CENTAUR SEASONS GREETINGS: A Christmas Blessing …
Posted on Dec 24, 2012
MAY THE LORD PROTECT AND DEFEND YOU.
It wasn’t on Christmas Eve, and it wasn’t at midnight. But in December at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, there’d be a school-wide “Christmas Midnight Mass.” It was maybe at 9 p.m. on the Thursday before exam week started, the promise of Christmas and the semester break looming. The place on edge, wired, energized, everyone wanting it all to be over so we could blow out of there.
MAY YOU COME TO BE
And yet the fact was (well, for me, at least) these few weeks between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks were some of the best the school’s best. The basketball games had finally commenced, and with their coming everything in my life succumbed to the rhythm of the Centaur Seasons. Even exam week.
MAY YOU BE LIKE RUTH AND LIKE ESTHER.
We often had a game during exam week. And we each just had to figure it out, with no intercessions from the coach. There was also such relief when that last exam was over, done, finished. So why go home right away? A couple of optional practices down at Billera, just messing around, really, plus there were always other kids who had wrapped it up as well and, well, that made for possibilities. Yes, possibilities!
STRENGTHEN THEM, OH LORD,
But before you could get done with exams and cash your get-out-of-jail card, you had to get there first, and it was this 9 p.m. Christmas Midnight Mass on December 12 or whenever it was that sort of officially/unofficially began the countdown. Mass was up the hill at Brisson Seminary.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND GRANT YOU LONG LIVES.
The seminary chapel held maybe 200, and in my remembering eye I see it forever filled. A retinue of Oblate priests on the altar, the sems serving, some faculty there with husbands, wives, kids. And all of us jammed in, maybe half the school there. One of the great, great benefits of going to a school so tiny: Like with The Atrium in DeSales Hall, the heart of the school, here was an additional chance for the whole place to be in one space. Don’t discount the importance of that, the pull of that, in going to school like that. Another of the “Secrets of the Centaur” this Centaur Seasons is trying to define and divine of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales. [[SECRETS OF THE CENTAUR: PART I ... PART II ... PART III ... PART IV...]]
MAY GOD MAKE YOU GOOD MOTHERS AND WIVES.
Church is different at night. Just the being there, it’s as if for the first time. It is not familiar Sunday morning. The absence of light, it creates its own presence. And yet despite the darkness it seems brighter; despite the cold it seems warmer. And then for the final benediction, instead of the usual “Father-Son-Spirit” routine, one of the priests would sing “The Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof” – the movie out in 1971, at the start of my sophomore season.
MAY THE LORD PROTECT AND DEFEND YOU.
Even then, I understood the bigger picture of this little moment — it’s unironic, optimistic ecumenism. The recent Vatican II still fueled the fire. A bunch of Catholic kids at this college in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, an outpost in the cornfields, stood together as a priest in ornate vestments wished blessings upon us all. Singing the Sabbath Prayer from a musical about a dirt-poor unadorned Jewish village in middle-of-nowhere Russia.
FAVOR THEM, OH LORD, WITH HAPPINESS AND PEACE.
We were at the college, part of the college, for such a short time. Even if in our time it felt like we were there forever. No one knew what would happen next, to any of us, to all of us. All we knew is that whatever it was, it was out there waiting, once we left the valley. And so for just this moment we would stand together, to hope and pray, before the rest of our lives began. All these years later, I hear this Sabbath Prayer and it sends me back to the Brisson Seminary chapel, at Christmastime, a yearning chill of memory running wonderfully down my spine …
The Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof”; music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.
Once, I was a Centaur.
I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.
My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee. One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)
But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.
So starting November 30 “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS
A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.
Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.
Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.
We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?
Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields. Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.
What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.
All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.
Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.×