A Shared Sense of Loss

My youngest child is fast approaching the age at which I left home and joined the Verona Fathers.  His beauty and innocence, his willingness to learn and hang on to almost every word of knowledgeable adults drags my memory back with painful speed to my own hopeful childhood.

In the late 1960’s the drive from Liverpool was across the picturesque A62, the lights of which could be clearly seen from the end window of our top corridor at Mirfield.  I would often stand there on a winter evening, my eyes following the meandering orange glow over the moors leading home, praying that my parents would feel the sickness I had in my stomach and, by some God-delivered message, they would make their way back to Mirfield and bring me home.

Only the comradeship and energetic playfulness of other Junior Seminarians prevented my depression from turning to despair.  For many years I have believed that the support, love and sheer rollicking enthusiasm for life that Mirfield boys had was the foundation of my lifelong belief in the need for a Socialist society.  In truth, the friendships I have sustained and the happy memories of the unity of the boys is more to do with a shared sense of loss than any higher noble spiritual or social meaning.  That was something I was to come across again much later in life.

4 responses to “A Shared Sense of Loss

  1. tony what a stong piece, I share your sentements.Do you think that the shared sense of loss could be that for whatever time we spent at mirfield we were all changed and in that sense we no longer fitted in to our old lives.?
    On leaving mirfield we were thrust into a family that we were estranged from .I remember it being quite difficult to fit in and went off the rails on more than one occasion [but more about that later]
    Hope to write more later {typing skills improving slowly] Dogs to feed and sheep to see to

  2. My introduction to Mirfield was very traumatic. After all the descriptions by the recruiters about the wonderful life there, I was really looking forward to it. We were met by one of the priests at Leeds station and taken by bus to Mirfield. One of the first things we had to do was to go into the college shop and hand over all our money. Later at evening recreation I got talking to one of the boys who had already been there for a year. I mentioned handing over the money and said “what do we do if we need money in a shop?” he gave a little laugh and said “you will never be in a shop again. You will never be allowed outside these grounds expect on walk once a week with a priest supervising.” this came as a shock. I suddenly realised that the great life I had been promised was nothing other than a prison sentence.
    Next morning we had our first lessons. We started with Latin. I had already done a year of Latin in my old school, but Mirfield did not start teaching Latin till the second for. Fr. Cerea came in, and noticed a brush against the wall in a corner, obviously used to try to clean up the still unfinished building work. He said “Is the brush learning Latin?” and we all laughed thinking this was a joke. He then screamed at us “Boys, this is not funny. There is to be no laughing during classes.” We soon got the measure of this hideous old ogre. All humopur and huminty were banned in his classes. It came as an extra shock to discove that he was also to teach us history. He said “I cannot teach with a brush in the corner. You, boy!” and pointed at one of my new classmates “Take it away.”
    Then the Latin lesson started. He first asked if anyone had previously studied Latin. Some of us put our hands up. He said to me “read this out loud. “ It was a passage in the Latin textbook about Caesar. I started to read but after a sentence was greeted with “Stop, stop STOP! The last “stop” being really screamed at me. Then “Are you stupid boy? You should be speaking Latin, not German!” It turned out that I had pronounced “Caesar” in the way I had been taught in my previous school, in the “classical pronunciation” used by virtually every school in the UK except Mirfield, and that is what I was being publicly ridiculed for. After that we had other lessons which were not so bad, except that one of the teachers spoke virtually no English. Young Italian priests were sent to the UK to learn English, and some lunatic high up in the order had decided to penny pinch by making them teach subjects they knew nothing about in a language they did not speak. It was unbelievable, but true.
    Later on that day we had another encounter with Fr. Cerea, equally unpleasant, at least for me.
    We were all summoned to his room in the old house, where he had a piano, and had our voices tested for the choir. Fr. Cerea was also the choirmaster. We were told to come in, one at a time, and had to sing a scale which Cerea played on the piano. My turn came. I got through two or three notes of the scale when I had screamed at me for the second time that day “Boy, Stop, stop, STOP! Do not go on, you cannot sing. I don’t want to hear you. You are a crooner.” This I later learned was his word for someone who could not sing in tune. I had had music lessons in my primary and in the first year of my old secondary school, and had often had to sing solo pieces for music teachers who were unlike Cerea, professionally qualified and I had never been told this before, but he had jusudged my voice on just two notes.
    That night I cried all night at what I had been trapped into by all the false promises, and my opinion of priests, good holy and kindly men like the ones I had known at home, were shattered I had met pure evil for the first time in my young life, and it was in the shape of a priest. However, much worse was to come later in my six years at Mirfield. Very, very much worse .

    • For a lot of boys arriving at the Verona Fathers seminary, their experience of leaving home for the first time, and being away from all the things they knew, loved and were attached to, was unbelievably traumatic and painful. The homesickness that they were already experiencing was, unfortunately, often made worse by the abuse and predatory behaviour of some of the priests that also lived at Mirfield.

    • This is really bringing it all into focus Tony. Yoúr descriptions are so clear. Hard to believe that somebody else was going through xactly then same experinces in exactly the same place.
      Martin Murphy

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