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Assumption College: Class of ’46

by Al Roach

A yearbook that opened unabashedly with a quotation from Holy Scriptures: “The spirit of God moved over the waters…”
Priests in black cassocks demonstrating the skills of the game in the triple brick handball courts (where the University Centre now stands). Young boys swelling with pride at Father’s complimentary: “Now you’re getting the idea!”

Young men in diamond sweater and baggy trousers strolling on the Little Walk east of the historic building housing the Philosophers’ Flats, which once stood immediately south of the old Administration Wing on the Huron Church Line Road. (Historic especially because it once housed militia stationed at Sandwich to face the threat of invasion by the Fenians in the 1860s.)

Assumption College. Mid-1940s. Boys from Grade 9 to the master’s degree level all on one small campus. Taught by a male staff, ninety per cent members of the Congregation of St. Basil. Not a female in sight. Except the quiet Grey Nuns cleaning the dormitories in St. Michael’s Hall.

College types (registered at the University of Western Ontario through the affiliation of A.C.) sharing with the high school the Arts Building (later named Dillon Hall, after the Very Rev. D. L. Dillon, superior of Assumption from 1922 to 1928 when the building was erected).

An ingrained sense of tradition dating back to 1870 when Father Dennis O’Connor was sent by the Basilian Fathers of Toronto to be the first Superior of Assumption College in the quiet border town of Sandwich, Ontario.

A grand total of 365 students registered at the college level; 364 of us seeking the elusive B.A. And Joe Gualderon, of Akron, Ohio, sole candidate for a master’s degree in philosophy.

In 1946, 54 of us would graduate – the largest class in the 76-year history of the school to that date. “Place is getting too damn big. Turning into a factory.”

Father Bill Storey – heavy five-o’clock shadow, chalk-covered cassock – down on his knees among his petunias along the Patricia Road entrance.

Herbert Marshall McLuhan (That’s right, Herbert. He dropped the first name somewhere between Windsor and his arrival as the sage of Toronto) driving up in his Model-T Ford. Impressing the undergraduates with his scorn for things material.

A tweedy McLuhan, draping his long, lean form over the lectern in English 4O. Pushing a mop of unruly black hair off his forehead and announcing: “I’ll tell you something, boys: the world accepts you at your own evaluation.”

Monday and Wednesday afternoons training with the C.O.T.C. (Canadian Officers’ Training Corps – “Canada’s first line of defence after the Girl Guides”). Training on the campus where University of Windsor residences and the gigantic Applied Science Building now tower over the landscape.

Capturing the corn field (where Assumption College High School now stands) for the one hundredth time.

“You do not have a tin hat and a gas mask. You have a helmet and a respirator.” Company Sergeant-Major Cuthbertson. Redfaced. Thundering. We figured the whole scheme was a plot of the German-Canadian Bund.

Professor Eugene S. J. (for Society of Jesus) Paulus directing budding thespians in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral in the basement of Assumption Church.
Paulus, a huge, square-jawed man, wearing a grey suit, black shirt and black tie (and looking for all the world like Mussolini) changing Eliot’s impressive lines to improve them. (And the strange part of it is that he did improve them.)

Paulus, requiring me to roll on the floor and snort like a dragon so that I wouldn’t get the feel of the part of the Third Tempter.

“Down on the floor, Roach! Roll over and over! Roar! That’s it! Now snort and snarl! More leaping! More roaring! Louder! Good! Now you’re getting the idea!” (I was also getting the idea that I would slip away from this bizarre individual at the first opportunity. But I never did. I stayed on to play the Third Tempter and came to love this eccentric man.)

Saturday night dates with the girls of Holy Names College. Mass in the Assumption College chapel. (The beautiful old chapel, that is, before someone modernized it and turned the altar backwards.) Father Lee Higgins delivering straight-from-the-shoulder sermons. The term “no hanky-panky” hadn’t been invented yet. But when Father Higgins discussed acceptable conduct with the girls from Holy Names, the boys knew what he meant. They knew.

Understanding that “Bonitatem et Disciplinam et Scientiam Doce Me” was more than a motto. Understanding that the order of the three nouns was of vast importance. Accepting “Doce Me” as the natural order of a student’s universe.

Late bull sessions in the Philosophers’ Flats, concerning such consequential issues as how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

An essay set aside to provide time to write an article for the school paper, The Purple and White.

A school small enough to allow Father Stan Murphy, registrar, to personally seek out each boy and hand him his report card (with an appropriate comment).

A yearbook that closed unabashedly with a quotation from Holy Scripture: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Light.”



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