St. Anthony's Seminary
Return with Us Now to Those
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
by Paul Fericano

Barely in my teens far from my home
I study for the priesthood at a Catholic seminary
and begin to itch and scratch in places
I know little about.

A doctor in town prescribes an ointment
tells me to apply it twice a day
sends it to the infirmary for me to pick up
jokes about boys being boys.

That evening during study hall
a priest who expels boys for talking back
summons me to his bedroom
tells me my medical problem is now his.

For months everything he says and does to me
grows more and more weary and mysterious
each visit preceded and followed
by prayers invoking our lord and savior.

One night my body springs from his mouth
slips through his hands leaps from his bed
and races round and round the room
as music from a phonograph down the hall
plays the overture from William Tell

O, how I laugh inside at the sight
of all those sidekick angels hovering above
chasing after me whooping and hollering
kicking their spotted palominos.

Out in front on a white stallion is Jesus in a mask.
Like a cloud of dust and song
he gallops in the lead to head me off at the pass.

PHOTO: St. Anthony’s Seminary, Santa Barbara, California (photo by Dave Mills). In 2010, the original main building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012, the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission recommended to the city council that St. Anthony’s Seminary be designated a City Landmark.

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PHOTO:  Author at 14 in 1965, while a student at St. Anthony’s Seminary. (Photo by Ralph Martini)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poem “Return with Us Now to Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear” initially appeared in my collection, The Hollywood Catechism published by Silver Birch Press in 2015. At the time, it was my first attempt to publicly express with poetry the complexity of my experience as a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. In the process, I incorporated an element of humor, however dark, to help forward the narrative of my life at a Catholic seminary in 1965, and to facilitate some necessary healing.

AUTHOR’S NOTES ABOUT THE PHOTOS: The original main building of St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, California, was completed in 1899. The following year, 1900, and until it closed in 1987, the facility functioned as a Catholic minor seminary and boarding school preparing boys as young as 12 for the priesthood. The school was run by the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara, which was part of the religious Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.) founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209.  ¶  In 1993, an independent board of inquiry revealed a dark and horrific history of sexual abuse at the seminary. The investigation found that between 1964 and 1987, 34 boys at St. Anthony’s Seminary were sexually molested by 11 friars. I was one of those 34. At the time, it was the largest case of religious institutional abuse in the nation. In the years that followed, future inquiries uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse at St. Anthony’s that reached as far back as the 1930s and included allegations of abuse at a number of other Franciscan schools, parishes, and missions in seven Western states. While many clergy abuse survivors have chosen to remain silent or anonymous, it has been estimated that the total number of Franciscan victims from the Province of St. Barbara is likely in the hundreds.  ¶ The window in the photograph circled in red indicates the bedroom in the seminary’s original main building belonging to the school’s prefect of discipline and most notorious perpetrator, Friar Mario Cimmarrusti. This is the room where I and dozens of other boys were assaulted by Mario, who served at the seminary from 1964 to 1971.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Fericano is a poet, satirist, social activist, and co-founder of YU News Service, the nation’s first parody news syndicate established in 1980 (yunews.com). His poetry and satires have appeared in publications and media outlets in the United States and abroad since 1971, including The New York Quarterly, The Cafe Review, The Realist, Mother Jones, The Best American Poetry, Saturday Night Live, Krokodil (Moscow), Punch (London), and Satyrcón (Argentina). He is the author of several books of poetry including, The Hollywood Catechism (Silver Birch Press, 2015), and, more recently, Things That Go Trump in the Night: Poems of Treason and Resistance (Poems-For-All-Press, 2019) which has been nominated for a Bulitzer Prize (2020). An advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, he serves as director of SafeNet and blogs on the healing process at A Room With A Pew (roomwithapew.com).

AUTHOR PHOTO: Author in 2019 at a pre-Covid-19 poetry reading, Bird & Beckett Books, San Francisco. (Photo by Kate Kelly)