Callicoon Classes Reunite

Jocelyn Thomas Features

CALLICOON, N.Y. — Several classes from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., reunited recently to talk about old times and to catch up on each other’s lives.

The St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary classes of 1964 and 1966 held a reunion last month at Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center in New Brunswick, N.J. Over Labor Day weekend, the classes of 1970-72 gathered in the Catskills.

Two Groups of Alumni Reminisce

Vincent Mesaric, a dean emeritus of the University of South Carolina, attending with his wife, Kathy, coordinated the Aug. 10 event. Carl Wyhopen, a New Jersey state deputy attorney general, handled the arrangements with the Rutgers Inn.

The most distant attendee, Philip Richwalsky, a cruise missile technician, traveled from California to reunite with his classmates. Attorney Gerald Kelly and his wife, Annette, were joined by Gerry’s brother George, an alumnus of an earlier Callicoon class.

Other attendees included Joe and Katie Dolan of Ohio, Larry and Mary Brescio, Creighton Drury, Joe Silvoy and former N.J. Department of Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein. Notably absent and sorely missed, according to Wyhopen, was William McConville, OFM, who was recuperating from a bicycle accident injury.

ConnellyBrennanFran Fenelli, attending with wife, Nora, planned the liturgy for Saturday evening’s Mass, which was celebrated> by Brennan Connelly, OFM, right, of Holy Cross Church, Bronx, N.Y.  Brennan served several roles at the seminary over the years — teacher, athletic coach (for baseball and hockey) and prefect of discipline (or “top cop,” as he jokingly said).

Mesaric said that a box of memorabilia sent by Dave Serfozo was filled with old class notebooks, the student newspaper The Seraph, the literary magazine The Cord and Cowl, yearbook pictures and even Greek flashcards. All brought back memories of former classmates and friar teachers.

“Although many memories and old stories surfaced during our brief time together, there was a sense of the here-and-now and concern expressed about what is or is not happening in the Church today, but always couched with the optimism of St. Francis,” Serfozo said.

Wyhopen, who attended St. Joseph’s Seminary for high school from 1960 to 1964, said that at the time, his was the largest entering class in St. Joseph’s history.

“Going to school at St. Joseph’s came to be an intense experience that is totally ingrained in all of us who went there,” Wyhopen said.  “We all began as somewhat apprehensive boys and grew into men, hopefully of courage, as demonstrated by our classmate Dennis Joos who died trying to wrestle a rifle out of the hands of a gunman.  We all look back on the experience with recognition of its uniqueness in education and life formation which will probably never be duplicated again.  For all of these reasons, our periodic reunions are highly happy emotional events. “

“As someone observed at this reunion,” Wyhopen said, “even after an interval of years, everyone picks up as if the previous reunion had occurred the day before.”

Thomas Walters, OFM
, of New York City, organized the reunion for the high school classes of 1970-73 that was held Sept. 1-3.

Approximately 25 people – both alumni and guests — attended the event held at a venue in the Catskills region of New York that is more than 150 years old, he said. The group gathered at Christman’s Windham House for meals, liturgy, golfing and walks to the nearby town.

“We got together to reestablish old ties,” Thomas said. “Life at the seminary was a wonderful time. It closed the year after I left.”

Many years after studying at the seminary, the teachings and the spirit of the Franciscans are still strong in the hearts and minds of its alumni.

History of the Seminary

The seminary of the Order of Friars Minor was operated by the Province from 1901 until 1972 in rural Sullivan County, N.Y. It was an important part of the lives of many Holy Name friars.  There, they learned about the traditions of the Franciscans and forged lifelong friendships.

The seminary had a six-year program typical of Catholic minor seminaries: four years of high school and two of  (junior) college, according to Dominic Monti, OFM, a specialist in Franciscan history.

A booklet published for the golden jubilee of the seminary describes in a chapter titled Fifty Golden Years: “Over 500 friars are working for the salvation of souls in foreign missions as well as parishes, schools and missions in 13 eastern states served by the Province. Most of these priests received their early spiritual and intellectual training at St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary.” A celebration that included a solemn Mass of thanksgiving with His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman was held in May 1951 to commemorate the seminary’s half-century.

When the doors of the seminary opened in September 1901, its staff of five friars outnumbered the student body, according to the booklet. “Callicoon,” as the seminary was affectionately nicknamed, grew to become a thriving establishment filled with dedicated men from many states and even from foreign countries.

In a letter to the fathers, brothers and students, Thomas Plassman, OFM, the provincial minister in 1951, wrote: “Fifty golden years have passed since the day when the sweet name of St. Joseph’s first resounded through these cheery hills, down the graceful valley and up again to God’s blue heaven.  Truly, St. Joseph has proven a wise architect, a powerful patron, a fatherly friend to young and old alike.”

The seminary was called a “seraphic” seminary, as were all Franciscan minor seminaries, in honor of St. Francis whose intense and burning love of God was, from the beginning named Seraphic, according to the jubilee book. A descriptive brochure titled “This is St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary; Dedicated to Tomorrow’s Franciscans,” said that “the heart of our Franciscan world is the tabernacle of Holy Cross Chapel.”

“The young men who came from Catholic homes of American and brought with them something of this great nation — its energy, humor, common sense and generosity,” according to the descriptive book.

The book said “this is the story of a school where young men open their minds to learning that they may be free, offer their hearts to God that they may grow I grace.”

Today, the seminary building and grounds are used by the Delaware Valley Job Corps providing educational and vocational programs for youth. Brennan was quoted in the Callicoon newspaper on Aug. 12, 2003 after another previous reunion that the seminary “was still doing God’s work. He said his consolation about the closing of St. Josephs Seraphic Seminary was “knowing that thousands of kids are gaining the tools to find a better life in the walls of the Job Corp Center”.

“This is a place where all of us ex-seminarians learned the “tools” to be better people because of dedicated priests like Fr. Brennan,” said Mesaric.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for the Province.