Seeking Salvation at the Seminary
by Michael Coolen

 After graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, I entered the Sulpician Seminary of the Northwest intending to become a parish priest. I was still pretty ticked with God because He blew me off when I tried to win the heart of a girl named Maria. All He had to do was to materialize on the sidewalk where she passed each other on the way to school every day. I was sure I could win her heart by playing “Maria” from West Side Story. Instead, I learned that Nietzsche was right. No piano showed up. God was dead, or at least inattentive. One might well wonder why I still wanted anything to do with God, much less become a priest. Well, I had a very strong motivation. I didn’t want to go to Hell.

It is scientifically documented that teenage males think about sex one hundred times a day — once every seventeen minutes. Such thoughts often resulted in a mortal sin only boys commit and girls know nothing about. It rhymes with the word “maceration.” I was no exception. I was sure there was a special place in Hell reserved for a boy who macerated fantasizing about his twelfth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Catherine. She was a young, beautiful nun who could throw a baseball better than all the boys.

With an eternity in Hell at stake, I viewed the seminary as an opportunity not only to serve God as a priest, but also to escape a destructive cycle of mortal sin, terror, and hopelessness. The seminary would be free from “temptations of the flesh” (girls), and there was an abundant supply of priests to handle my confession any time day or night. Service and salvation in one fell swoop, as MacDuff might have said.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Seventeen-year-old Seminarian at home 1960.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process is always informed by my experience as a musician and composer. I think about introducing material, developing it, bringing it to a climax (often at the Golden Mean), and then using a denouement to resolve it. This is true for all my writing, including poems, fiction, nonfiction.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Coolen is a pianist, composer, actor, and writer living in Oregon. He has received three Fulbright Fellowships, four National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, and his writings have won awards from the Oregon Poetry Association and the Oregon Writers Colony. He’s been published in Oregon Humanities, The Gold Man Review, Best Travel Stories, Clementine Poetry Journal, Creative Writing Institute, Rats Ass Review, Broken Plate Poetry Magazine, The Poetry Quarterly, et al. He’s a published composer, with works performed around the world, including at Carnegie Hall, New England Conservatory of Music, Museum of Modern Art, and the Christie Gallery.