I was 12 years old and a clueless eighth grader when my parents and I walked onto campus for the 1972 Open House at Saint Ignatius High School. My parents were split on where I would attend school the following year and I was leaning heavily towards Ignatius, but walking onto campus on that autumn Sunday afternoon made me really queasy and light-headed.
I had been on the campus a bunch of times before, both for basketball games and to pick up or drop off Scholarship Drive tickets, so my physical reaction wasn’t related to a lack of familiarity with my surroundings. In retrospect, I truly believe that I was overwhelmed with the prospect that I could be a part of the Ignatius student body in less than a year.
To me, Ignatius students were akin to the gods of Greek mythology. I had stood near them at football and basketball games and had been in awe of them – these were the guys who were the chosen of the chosen and how could I dare to be so filled with hubris that I deemed myself worthy to join their ranks?
Yet there I was, sitting in one of the classrooms in the old science building, feeling a bit dizzy, listening to a Jesuit priest tell my parents what was expected of Ignatius students. The priest was Fr. Larry Belt, S.J., and little did I know that someday he and I would be colleagues on the same faculty. In the moment he frightened me, and, even more than me, he frightened my mom.
Fr. Belt told us that an essential aspect of the life of a Saint Ignatius student was involvement beyond the classroom, and that an Ignatian education really began after 3 p.m. My mother was having none of it. “If he attends Saint Ignatius, then he will definitely be on the bus everyday as soon as school is over.” Thus began a two minute – and what seemed to my mind like a two week – verbal tug-of-war between the earnest priest and the (over) protective mom, and I was the rope. As if I wasn’t already feeling the effects of vertigo.
My dad intervened and said that at least at the beginning of the year I would be on the bus at 3, and that seemed to satisfy both sides of the debate. We all exchanged farewell pleasantries and that was that.
Once October came around and my mom realized that I had a greater chance of getting jumped by the sophomores on the Berea bus than by anyone in the Ignatius neighborhood, then she relented and I was able to stay after school. And it didn’t hurt the cause that a friend who lived a street away was playing freshman football and his dad gave me a ride home when I stayed after school to work on the yearbook. Then when football was over I started taking the CTS bus (that’s the precursor to the RTA for you young’uns) and I never looked back.
The choice to come to Saint Ignatius High School is a big one, and can – and should – be life changing. It was certainly that for me, and became very real the first time I walked to the bus stop on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge just past the West Side Market and put my foot on the bottom step of a CTS bus. I may have been only 13 years old, but I felt an independence and maturity way beyond my years.
This Thursday, September 27, is our annual Open House and we are all looking forward to seeing hundreds of grade schoolers who may not be as dizzy as I was, yet are up to the challenge of answering the call to grow in independence and maturity in ways that they, and their parents, might never have imagined.