By Patrick O’Driscoll
Class of ’70
The annual all-school reunion of former 1960s and ’70s Salesian junior seminarians of St. Francis High School returned to the pastoral locale of our youth – East Lake Avenue in Watsonville – to celebrate in 2019.
Fifty years after graduation, the St. Francis centennial class of 1969 (also known as “The Magnificent Seven”) was a focus of congratulations and reminiscing during the day-long gathering on April 27. Five of those seven graduates were able to attend: Brian Kendrick, Joe McCarthy, Gary Lockhart, Ignatius “Iggy” Schmidt and Guillermo “Bill” Colombetti.
As in past years, the reunion was on the last weekend in April, an evocative link back in time and place to the unforgettable tradition of our annual seminary fundraiser, the St. Francis Spring Festival. Although this year’s barbecue was not the famous roasted chicken, homemade raviolis and artichoke hearts of those Spring Festivals, reunion participants dined on a delicious array of grilled sausages, roasted ears of corn, and enough salads, side dishes and desserts for a Father Director’s Day feast in the old campus dining room.
Home base for the 2019 gathering was the “Heritage” room just off the gymnasium of the 21st-century reincarnation of our alma mater: the coed, college-prep, Salesian-run St. Francis High School, home of the burgundy-and-gray Sharks. (And may the blue-and-gold Broncos of the old St. Francis live on in our memories, too!)
Framed photos of graduating classes of both schools looked down from the reunion room walls as St. Francis HS Principal Patrick Lee and two members of the class of 2019, Maia Madrigal and E.J. Kelly, welcomed the old-school alumni to a modern campus with the same view we had of Kelly Lake. They also presented honorary diplomas to class of ’69 members to mark their 50th anniversary, and they distributed St. Francis T-shirts and other complimentary “swag” to all the alumni.
Principal Lee also encouraged the ex-seminarians to connect with the new St. Francis via upcoming events, including this month’s graduation (May 25, 10 a.m.) as well as homecoming in the fall and other campus events.
The Salesians’ USA West Provincial, Fr. Ted Montemayor (class of ’71), could not be with us because of duties in Southern California (hosting the visiting mother general of the Salesian Sisters). But Father Ted’s classmate, Fr. Vince Cotter, celebrated Mass with his fellow alums and gave words of thought and inspiration to “do the Lord’s work in our own way.” Father Vince recently retired after 35 years in the priesthood, the first five as a Salesian before joining the Diocese of Oakland to serve in parishes throughout the East Bay.
Before Mass, about 15 alumni and their spouses, companions and friends enjoyed a smorgasbord lunch (thanks to our local hosts and alumni spouses) and caught up with each others’ lives since the last reunion – and since seminary days – in conversational knots of old friends and schoolmates. After a mid-afternoon break, the meeting room was temporarily transformed into a semi-circular chapel.
Father Vince donned white Eastertide vestments (including a stole embroidered with the school emblem of the new St. Francis) to celebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday liturgy. He led the congregation with good humor through our somewhat rusty recall of the wording of the Gloria and the Credo. “Can we get through the Creed?” he deadpanned from the altar (to laughter) as we substituted the easier-to-remember Apostles’ Creed. During the Mass, we also remembered deceased schoolmates gone too soon.
Music for Mass was led by three guitar troubadours from seminary days – local co-host Mike Marheineke (class of ’64), Keith Patterson (’68) and Bill Colombetti (’69) – with supporting vocals from Mike’s wife, Marie, and Bill’s wife, Vivis. Our local host emeritus, Victor Suarez (’67), helped Father Vince at Holy Communion with the chalice as a Eucharistic minister.
After the service and group photos out by the baseball diamond, Mike and Jim Aldridge (’70) fired up the grill to roast the sausages and corn for yet another groaning board of great food for dinner. The evening program included sing-alongs led by Mike, Bill and Keith that harked back to after-dinner sing-outs in the seminary dining room on big Salesian feast days. Brian Kendrick stood to speak for the 1969 grads on their golden jubilee, evoking more memories and listing significant news events of that year. He also brought a photo album with a two-page spread of the seven-member class when they were young.
The next morning, Vic and Gloria Suarez invited us to “Come away to the land of Freedom” for a scrumptious Sunday brunch at their rambling home and yard in the Watsonville “suburb” of Freedom. It stretched into one last, leisurely afternoon of reminiscing (and lively games of Cornhole between very competitive two-man teams) before goodbyes and pledges to see each other again next year.