Gannon and John Walsh – they were with us in spirit as the night unfolded. With 5 teachers present, we got into the act of reliving memories, good and bad, of those days when corporal punishment was still a valid tool in our schools.
Our Senior-of-the-House, Frank Scallan, now a successful doctor in Canada, spoke eloquently of times past, followed by several other impromptu speakers. Fr John O Brien known to one and all as “Little Sam”, replied on behalf of the teachers. He had been the only resident in the College but has been out of it for several years now and unfortunately has health issues. Others present were the previously mentioned Fr de Val, Fr Seamus Larkin, James Golden and Emmet Cullen.
As the food finished and the drink flowed, the chat flourished as old pals caught up with each other. Pat Power wowed us with his magical tricks and even a few hotel guests strayed in to be dazzled by his wizardry. He spends part of each year bringing a smile to the kids of Nepal where he uses his magic as part of a charitable contibution to those less well off in that mountainous state.
After we exchanged e-mails and phone numbers, with the crowd thinning and the bar closed, the time came to bid adieu. Small groups will be in contact, but those of us not living locally will rely on another get together for the next catch up session, probably for our 50th reunion. Let’s hope all will survive to be there and a few more of those not present will see their way to joining us.
St Peter’s College might not have always been the most desirable place to be in but it played a major role in laying a solid foundation for the 66 of us who left in 1972, most of whom are successful in their chosen fields and have made a solid contribution to society wherever they have put down their roots. Lifelong friendships abound and armed with a broad education, our young men have passed on those values they learned to the next generation – a true testament to the priests and teachers who helped to mould us.