by Dr. Robert Vellani Perrysburg 1970 -1973
One of the many features that separated Divine Word Seminary from the surrounding high schools was our unique schedule. Thursdays and Sundays were our days off from classes. That didn’t mean that Thursday was without activities. We had a morning study hall, a community mass, and a work period.
However, a small group of seminarians spent each late Thursday afternoon in Toledo at St. Anthony’s Villa, an orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Francis and the Catholic Charities. I cannot remember which of the upperclassmen recruited me to join those who went to what we simply called “The Villa.” Those who I accompanied to the Villa included Dave Eversman, Jim Barney, and Nick Nigro, among others. It fulfilled our Apostolic Work requirement. But, it was always more than that. It was an opportunity to go out into the community and put our beliefs into action.
As any sequestered boarding school student will tell you, part of the appeal of any activity that takes you off campus is the literal getting off campus. During my time at Perrysburg, the community owned a mid-Sixties black Chevy Impala as the student car. Of course, the upperclassmen would always drive, and whoever rode “shotgun” would DJ the AM radio. The Impala’s liminal space between worlds always allowed us that unsupervised breathing room, which was often in short supply.
Once we arrived at the Villa, the children were back from their school and our main task was to run wild with the children in the huge playing fields beyond the compound of buildings where the children lived. Many of us already knew the boys from their time at our Summer Camp. So we all had our favorites. Mine were the Foley brothers, a pair of boys slightly separated by perhaps a year.
After our playtime, we stayed and shared their evening meal. Each group of boys lived in a self-contained area, with a dining area adjacent to their sleep quarters. Each seminarian headed a table of boys who we helped with setting and clearing the table. I was already familiar with institutional quality food, but one evening meal stands out in my memory after all this time. Once we sat, we were given a white square cut block. One could see it contained fruit and was passing as the salad course. From the faces of the boys seated around the table, I sensed that something was off with this course. When I asked what was wrong I was challenged to try it myself. As the “grown folk” at the table, I plunged my fork into it and took a bite. I suppose I could barely contain my disgust. The white paste was mayonnaise, a condiment I never liked and never ate except by accident when unavoidable. The nuns always wanted the boys to clean their plates of food, so despite my rebelling taste buds, I had to at least eat three or four bites of this concoction. I have spent years doing everything with food service and food except cooking it and I have never eaten anything so awful.
It is said that “experience” is the new currency, and that, like the Attention Economy, we are living in an Experience Economy, too, where what we purchase is a good story to tell afterwards.
If that is indeed the case, then those of us who have been out in the world with our shoulder to the wheel of our life’s mission, can reminisce fondly on our rich experiences in the Society of the Divine Word.
Fast forward to the present: After discerning out of the program at Perrysburg, Robert followed his muse into music, theater and writing. In time, he circled back to academia, earning a master’s degree and later a doctorate in fiction writing and literature. After finishing his undergraduate work, Robert said he laughed off a friend’s comment suggesting that he should teach. “I said, ‘Teaching is the last thing I’d do.’ And, I was right: teaching is the last thing I’m doing.”
Robert and his wife, Mary Louise Penaz, live in Burlington, North Carolina. Robert is an active member of the Alamance County NAACP, the North Carolina Association of Educators, and the Alamance Burlington School System Superintendent’s Equity and Diversity Committee. He’s also a board member of the Positive Attitude Youth Center in Burlington.
by David Eversmann - Perrysburg 1968 - 1972, Epworth 19772 - 1973
Divine Word was the center of my life for the five years I was at Perrysburg and Epworth.
I started at Divine Word Seminary in Perrysburg in 1968, with a freshman class size of 26 which dwindles to 10 by the time we were seniors. My good friend and classmate, Bernie Spitzley, and I were the only ones to continue onto Epworth.
While at Perrysburg I became very interested in visiting SVD missions in the US. I was very fortunate to be given opportunities to spend two of my summers at mission parishes down south.
The first opportunity was after my junior year when I spent my summer in Yazoo City, Mississippi, with Fr. Malcolm O'Leary at St. Francis Parish. My primary role at the parish was working with the sisters at the St. Francis Head Start Center. I was also exposed to the racial inequity of the south. Most of the friends I made were black and lived around the parish on the black side of the tracks that split the town. My first experience with racism was when I went to a movie theater with my friends and met with some resistance from the theater owner when I sat in the balcony where blacks were required to sit. The police were summoned to remove me, but they left after I told them I wasn’t going to leave because I was there with my friends from the parish. My second experience was when the police came to the parish house to question me along with Fr. O’Leary about a young white girl who had been raped in town and the white young man that committed the offense was last seen running across the tracks into the black part of town. Since I was the only white person living around that area, they thought it had to be me. Fr. O’Leary informed the officers I had been at the parish all evening helping with a roller-skating party in the gymnasium. During that summer, I also accompanied Fr. O’Leary to a memorial service for Medger Evers where I got to meet Charles Evers and Julian Bond. It was quite the summer. My parents drove all the way from Cincinnati to pick me up at the end of the summer for a small vacation before driving me back to Perrysburg.
The second opportunity was after my senior year when I spent the summer in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, at St. Peter’s Parish with my second cousin Fr. Charles Leisring. My role in Pine Bluff was to assist with families and the youth in the parish. I was also given the monumental task of stripping and painting the entire outside of the church all by myself. It was supposed to take the entire summer, which it did, but not without getting pneumonia and having to get penicillin shots in the backside. While at Pine Bluff, I was able to join a caravan of parishioners on a trip to Bay St. Louis. Shortly after that, I left for Epworth to start my freshman year.
My freshman year at Epworth was a time of reflection and soul searching. I cherished my time there and the wonderful people I met, but ultimately, I chose to leave. All these experiences with Divine Word really made an impact on me. Those five years changed my life and contributed to my 33-year career as a children's services social worker and to who I am today.
As a side note, I graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa and have been married 43 years to my wonderful wife, a Clarke College graduate. Our wedding mass was officiated by Fr. Melvin James, the music was provided by Bro. Don Champagne, and my best man was Bro. Bernie Spitzley. I also went on the first Mission Trip to Jamaica to spend time with Bro. Bernie, but that’s another story.
So even though I may not be a professed SVD, I am an SVD for life.
by Fr. Marcel Portelli - Perrysburg 1977-78
After never having heard diocesan vocations promoted at my suburban Detroit parish, nor having seen any literature about diocesan vocations in the church's literature rack, one day I noticed a brochure in said rack regarding this seminary. That's all I needed. Before long, I had filled out the application with my parents' blessing and mailed it in.
I entered as a freshman at the age of 14 just a few months after my confirmation. Being away from home for the first time was a bit scary but also quite an adventure. Altogether, there were about 55 of us, freshman through seniors. There was a great sense of fraternity, which was remarkable considering our adolescent immaturity.
Community life began with Mass each morning (don't even think about being late!), and of course many other prayers throughout the day. Spiritual conferences were an important part of the formation, but the highlight for me was our week-long retreat to the SVD motherhouse in Techny, Illinois.
Academically, we studied mostly the same topics as in any other high school, but there were fewer textbooks and more "Great Books" of Western civilization. We also studied Latin and obviously religion. Compared to what I had been used to in the government schools, many subjects were taught a year earlier, and the standards were far more demanding. An "A" student from my government schools would've made a solid "B" student here. I was absolutely crushed when I didn't make the Dean's List during my first semester.
A key component of our well-rounded formation program was the manual labor. On weekdays and some Saturdays, all seminarians were engaged in some form of manual work for an hour or two. This included lawn mowing, dish washing, sweeping/mopping, snow removal, etc. "Ora et Labora" (Prayer and Work) as the Benedictines say. These chores helped to instill a sense of ownership in us and to develop character.
In my spare time, I enjoyed playing chess with 80-something Brother Longinus Posch. He was a chess champion of some repute in his native Germany. I even earned an FCC amateur radio license, callsign KA8AHK, in the ham radio shack. Communicating with people around the world using Morse Code at five words per minute (on a good day) was quite the thrill decades before Zoom.
I was well-aware that vocations were in decline long before I entered Perrysburg (it's one of the reasons I decided to apply in the first place). The campus was clearly underutilized, having peaked at 170 seminarians in 1965, and with the major downturn starting in 1968. Changing priorities in American society and the ongoing upheaval within the Church, thanks in part to Nostra Aetate, all had their effects on this missionary order of priests and brothers and their institutions.
Moreover, some demarcations were evident between the older priests/brothers and the younger ones. Those who were formed prior to the 1970s, for example, always wore their religious habits, whereas the younger ones rarely did. I believe that this diluted our religious identity and it seemed that they were in two different camps, but I knew they were all working on the same team.
Despite these fractures, I planned to spend all four years and graduate from there, but life events beyond my control would conspire against this. Sadly, the very next year, I found myself back in a government high school as a sophomoric sophomore. :(
To the best of my knowledge, none of my approximately 55 fratres ultimately professed perpetual vows as an SVD priest or brother.
During my time at Perrysburg, I held all of the SVD priests and brothers in the highest esteem, and I still do today. I can still remember their names and their dedication to us. To this day I can recall simple yet profound life lessons from Father Wilbur Klunk's catechism class. They were all the best, and I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Divine Word Seminary in Perrysburg, Ohio. I was very sad when I learned of its closure in 1986.
For the official history of the Perrysburg seminary, please see:https://bit.ly/3mwzRIs
by Pat Leddy - East Troy 1961-1965, Divine Word College, Epworth, 1965-1966
This photo reminds me of a few facts:
1. Playing tackle football on a frozen field in Wisconsinat zero degrees can be an "exhilarating" experience. (I am the guy in the air)
2. The Bears-Packers rivalry was alive and well at East Troy.
3. I was in pretty good shape my senior year when this pic was taken.
4. Ed Washatka, the intended receiver, in the picture and a Packer Backer, never got the pass.😁
5. When we were juniors, we beat the seniors in our annual junior-senior game.
6. The Divine Word Missionaries were one of a very few Catholic religious orders who allowed their seminarians to play tackle football.
7. Fr Jim Bergin and I still let each other know where our football allegiances lie.
8. Ed Amelse was one of our "tougher" prefects, and a Packet fan. He didn't appreciate vocal Bears fans.
My four years at East Troy were pretty neat, except the days surrounding the Kennedy assassination, during which I wished I could be home with my family. But, instead, we band of brothers muddled thru those dark days with only our fellow students and our priests, brothers and lay teachers to commiserate with.😢
We all remember where we were when we heard about his death....ending a class taught by Mr. Lucas, our German teacher.
The SVD prepared us to go to faraway missions in some pretty remote corners of the world.
I am glad I spent 4 years at East Troy, and 1 year at Epworth. Many men I met during those days have been great friends for almost six decades. Some are gone now, and I am am blessed for having known all of them.
The Category 5 Hurricane Camille struck Bay St. Louis, Mississippi just before midnight on Aug. 17th, 1969. Since then it has been referred to as one of the strongest Hurricanes to strike the mainland U.S. with sustained winds upwards of 175 mph. It’s significance for the 1969 – 1970 in-coming SVD novitiate class was that our novitiate was to be the second novitiate at the historic St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis. The novitiate previously was at Conesus, NY. My classmates and I were wondering if we would actually have our novitiate at St. Augustine’s since the damage to the area was so extensive. But soon, we received phone calls (this was pre-email) that we should still proceed to “the Bay.”
Upon arrival, we had to pass through National Guard checkpoints and demonstrate that we had a valid reason to travel to Bay St. Louis. When we arrived, the damage was obvious. Buildings that were part of downtown Bay St. Louis were simply gone and there were large gaping holes where they previously stood and had been washed out to sea. At the Bay, we jokingly said we were living in simulated mission conditions. We had no fresh drinking water, no electricity or air conditioning (a real necessity at the Bay), and the gas lines were all shut off because of leaks so the sisters had to cook meals outside. Even worse, the town stopped spraying for mosquitos. For light we had the “hurricane lamps,” which were aptly named.
The novitiate building was basically in good shape so we were able to have our morning prayers, Mass, and conferences, but the afternoons were for volunteer work in town. Our class was divided into various crews like roofing, painting, lawn clean-up, etc. We not only worked cleaning up around St. Augustine’s but helped families in and around town. It pretty much went that way through a good part of the year but as springtime arrived, there was time to drive down the Bay shore to the rebuilt “Sunnybank” house for some crabbing and swimming. One of the classes found a damaged sail boat and fixed it up for the class to use. A lot of hours were spent on the Bay.
We started the year with Fr. Charles Leisering as novice master and Fr. Bob Fisher as his assistant. But because of various circumstances, we ended the novitiate with Fr. Wil Reller and Fr. Ed Dudink. For other activates we were involved with the minor seminary and also St. Rita’s school in town which was attached to the SVD parish. I was assigned to teach music once a week to each of the grades. Dick Wolff and I also became involved in the local theatre production of the musical Camelot, which because of some unforeseen circumstances ran into the start of the 30-day retreat. Fr. Leisering was not very pleased but allowed us to complete our commitment.
It wasn’t a typical novitiate by a long shot but the class bonded over all the difficulties and unusual situations. I look back at it as one of my best years in formation (Hemlock Singers in college not withstanding). A class of 15 of us professed our first vows on August 29, 1970.
|Kenneth Anich||Kenneth Aubry||Ronald Bernard||Pedro Bou||John Crooms|
|Denis Dupre||James Grilliot||Jerome Horstman||Alan Jenkins||Richard Jeschke|
|Alexander Kutsick||Michael Leschak||John Overman||Melvin Reckamp||Richard Wolff|
by Brian Junkes - Divine Word College, Epworth 2014-2018
One of my most memorable experiences was when I went to the 2016 March for Life. It was John Yangia and myself
representing DWC. We had an amazing group we went with and saw thousands of other people there who were also marching. There were two things that stood out for me from that trip. It was the charity from our group and a sense of God being present during a very crucial time during the trip.
Starting with charity, we had gone to Union Station in Washington DC with food and water to give to the homeless. While we were there, we spent time talking with the homeless and listened their stories. This was not the only charitable thing we did for them. The next day we had to prepare to leave early due to a snowstorm coming and our group leaders were able to convince the hotel management to allow the homeless to stay in our rooms for one night since we were supposed to stay one more night anyways. These people not only had a room, heat, and water, they also had pizza waiting for them in their rooms because our group leaders also bought pizza for them as well. This was a great example of Christian charity and what it means to be prolife. This showed me how being prolife really is “defending life from conception, until natural death” as I used to hear many times.
The one time I remember experiencing God being present was when we were on our way back to Iowa. We left Washington DC a day earlier due to a snowstorm. While on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we came to a complete stop due to traffic and were stranded in the same spot for twenty-four hours. When we first stopped, I didn’t think anything of it, then when I woke up in the morning, I realized we were stuck in the exact same spot. I then saw the seriousness of the situation. Despite this, everyone in the group remined calm, including myself. We continued on as normal on the bus, even the bus wasn’t going anywhere.
Later in the afternoon, we had Sunday Mass on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We were able to get some hosts and wine from another Catholic group that was also stranded like we were and the students in the group created an altar made of snow for the gifts.
Truly, this was something unique and special during such a time. Looking back, its amazing we were able to still have mass and know God is present while uncertain of when you’ll get back on the road to go home. If you open yourself to God, you can experience God where you least expect it.
by Henry Pinson - High School at Miramar 1944-1948, Novitiate 1948-1950, St. Paul's Juniorite at Epworth 1950-1952, Major Seminary at Techny 1952-1958
I have been asked to step back in time to recall my student years with the Divine Word Missionaries. I do not think that Ms. Sandy Wilgenbusch realized that I have to return to the year, 1950, when I and my classmates arrived in Epworth from the novitiate at Techny.
When I received the e-mail concerning this stepping back, my memory kicked in. At this stage of my life I am lucky that I can remember what I am supposed to do that I had planned yesterday.
In those days we were in the old buildings of the Methodist seminary of bygone years. At that time the Divine Word College was known as St. Paul’s Juniorite which provided two years of college before the major seminary at Techny. Those courses were to prepare us for the years of philosophy and of theology.
After Vatican II, the college program changed completely. St. Paul’s Juniorite moved at least three times, once to Upper Michigan, once to Miramar, back to Epworth with a new name change, Divine Word College. During all these wanderings, I had no knowledge. Only later when Miramar would have alumni meetings, did I learn from former students the happenings of these years.
The first winter at Epworth, the snow came on and on, and with it the coldest of days, 20 below zero. Willie Liebert looked out the window, saying, we can catch rabbits in this snow and cold, and I would like rabbit stew. So Liam Horsfall and I put on our boots, gloves, scarfs and hats to chase and to catch rabbits. That night for supper we all had rabbit stew.
Another fond memory that has influenced me down the long years, I learned to play the clarinet. During rogation days with John Paulaski leading, we played our instruments parading around the grounds. Later in life, I joined marching bands and orchestras.
Learning music as a student lead me to join church choirs and to lead the congregation in singing. I laugh now. During those years, those in authority and leaders did not consider I was of singing quality. But a pastor of our church asked me to lead the singing. My children cringed when they heard that, but best of all the entire congregation sang.
As students, we all had jobs of sorts. From Miramar, the high school years, and at Epworth and Techny, I worked as a librarian. A love of reading and books had been instilled by my aunt who was a school teacher. Before I entered first grade, I was reading adventure books by Lowell Thomas, his adventures to Tibet, the life of Count van Luckner and other tales. The SVD always had libraries in their seminaries. St. Arnold Janseen knew the power of the printed word.
At Miramar I learned the Dewey Decimal system for libraries. When I arrived at Epworth, the rector learned I knew how to organize books in the correct order. At that time the library was in disorganized array. Slowly I worked cataloguing the books, placing them in correct order on the book shelves.
As new books came in, some were easy to catalogue, others harder. The subject matter of the book could be concerned by the title or by reading. One of the books that I remembered during my Techny year, The Lord, by Romano Guardini. The library had received a first edition. I read this book from cover to cover before placing it on its shelf for others. In my savings, not money, but processions that one keeps, is an essay which I had written on this book, The Lord. Pope Benedict XVI has great respect for Romano Guardini.
The love of books led me to my profession. After I had left Techny, I joined a printing firm which specialized in printing text books for schools, from kindergarten to post graduate. Over the years my house became a little library, kind of full of books.
As we were taught, learning the Greek language, 'panta rei,' everything moves, the printing firm went out of business. I moved on to other firms, from Rhode Island, to New Jersey, to Massachusetts. One firm printed children books which I read to my children.
Years later when I had to downsize, what was I to do with all the books? Some to my children, some to libraries, and some to neighbors, but I still have five shelves of books
Stepping back in time brings back memories, but I like to move forward. The Divine Word Missionaries had given me that instruction. 'Go and teach was Jesus’ instruction.' At the end of mass, 'Go and bring your faith to others.'
Very simple, but sometimes hard to do, but just do it,
by Art Roche, Perrysburg '66, DWC '70
Each spring, shortly before the end of the school year, was a weekend event called Field Days. These were intramural track and field competitions. Everyone was urged to participate regardless of ability, and most took it very seriously.
I remember gasping my way through the mile run competition. I was better at some other events including the high jump, shotput, discus and javelin. Stan Uroda excelled at pole vaulting. Across the highway from the school was a big open field. I would go there with Tom Richardson and practice the javelin. The school had only one javelin, so there was no choice of weights or styles. Not too many boys were interested in competing with the javelin. It was quite dangerous, and it was easy to see how someone could have been completely impaled by one. I think the sport was banned in Ohio a few years after we graduated. Field days were highly anticipated, and ended with awards ceremonies, ribbons and medals. (click image for larger version)
Another festive event in the Fall was called Family Feast. It has been a tradition at Divine Word schools for decades, and it still is. It was just a complete day and evening of celebration, camaraderie, a fancy dinner (by Divine Word standards), and a talent show, which I sometimes performed in with Bill Antonucci as The Refugees.
I think some years there was also a class play presented on that evening. Each class had a play sometime during the course of the year. Our class did a play called Lucifer’s Lodge, which included the famous line spoken by George Thelen, “We’re in danger!” I portrayed a werewolf in that one.
We also did a play called Shepherds on the Shelf, about retired priests. Jerry Van de Vyver and Joe Kiffmeyer were in that one. We did a gender reversal version of Mary Poppins called Perry Moppins. I was Perry, a prefect who came to bring law and order to a rowdy group of seminarians. It was written by my classmate Mike Kozuszek. There was a song in the original Mary Poppins titled “Let’s Go Feed the Birds” which Mike translated into “Let’s All Obey the Rules.” It should come as no surprise that Mike went on to become a cop in St. Louis.
Probably the best play our class ever did was Arsenic and Old Lace in which Mike Kahle and Rich Schumacher played the Brewster sisters, Greg Stapels was the cop, Jim Preut and George Thelan were the burglars, and Larry Kernagis was Teddy Roosevelt. Rich Rademacher supervised the building of a beautiful set which included a grand staircase. (Click the image for a larger version)
One more theatrical masterpiece comes to mind: Rinse the Blood Off My Toga, a Wayne and Schuster Radio comedy skit. I played the part of Flavius Maximus, Roman private eye, with Steve Barney who played my sidekick. You can still see versions of this goofy comedy on YouTube. And 54 years later, I still have the script!
by John Panek
What captured my attention as a high school Freshman in 1979 were the lively guitars in
our liturgies at East Troy. Upper classmen Brian Ries, John Rome, Phil Leonard, Doug Earp, all strumming their hearts out while Lou Wappel (English teacher, counselor and later our Dean), played the electricpiano and guitar. A chorus of student voices rounded out the music leaders and I recall Elgie Harris as the power voice of the group. I wanted to play guitar.
Lou Wappel started an evening guitar class for interested students and he said there was only one rule - “Practice, Practice, Practice.” With a loaner guitar I practiced always and sometimes between classes. I received an Unsatisfactory mark on my report card for punctuality that year. But by Thanksgiving break, just 2 months later, I played my first guitar Mass with the upper classmen covering for my errors!
I bought my first guitar from Senior Joseph Nguyen in the spring of 1980 and it took me on a journey through high school. By our Senior year I was part of the core team,
with Jim Greene and Chuck Konkel, leading music for our Masses. We started evening classes to teach younger students to play. Jim, Chuck and I also strummed out songs for the seniors at Lakeland nursing home as our apostolic service. Jim Greene’s enthusiasm for the music of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean led to the creation of our band Sound City, with Jim as our leader, Len Uhal on drums, me on guitar and Pat Gaughan and David Walter on vocals.
The guitar took me to play ordinations at Techny and the funeral of our history teacher Fr. Larry Bohnen. I enjoyed touring with the seminary choir led by Fr Ken Anich even though I was not officially a choir member. After high school, I played with a group for my father’s first Mass as a deacon and continued to play in each of my parishes since through the late 90’s. I was fortunate to play for the funerals and weddings of friends. That first guitar now resides with my son who took it up in a self-taught kind of way, playing it for Masses and ministry when in college. While he has YouTube to help him learn, I had the guitar Mass.