Photo by Steven Torrey
I first went to St. John’s School on December 8, 1958. I lived there until June of 1963, graduation from Middle School. I went there because the foster family I had lived with since age three and a half felt they could no longer care of me. Once I left that foster family, I never had contact with them again till I visited them in about 1985, at which time they expressed regret they had given me up.
So essentially when I went to St. John’s School I had no family. That first Christmas I spent with a family in Westbrook, Ct—on Wesley Rd. He worked for Chesebrough Pond’s and was friends with another co-worker from Pond’s who also lived on Wesley Rd, just a few houses up. I would visit this family for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And then one holiday—I’m not sure which—they were unable to take me in because the whole family had been laid low with the flu. So their friends up the road took me in. And then the original family moved to Mahwah, New Jersey for his new job with Avon, Inc. At one point, Betty asked if I wanted to be a brother or uncle. I said, I preferred to be a brother.
So now became the responsibility of Betty and Bud. They had two daughters; a third would be born in 1960. I would stay with Betty and Bud for the holidays. They were instrumental in having me attend Mt. St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, R.I. (Though now in retrospect, I suspect Father Macdonald had a large say in that as well.) So Mt. St. Charles Academy became my new home.
St. John’s School (and Mt. St. Charles) both offered a safe haven for me. A protective environment. A sheltered environment. Had I lived with Betty and Bud—it would have been disaster, I’m sure. I have since learned that people who have been raised in orphanages prefer institutional care because it makes less emotional demands upon them. And I tend to think that is true.
December is the season of Advent in the Roman Catholic Church calendar. In Chapel, we used to sing “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel…” It is still one of my favorite hymns. Being raised in a Catholic community saved my life. I know many boys have a hard time being an orphan, or orphaned. In 1958, St. John’s School was essentially an orphanage; I knew several boys who had lived there since they were practically infants. To me the place was a blessing. A benefit. I found a family through them at about age 15—and now that I am aged 68—they are still my family. And that family also belongs to my daughter’s family. What they so generously gave to me, they gave with equal generosity to her. And for that I am grateful. There is a line from Hamlet that seems apropos to the life of the orphan: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.” I would hate to believe that people would think of St. John’s School as a worst case scenario—a page out of Dickens. To me it was a blessing. St John’s School--Father Macdonald, Sister Chrysostom, Sister Vincentia, Sister Margaret, Kenny DeAngelus, Albert… Other names I can’t think of—will always be a place of fondness.
St. John’s School is situated on 80 acres, on a steep hill overlooking the Ct. River. The scene is absolutely gorgeous. And I can’t help but wonder if that scene, that view, does not have redemptive power for so many orphaned boys. I hate to think the School has fallen on derelict times… It will always have a warm place in my heart.