1968 Classes of Franciscan Seminary Gather in Callicoon

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

On the steps of the seminary in Callicoon with some of their classmates are Dan Grigassy second from left, with Roberto Gonzalez, to his left. Kevin Cronin is in the center, wearing habit, and Ed Flanagan is in the top row, fourth from left.

CALLICOON, N.Y. – Fifty years have passed for members of the 1968 classes at St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary, but the camaraderie, memories and sense of heritage continue to endure.  This was quite evident when 25 of them recently turned back the clock for a weekend reunion in the small town where they spent their adolescence during years of formation. The gathering became a three-day journey reminiscing about their Franciscan roots, recounting life in the 1960s, and catching up with classmates who had become like family.

To mark the 50th anniversary of their graduation, members of these high school and college classes converged at the Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center,  just a few miles from the seminary building, from Sept. 21 to 23. St. Joseph’s Seminary opened its doors in 1901, offering a six-year program typical of Catholic minor seminaries until it was shuttered in 1972.

Located slightly more than 100 miles northwest of New York City in rural Sullivan County, this small town provided a strong foundation for friars and remains largely in the memories and hearts of all the men who studied there. Until 2017, when the Province withdrew from Callicoon’s Holy Cross Parish, the Franciscans had a visible presence in the area.

“Whether friars today or not, most are grateful for the healthy setting where they learned academics, sports and Franciscan traditions, and grew through those adolescent years,” said Kevin Cronin, OFM, a member of the 1968 college class.

“I knew the class two years behind me, so I especially enjoyed seeing many of them. We all grew up together and experienced the same life and formation. It is wonderful to see how well everyone seems to be doing,” said Kevin, who is stationed at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J.

“Callicoon was the cradle of the Province. Anyone wishing to become a Franciscan priest would have to pass through St. Joe’s,” he added.

Kevin said that his graduating class has held five reunions, including one in West Virginia in 2014 that drew 15 class members.  Some of the students who didn’t complete the formation program brought their spouses, he said.

Twenty members of the high school class attended last month’s gathering – which was only their second reunion in 50 years, according to Kevin.

“Our first reunion was back in 1988 in Western New York,” said Daniel Grigassy, OFM, who grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in Paterson, N.J., where he is pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish. “Although we were motivated to do it again soon after, it took us 30 years to make it happen.  In the meantime, many of us remained in contact with one another and had periodic mini-reunions in Albany, New York City and Washington, D.C.  As our 50th approached, we thought it was time to cast the nets further.”

“The guys enjoy the reunions because we grew up together and became like brothers,” said Kevin, who was raised on Long Island before joining the seminary.

In addition to conversations, trips down memory lane, meals and prayer, the weekend included a special tour of the former seminary building in which the group had the opportunity to walk the grounds and hallways of their youth. The building is now a training center for the Delaware Valley Job Corps.

“This was the high-point of the weekend,” said Daniel. “Though tour guides from the center were assigned to us, within an hour, we were the ones giving the tour to them. Stories abounded at every turn of the long corridor running from the former chapel to the refractory.

“The most repeated statements were words of gratitude to the friars who were at the seminary at that time,” added Dan. “Even though the friars seemed much older than we were, the ones who had the most impact were only 10 or 15 years older.  They prepared us well for our transition from Callicoon to Siena College as the first freshman class of the Franciscan Formation Program.”

One tour participant sent a note to the Job Corps staff in appreciation of allowing the group to visit the building.

“For most of us, it was our first visit in 50 years,” he wrote. “My wife told me later that as we were walking and recalling memories of past events, we had wide smiles that made her realize the significance of the seminary to our lives. Many of us lived four years together – nine months a year. Some refer to us as a band of brothers and I would agree with that sentiment.”

The weekend also included a joyful Sunday vigil Mass celebrated by Roberto Gonzalez, OFM, archbishop of San Juan and a member of Callicoon’s high school class.  At the liturgy, the reunion attendees remembered their deceased friars and classmates.

For Roberto, the highlight of the weekend was seeing the many photographs that were shared of the high school years. “I am occasionally in touch with former classmates. They are part of my roots. I enjoyed most the relaxed and fraternal quality of the class reunion,” he said.

Among the friar attendees was Edward Flanagan, OFM, a teacher, prefect and sports coach for both classes who said one of his fondest memories of this reunion is a conversation he had with a wife of one of the class members.

“She told me that her ‘husband has been a very good husband and a very good father to their children. In his career he has been honorable, respectful of others and helped as best he could.’ She also said the ‘friars were in part responsible for that,’ and she wanted to thank us for all we did for him,” Edward said, recalling the conversation.

“As I chatted with most of the class members at one time or another, I found myself saying over and over again, ‘What fine disciples of the Lord Jesus they have become – solid, balanced, caring gentlemen of the Gospel,’” said Edward, who is stationed at the Province retirement friary in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“It was nice to see how much they enjoyed each other’s company and how fondly they remembered the friars,” said Edward, who had a moment of sadness when he learned at the reunion of the sudden death of a dear friend in Washington, D.C., where he grew up.

“It affected me deeply, but everyone was comforting and consoling,” he said.

Edward said it was gratifying to see that the former seminary building is now being used to help young people grow into productive adults as they learn trades and skills to get them off to a good start in life.

“But all of us were grateful to see the cross still standing over the main entrance – as well as the words: ‘ST. JOSEPH’S SERAPHIC SEMINARY!’” he added.

– Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.

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