On June 15 of my 15th year, I joined a religious congregation of the Roman Catholic Church. (The name of the congregation is the Brothers of the Christian Schools, aka, the Christian Brothers. You may be familiar with the latter name if you are a lover of wine and brandy, since the organization owns a large vineyard in Napa Valley.) In so doing, I became a sophomore in a high school located in Beltsville, Maryland. It was called a junior novitiate and was on the same property as the novitiate and retirement home for the Brothers' Baltimore Province. I would have many adventures there, some of them of an unusual nature. One of the latter had to do with a fellow student and friend whose name was Tom Meiniger.
Besides our friendship, Tom and I had a number of things in common. Among them were a love of Latin literature, a love of poetry and adventure novels, a great admiration for our Latin teacher, Brother Patrick, and our work in the community's bee farm, which was supervised by Brother Patrick.
During the junior novitiate, we went home every year for the month of August. Tom was a year ahead of me, so when I returned from this vacation to start my senior year at the junior novitiate, Tom returned to enter the novitiate. A year later, I entered the novitiate, and for several months, we were both in the novitiate. In the ordinary course of things, this would have ended in the fall when Tom and the rest of his class went to Philadelphia for college. But for Tom the ordinary course of things was disrupted.
News of the disruption came to the rest of us one Saturday afternoon. Every afternoon, there would be a gathering in the common room and Brother Edward, the Brother Pro Director, would give a talk, often on some practical topic like letter writing or dressing properly in the garb of the congregation. This particular afternoon he came into the common room with a very grim expression on his face. After seating himself on the speaker's dais, he announced that Tom Meiniger had disappeared. As he spoke, at one point it seemed to me that he was going to cry. He and Tom were close friends. I believe in fact that Edward had been Tom's sponsor. (To enter a Catholic religious order, one must be vouched for by both a member of the congregation and one's parish priest.) The property -- a 200-acre farm -- had been thoroughly searched by the police. Maryland is very much a Catholic state, especially the eastern part, and the houses of religious orders received special help whenever they needed it from the state and local governments. Tom was nowhere to be found. His parents had been called. They did not know where he was.
But the story has a good ending. A month or so later, Brother Edward entered the common room for the afternoon talk with a piece of paper in his hand and a big grin on his face. (The big grin was quite unusual for him.) After sitting down at the speaker's dais, he began to read the letter to us. It went something like this:
"Dear Brother Edward,
Please forgive my absenting myself so abruptly from the novitiate. In my defense I can only say that during my last weeks at the novitiate I was, as you well know, suffering from intense emotional pain. It became extremely intense the day that I left, so during the afternoon work period I walked through the woods in the area north of the house to a road where I could hitch a ride. I wanted to go to a Marine recruiting station. As luck would have it, the man who picked me up knew of one in Hyattsville and took me to it. I told the recruiter that I wanted to go that day to a training camp, and within a few hours I was at the base in Quantico, Virginia.
This place has helped me a lot. In some ways of course, the life here is much like community life with the Brothers, and that has helped my transition to the 'outer world.' But life here is in many ways much easier than community life. In the beginning, the training was physically hard for me, but within a couple of weeks I adjusted to it.
Many of the kids here are babies, always complaining that they can't smoke and that they're not allowed sweets. Oddly to me, they complain about the painful parts of the training. What did they think would happen in a Marine boot camp?? Compared to the novitiate, this place is a summer camp.
Please, please forgive any grief which I have caused you. And please tell the others that I miss all of you.