At various times during the checkered decade past (the 60s) I have been called licentious, a profligate, and adventurer, a sensationalist, a wastrel, a capitalist guerrilla, a boozer, a corporate wrecker, a degenerate, a wheeler-dealer, and a pirate, among other things.
There are sufficient grounds for most of those appellations that they could be regarded as faint praise unto the truth, which is to say that all I am now or may be considered to be I owe to the Jesuits.
Jesuit college education was a continuing Congress of Wonders, at times approaching the delirium of a mushroom sect. One professor spoke confidentially of undertaking scientific experiments in support of the little-known theory of Justinian that homosexuality was the cause of earthquakes.
Theology units were earned by becoming versed in the finer points of religious etiquette, such as if one’s gums were bleeding one could swallow the blood and still receive Communion without breaking one’s fast, but if one cut one’s finger one could not suck it, finger blood apparently being of a different theological type than gum blood.
The instruction concerning women seemed peculiar even in that insensitive time of the mid-1950s — women were worthy to receive Communion on their tongues, but no other part of their anatomy could come into contact with the Host; the rules were different for men. If a woman lay dying and for some ungodly reason had to be anointed on the mouth, her lipstick must be first wiped off or else the sacrament of Extreme Unction, like vaccination under the wrong conditions, might not take.
Seniors were required to take a Last Chance course in the Catholic dos and don’ts about sex; when, on occasion, a married student, as none others could dare to speak on the subject for fear of scandal, would raise a practical objection to the explicit instructions, such as, How could a priest know what gives with sexual foreplay? The answer would invariably come, in the manner of the Jesuits, in another question: Did a doctor have to endure cancer in order to treat it?
Sex seemed to be the only exception to the general principle of plasticity characteristic of the Jesuit approach to moral and religious absolutes. Their Hard Line on carnality led them, historically, to some extremes, such as removing the stairs to Madame de Pompadour’s apartment to render more difficult the entrance of Louis XV to her bedchamber, for which, among other peccadillos, they were kicked out of court.
In addition to such mandatory instructions in theology, the Jesuits insisted that their students at the University of San Francisco, locally known by the call letters USF, learn about “the warped logic of Lenin.” This study came under the academic category of political science, and everyone was required to take Poli Sci 140: “The Philosophy, Dynamics and Tactics of International Communism.” The text for the course was J. Edgar Hoover’s ‘Masters of Deceit,’ and the FBI Director was said to be kindly disposed toward the Jesuit Fathers for unloading so many thousands of copies right there in the USF bookstore.
The ringmaster of Political Science 140 was Raymond T. Feeley, S.J., a bulldog-faced padre known as the “waterfront priest” for his activities in the 1930s on the labor-strife-torn San Francisco docks in the cause of anti-communism and responsible Catholic unionism, a phrase some of Fr. Feeley’s critics translated as meaning pro-management.
Fr. Feeley was a tough man, said to have single-handedly tossed several Reds into the chill waters of San Francisco Bay. He stared a good deal when in the classroom, constantly peering up and down the rows of wooden chairs as if he expected to find a red herring underneath. He called the attendance role in a way that made you feel you should answer “Not Guilty” instead of “Present.”
We took notes from a scratchy recording of the “confession” of Whittaker Chambers. Our guest professors included an exiled Russian Jesuit named Urusov and the visiting Irish Catholic heads of the intelligence units called “Red Squads” in metropolitan police departments.
Fr. Feeley’s lectures ran red with the blood of bolshevik history. He established a peculiar sense of authority by never referring to the great figures in Russian history by their common political names, reverting instead to their original Russian names, enunciating each syllable as if it were one count in an indictment:
Not Stalin, but Jos-if Vis-sar-iono-vich Djui-gash-vi-li.
Not Lenin, but Vla-dim-ir Ill-ich Ul-yan-ov.
Those four Ivory Tower years were therefore spent in a sort of Charlie Chaplin waltz, learning what I was forced to learn to stay in the place, then unlearning it from the original sources. Those academic activities I carried on in my spare time, most waking hours being devoted to playing with the school newspaper, the Foghorn, and its necessary corollary of engaging in guerrilla warfare against the Jesuits. I had but one eye so I was excused from the fangs of the Reserve Officers Training Corps otherwise known as ROTC. (My left eye had been blanked out in an automobile accident when I was eight.)
Nevertheless, I received plenty of military training in actual combat with the Jesuits.