John Mercier AP'58 is a former Prep School theology teacher.
He spoke during the dinner at Prep Reunion on
September 6, 2008.
Thank you Moe, for the introduction and good evening to all. It is my pleasure to be here and have you as a captive audience for the next few minutes. You have Charlie Bibaud to blame or thank for that. On April 3 he called and asked if I would do this. Had it been two days earlier on April 1 I would have considered it to be appropriate for that day, but it was April 3. I gave it a little thought and then said what the hell, go for it. This is a great event that I really enjoy coming to each year and I think Charlie and the committee need a round of applause for having the idea and carrying it out. How appropriate that we can attend high school reunion every year, anniversary year or not. I am a graduate of the Class of 1958 so if you’re in the Class of 1959 and you hear from Charlie on or about April 1 next year, be ready.
Some of you know me; many of you don’t so I’ll provide some background. I was a Prep school day student from 1954 to 1958. That’s right after the tornado of June 9,1953 at 5:10 in the afternoon and I lived up over the hill off Burncoat Street on Quinapoxet Lane … thus the memory of the exact time. As a day student I walked to school, stayed after school for workshops, graduated from the Prep, went on to Assumption College for two years, joined the Assumpionists, went to Europe for six years to be properly formed (two in France, four in Belgium), came back taught at the Prep for two years, went with Fr. William Dubois, (“Willy”) to New York in ‘69, worked in a Spanish speaking parish in upper Manhattan from ‘69 to ‘73, got married in early in ‘74 and still have this beautiful bride with me today. We live in Norwich, CT, which when asked we used to say was near Mystic, but we’ve changed that to “in the shadow of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.” There are a million stories in all of that, but time is limited.
Suffice it to say and point out that it was/is quite a trip and full of fond memories of exemplary laymen and Assumptionists who were my teachers, role models, brothers in religion, and generally a wonderful bunch of dedicated men. If ever you want to take a trip down memory lane and relive a lot of experiences I encourage you to visit the cemetery in Fiskdale where many of the A.A.’s are buried and walk down the line and relive in your mind all the different classes and disciplines represented there. So I saw the Prep from different sides, student, teacher and Assumptionist.
I thought it might be fun to do a little walk down memory lane and mention some of the events that took place at the Prep and some of the memories that stayed with me and I’m sure apply to many of you also. Some of these things our grandkids would never believe … School six days a week, from 8am to 6pm, with homework, preceded by “tasks” that had to be completed and were collected before we left school and put in the infamous task cabinet in front of the study hall.
- Neck ties and suit coats every day, suit coats with leather elbow patches
- Cars leaving for vacation and going to places at the end of the world like Fort Kent, Caribou and Madawaska
- Fr. Arthur Clermont, when things got a little noisy, would get really silent, stare at us, and say those dreaded words “Take out a piece of paper”
- Fr. Amarin Metz standing on the roof during winter recess taking names of those throwing snowballs.
- The entire student body assembled in the gym for the reading of the marks in discipline
- The school being shut down for a week in 1957 because of the flu. Now we have pandemic preparation plans.
- Priests leaving for weekend mass duty in, what to a day student were, far away places like Moosup, Taftville, Putnam or Danielson.
- A small lay brother whose name I forget, help me, who would dust the wood work on the walls while praying softly (at least I think he was praying), but to him is attributed the famous phrase, written on the inside of latrine doors “Ici tombe en ruine tous les arts de la cuisine.” Translated: “Here fall into ruin all the arts of the kitchen.”
- That huge bathroom near the dining hall with more stalls than some ball parks have now.
- Boarding students fearful that if too many of these crazy day hops walked to school during the large snowstorms they might end up having classes all day.
- No girls, an all male school. We would have benefited from having some female presence to help us understand our better halves later on.
- A bunch of non-French speaking students given a new French teacher from Canada whose English was limited, Guy Normand’ and us constantly asking him how to say “seal,” the animal, in French. Not nice on our part.
The list of memories could go on and on and I’m sure that all of us here tonight have their own set of memories.But how about the innovations we were exposed to: language labs with wire recorders; reading labs with the speed adjustable panel that would drop down over the page to teach us to Speed Read; study habits like SQ3R – Pete; How about Fr. Edgar calling up non French speaking local students during the summer and asking them if they could memorize one of La Fontaine’s fables overnight and recite it to a group of French teachers taking some kind of summer course, his point being to show that non-French speaking students could memorize French phrases quickly. I was one of those and never forgot, Le corbeau et le renard. Maitre corbeau sur une arbre perche tenait en son bec un frommage. Maitre renard par l’ odeur alleche lui tient a peu pres ce langage. Eh Bonjour monsieur le corbeau, que vous etes jolie, que vous etes beau, que votre plumage se resemble. How about evening workshops in art appreciation with Bro. Jon Poehler? Music appreciation with Ma Gilbert. The famous Stork Club. – And then there was the innovation I had to deal with later on when Fr. William Dubois, “Willy” thought it would be better if we taught religion without the students getting a grade. Try that with a bunch of high school sophomores.
So there are lots of memories and lots of innovations that we were exposed to.
And so much has changed in the last 50 or more years since we left those hallowed halls. We are 50 years older; the ‘60s came and went; Berlin Wall; Viet-Nam, Vatican II; gas was 35 cents a gallon; gas lines in ‘73-‘74 ; Sputnik, Jet planes, the Internet; awareness of cholesterol, asbestos, lead poisoning, mercury. Remember playing with the mercury in physics lab? That might explain a few things. Color TV – The Red Sox won the World Series twice. Now you can take pictures with a telephone. Pay phones back then were a dime. Now you rarely get a real person first when calling somewhere, deal with the android “please listen to our menu which has recently changed.“ We were focused then in high school on that famous three letter word ending in “x.” Now we have a whole new bunch of words ending in “x” : Vioxx, Celebrex, Orafix, Flomax. And in 1970 The Prep closed.
And yet we come back. Why? Because the good memories remain. We have lots of superficial memories, but the solid foundation of the education we received remains. Remember the inscription in the floor tiles at the main entrance: Je Maintiendrai, I will maintain; referring to a school that wished to maintain the Franco Americain traditions of many of its students, / but we can modify it to mean I will maintain the high quality of excellence and dedication that I witnessed during our years at the Prep. I will maintain the idea of common sense and common good that prevailed during our high school years.
I once heard a phrase that went “Education is what’s left over after you forget everything you learned.“ While not entirely true, I hope, there’s a grain of truth in there. Let’s be thankful we got the education we did on West Boylston Street and let’s carry on the spirit that was instilled in us during those golden years.
See you next year.