Humorous Insider's Look at 1950's Seminary Life

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James M. O'Brien PhD. offers a candid and comical memoir that follows its naive young author through the four years of pastoral training, preparing him for ordination into the priesthood in 1961.

Currents of change were stirring in the late fifties, both in the Catholic Church and in American culture, but St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore operated in the "old way," according to rules laid down in 1869. James M. O'Brien PhD. reflects back on his youthful indoctrination into the priesthood, and the eccentric seminary faculty and students in his highly entertaining memoir "Making a Priest in the 'Fifties: Memoir of a Nervous Seminarian" (ISBN 978-0595408535, iUniverse, 2006).

Showing up on the steps of the seminary during a hot day in September of 1957, wearing a "college-boy" sport coat and carrying a tennis racquet, O'Brien's youthful cluelessness was evident. He never noticed that all the other young men were wearing black - suits or cassocks. The young hopeful had grown up Catholic but had no idea how a seminary worked, and found out in a hurry that the Seminary faculty were more interested in clothing than worthiness or ability, and obedience measured by following "The Rule" would prove his merit as a priest.

Being by heritage an Irish storyteller, O'Brien views the human experience as essentially funny, particularly when fallible human beings are trying to be solemn. His recollections of some of the eccentric faculty put a lighthearted spin on his trials of liturgy, Latin, and the rigid Rule - such as his depiction of Father Snuffy Nevins, the moral theology teacher, who believed that the Supreme Court, the Railroads, and the Communists had concocted a scheme to take over the country.

During the fifties, new ideas were creeping into the seminary curriculum, particularly in Scripture, and the solid, unchanging, monolith of truths and values were being shaken, disrupting the security of the Catholic laity and polarizing its members. O'Brien confesses he was born to be the "class clown", and his comic relief and unconventional insight during this time of uncertainty helped him and fellow students maintain a sense of sanity thorough the process.

"Making a Priest in the 'Fifties" has no axes to grind, but doesn't avoid issues both then and now, including some speculation about sex and celibacy, hierarchy, and clerical ambition. Despite his amusing take on seminary life, O'Brien approached his priestly preparation with deep seriousness, and his perspective is a refreshing representation of how one can be spiritual without taking human nature too seriously.

Jim O'Brien received a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He has served as a parish priest, high-school religion teacher, editor of a diocesan newspaper, Diocesan Director, and chaplain. O'Brien retired as Professor Emeritus in Communication Arts from the College of New Rochelle in N.Y., and moved to Madison, WI. His is busy at work on his second memoir, "Confessions of a 'Sixties Priest: (Not What You Think!), a follow up to "Making a Priest in the 'Fifties: Memoir of a Nervous Seminarian" (ISBN 978-0595408535, iUniverse, 2006), which can be purchased at online bookstores or through


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