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An elite college preparatory school

25th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Cyprian Snyder Patin was prominent among the 28 of us who arrived at Saint Augustine Semi­nary in Bay St. Louis, Missis­sippi, in early September of 1943. It was a strange but intriguing scene for all as we wondered what seminary life would be about.

What on earth were we getting ourselves into, some of us at the age of 13?

First of all, there were no grades nine to 12 as other high schools had. Instead, we had the uni­que first academic to the fourth academic as grade rankings. Just how discipline-rich that moniker was did not settle in until decades later, when, looking back, we could see what strong subjects we pursued without wincing or wondering.

We had the flagship Latin course bolstered by English, history, geometry, geography, mathematics and biology with amoebas under our microscopes. French came in a year later followed by the strange discipline of Greek the year after that. We were destined to study those languages until we had completed our second year of college.

Foremost in that pursuit was Cyprian Snyder Patin — soon called Cyp by all — who had an abundance of intellectual tools plus an insatiable desire and drive to learn anything and everything there was to be learned. That included numerous things not targeted by the subjects of our studies. With all that, Cyp was proficient in most sports.

For the most part, the rest of us had our capabilities, but we were more typically boys prone to explore the awesome wilderness that Bay St. Louis was back in those days. With a much smaller population, the outskirts of town had dense woods of towering pine trees measuring two and three to four feet in diameter — two trees, even five feet.

Setting off the breathtaking woods were a couple of daunting swamps, of which one was crossable and the other only partially accessible. Several of us were forever in and out of the woods and swamps, soon acquiring the nickname of swamp rats. Believe it or not, we did find time for serious study sandwiched between woods and swamp time.

More study-sandwiching was necessitated by baseball, softball, flag football, soccer, basketball and delightful swimming in the back bay of Bay St. Louis where we had a treasured summer home affectionately known as Sunny­bank. Through it all, our Prefect, Father Hubert Posjena, his assistant and others kept our priorities in line.

Our most difficult hurdle of all proved to be our move to Techny, Illinois, the Divine Word Seminary near Waukegan where we entered the mysterious novitiate, our two-year ordeal of spiritual training. Take military boot camp, make it a bit more difficult, stretch it out to last two years, and you have the equivalent of that novitiate.

We spoke during meals on Sundays and feasts. On other days, after a post-supper one-hour recreation time, the magnum silentium (great silence) lasted until recreation time the next day at 2:30 p.m., following the dread work period when teams soaped, scrubbed, rinsed and dried five marble floors of the 300-foot-long L-shaped building.

That done, the rinse water after cleaning the mops had to be clear. Those of us who did not mop on a given day pulled dandelions by the roots, manicured the campus or climbed and trimmed tall trees with saws as Joe Guidry and I did, using safety belts.

We had hiking days, including some frigid ones, when we were to walk until our scheduled return by late afternoon. In the summer, we made the 12-mile trek to a Lake Michigan beach, enjoying the clear water when it was not too cold. We rode home.

A spiritual lecture from the novice master was the order of the day, preceded and followed by periods of prayer and meditation. Assigned people read to us during meals.

Sight unseen, Cyp even dared to correct Novice Master Father Felix Glorious, S.V.D., who set forth some inaccurate information on the popes in one of his lectures. We could hear the proverbial pin drop as the lips of Father Glorious trembled in indignation. Our eyes dropped in mortal fear as quickly as we had lifted them up to the novice master.

Cyp survived all this, but left the SVDs after our novitiate to become an attorney. He married Lois and fathered Martin, Kim­berly and Rhonda. Sadly, Rhonda emailed me on June 5 about his demise. He was a blessing to all of us who were a part of his life.

This article was originally published in the June 25, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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