Chapter II: Manhattan Influences
Aquinas Institute was taken over in 1937 by the Basilian Fathers with a contract entered into by Archbishop Mooney, then the Ordinary of Rochester, later Cardinal Mooney of Detroit. Years later I discovered that Father Dan Dillon, a General Councilor of the Basilian Fathers, had stipulated in the congregation that no religious congregation or order could establish a college for men within a radius of 50 miles from Rochester for a period of fifteen years. The fifteen-year period would expire in 1952.
Aquinas Institute was a boys' school, conducted by the diocesan priests, sisters, and lay people. About 35 Basilians moved in over the summer of 1937 to a house on 9 South Street, next to the present St. Mary's Church in downtown Rochester. Father John O'Loane was the first principal and superior. Father Dillon was the treasurer.
A small group of Basilians had taught at Aquinas Institute some years earlier. They were always highly regarded. However, the management and ownership of the school were in the hands of diocesan officials.
I arrived in Rochester in the first week of September, 1937, the last to arrive, having come directly from Laval University's Biological Research Station on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I had no days at home for vacation. I remember my mother was quite sad about it, yet she never complained.
That fall of 1937 witnessed the tremendous reception given at the New York Central Station for Bishop James E. Kearney, Bishop Mooney's successor. The new bishop addressed us from a balcony. In the waiting room below, I stood with Dr. Fenton of St. Bernard's Seminary, later at Catholic University and the Second Vatican Council. It was my first of many wonderful occasions with Bishop Kearney.
In March, 1938, my mother died in our home in Welland, Ontario. Bonds with St. Michael's College began to loosen. New ties with Rochester were easy to make. My mother and I had had some great times in Rochester together, when I was a scholastic and college student. In Corpus Christi parish, my uncle Robert Haffey and his wife, my aunt Mamie, lived for many years. One of their sons, Joseph Haffey, became a priest in the Rochester diocese where he served as pastor of St. Ignatius Church, Hornell, New York. For many years Rochester had been a favorite visiting place for the Welland Haffeys. My cousins Jim and John Haffey had been graduated from Aquinas. I knew much about Aquinas and Rochester long before the Basilians took over.
A new chapter, more closely associated with the founding of St. John Fisher College starts in the summer of 1940. New York City is the locale for most of this. Father O'Loane, our principal and superior, had asked me if I would put together for the Regents of the State of New York an approved program of public speaking for Aquinas Institute. Whoever had taught it before had a program and he was willing to sell it to the Basilians. Father O'Loane declined the purchase and thought we could do it ourselves. Therefore, there began in the summer of 1940 (the World's Fair was still on), a new phase which, for me, brought Rochester and New York City closer together. I enrolled in Public Speaking courses at Teachers' College, Columbia University, and continued to meet people and be in places that were to have direct bearing on the beginnings of St. John Fisher College.
It wasn't easy to get a place to stay for free board in New York City while going to Columbia. A good friend, Dean Cullinane from St. Catharines, Ontario, had told me to go first to Father Paddy O'Leary, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy on Marion Avenue in the Bronx. This was a long way from Columbia, but he was good enough to put me up for a couple of days and then he called his good friend, Father Dempsey, pastor of St. Matthews down on the west side of Manhattan, about 65th Street. It was a somewhat less than well-to-do parish even then. Father Dempsey was a great friend of Rober Ripley, creator of "Believe It or Not," with whom he regularly played handball at the New York Athletic Club. Father Dempsey was a most gracious person and phoned Mother Teresa of the Carmelite Sisters of St. Patrick, who conducted an old folks home. He told her about my plight and, that very night I moved into the Chaplain's quarters at Mount Carmel Home for the Aged on West 54th Street.
My Quebec days fused into the New York days. Abbe Vachon's sister lived in Newton, Massachusetts, across from the church of which Bishop Spellman had been pastor when he was Auxiliary Bishop of Boston. The two churchmen had become great friends. To help me in New York, Monsignor Vachon wrote and asked me to drop in on Archbishop Spellman and just say hello. It would please him if I did. He would write the new Archbishop of New York and tell him who I was. At the time, it seemed the courteous thing to do. At the time, also, for me, it meant little. But looking back now, this simple visit was a piece of the mosaic being put together.
I visited Archbishop Spellman at his residence alongside St. Patrick's. Father Walter Kellenberger admitted me, and said His Grace would be down shortly. (Father Kellenberger later became Bishop of Rockville Center, Long Island.)
The Archbishop and I chatted a few minutes, then he said, "Would you like to have a walk with me, up and down Madison Avenue?" An obscure padre such as I had only one answer. We walked north and all I did was answer his questions about Rochester, New York. Crossing 51st Street we were almost knocked down by a short-turning driver. Archbishop Spellman tried to get the license number, but he was too late. (Years later when Father Vachon became an archbishop, I recalled the stroll in New York, and asked him, "Does every Archbishop spend his talking time just pumping the clergy for news?" When I added that Archbishop McGuigan had treated me similarly in Toronto, pump, pump--he said simply, "They do, I don't.") When we returned to Archbishop Spellman's residence, we parted. It had been for him, I am sure, just another constitutional walk. Neither of us felt that our paths would cross again. But they did, and St. John Fisher is in that meeting in great measure.
America was not yet in the war in the summer of 1940, but there was definite hostility toward Hitler in the air.
Father John Voight, the regular chaplain of the Carmelite old folks home, took his vacation annually in July. When he returned, we began a friendship which has lasted all through these years, and has been for me a most treasured one. Father Voight was the Assistant Superintendent of the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of New York. His assistant was Father John Paul Haverty. Their boss was Monsignor William Kelly, whose children's religion books are still widely read. We all called each other by our first names. Bill Kelly was soon to step out of the office for a pastorate. The office of the Superintendent of Schools was in the basement part of the old red brick building on the northwest corner of Madison and 51st Street, directly across from the priests' residence of St. Patrick's Cathedral. This became a kind of office and center of operations for me. Very often, over the succeeding years, Father Voight and I would walk back and forth from 51st and Madison to 539 West 54th. One such crossing of Broadway was unique some years later. The crowds in Times Square were there to celebrate the end of World War II. The day was August 15, 1945.
It was a new world for me! It was New York and a long, long way from the little hometown on the bank of the Welland Canal.
Later, Fathers Voight and Haverty moved up with the advent of the Archbishop, later Cardinal, Spellman. John Voight became his Secretary of Education, having passed through the Superintendent of Schools' office to which John Paul Haverty succeeded. The old building which later became the Army and the Navy Building for the diocese has disappeared. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of that old building, which also housed the Old Cathedral College, because it was in that building that some momentous decisions with regard to St. John Fisher College were thought out and followed up. Of these later.