By Joseph Manago
I was feeling anxious that morning in 1967 as I boarded the JJ train at the 102nd Street station in Richmond Hill, en route to the Myrtle Avenue stop of the old St. John’s Prep on Lewis Avenue.
We freshmen were gathered, talking in the hall outside the school library, while a figure of Mary, the Mother of God, loomed above us. Hurriedly, we went to classes as the bell rang, and met our best friends, our teachers:
“A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?
(To Sir, With Love – Black/London)
In English class, Mr. Casey loved baseball motifs during his lessons, shouting “ball one, two, three, four!” and “strike one, two, three!” in response to his questions on George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” while Mr. (now Fr.) Prior read a stimulating, short essay of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”
In algebra, Mr. Morris explained every algebraic process with precision and clarity, as he was inspirational in the art and science of mathematics. As an examination neared the time limit, he would forcefully say, “When the bell rings, you are to drop your pens as if they were hot coals!” And that fine gentleman geometer in a suave bow tie, Mr. Reed, just loved his tests to be from the New York State Regents examinations, appended to Isidore Dressler’s text.
In social studies, Mr. Moran canvassed the great world civilizations of India, China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome in a most lively manner. Fr. Dillon’s delight in European History was in asking, “Tell me something … of the Renaissance … of William of Orange …,” as a student stood up besides his desk when responding. If not, Father would shout out, “GET UP!”
“Herr Manago … ,” shouted Mr. Kuebel in German class as he began speaking only in German during the first day of classes, while I prodded my German classmates to translate what he was saying to me! It was surely a baptism of fire for non-German speakers.
And in religion, we had a dynamic social consciousness fostered by Fathers Cooney and Krafinski through film and music criticism, and political debates grounded in Catholic theology. Fr. Cooney felt that the Beatles’ song “the Fool on the Hill” spoke of Jesus Christ and his faithful. Traditional Catholic theology was propounded by the Rev. Dr. Levesque, later acting president of St. John’s University.
Gymnasium was tripartite — on the court in the gym, outdoor Carey Field, or in the swimming pool. One cannot forget Mr. Cunneen’s shouts of “I’LL DO THE COUNTING!” as well as the great Herb Hess, athletic director.
And last, but not least, were our fine headmasters, Fathers Donovan and Daly, and warm counselors, Fathers Grass, and Braitmeyer,
“If you wanted the sky, I would write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high, ‘To Sir, With Love.’ ”
Joseph N. Manago
Valedictorian of St. John’s Prep in 1971.