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Panther Paths

The 50th anniversary of my graduation from St. Anselm’s is right around the corner, which makes me the oldest alumnus now working for the school, save for Fr. Michael, Class of 1956. But wait, isn’t Fr. Michael retired? Technically, yes, but because he was a student here and then returned after college to be a perpetual teacher as well as associate headmaster, headmaster, chaplain, interim headmaster, headmaster emeritus, and above all, monk; he will never really stop working in the school.

Fr. Michael taught me Religion in First Form and European History in Third Form. Fr. Peter taught me Biology in Third Form and Anthropology / Biology in Sixth Form. Fr. Abbot James taught me French in Fourth Form. Monks you don’t know taught our class almost everything else.

Fr. Christopher, now 90 years old, still works up in the abbey; he tried very, very hard to teach me Trigonometry in Third Form. Br. Dominic, Br. Placid, and Fr. Columba ran the cafeteria, served us food, and cleaned up afterward, every day. Fr. Abbot Aidan, Fr. John Main, Fr. Thomas (an alumnus), Fr. Edmund, Fr. Ambrose, Fr. Ansgar (for two weeks), Fr. Matthew, Fr. Mark (also an alumnus), Fr. Hilary, Fr. Raymond, Fr. Daniel, and Fr. Dunstan (another alumnus) had us for French, Spanish, Religion, Physical Science, Latin, Math, English and Physics.

My measly 30 years working here is a drop in the bucket next to what each monk, alumnus or not, has given.

We had our graduation ceremony, not in the abbey courtyard as was then customary, but in the Reid Auditorium under the hot theater lights because it was sheeting rain outside, and with no air conditioning inside, our white jackets were soon soaked. In the fall, a classmate, and also my best friend for the next 45 years, and I went off to Penn together, got degrees in History, and for us and our classmates then came some mix of grad school, getting a real job, getting a better job, getting married, buying a house, having children – the progression of typical milestones.

But I never really left St. Anselm’s. Most of my friends, and certainly my closest ones, were, and still are, my classmates. We went on epic trips to visit each other during college; we always hung out together; we were each other’s best man. Fr. Aidan officiated at a few of our weddings, and there were a couple of reunions up at the monastery. We spoke at a few Career Days, volunteered to raise money for Fr. Peter’s ‘New Wing’, helped start the Alumni Association, stuff like that. My best friend ran the Alumni Association Golf Tournament for over 20 years, another classmate is a current member of the Board of Trustees, and yet another served multiple terms as a trustee and chaired crucial financial committees. And there have been a few heartbreaking funerals that gathered us.

Twenty years after that steamy, indoor graduation, I was working downtown and lived just across South Dakota Avenue from the gym, and many afternoons I would walk my dogs around the school grounds (no longer permitted, like many things). One, fine, spring day, out of the blue, Fr. Peter asked me to set up and run the school’s first PC computer network, notwithstanding the blatant non-qualification of a master’s degree in European History. Now I really had come back to my old high school!

Since 1994, I’ve done lots of different things in the school, just like the monks had always done; not one of them was a specialist. Just as I decidedly am not.

Changing scores and scores of light bulbs. Emptying countless trash cans. Finding steam leaks under the building. Running the computers, teaching intro to computers, taking care of the lockers and all the school and gym keys. Editing and proofreading hundreds of letters, announcements, articles, school publications, and even homilies. Buying and running the public address system, the bell systems, and a couple of telephone systems. Plant manager. Supervising the yearbook and Priory Press, clearing brush, recycling mountains of aluminum soda cans, managing the HVAC systems and AV, supervising the student summer workers, taking care of the fire and burglar alarms. And so on and so on.

I truly believe that how and why I came to St. Anselm’s, first as a student and then back as an adult, is God’s plan for me. I received an excellent education here and was taught how to think and always search for truth. I made lifelong friends here and learned the values of human sharing, tolerance, and loyalty. And I have been exceptionally fortunate to discover that by serving others, by constantly seeking to be useful and helpful to other people, I can both find a path to God and can make my most meaningful contributions to the outside world. What could possibly be better?

-Peter Collins, Class of 1974