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Class of '69: Reunion and Renewal

Posted by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce on

© 2019 Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

This blog is an attempt to convince community leaders and organizers that writing can be another tool in their power toolbox. It offers examples and suggestions on how to write both artfully and effectively. I have been a publisher for over thirty years and a community leader and organizer for almost fifty years, so the combination of these two topics is a natural for me, as in this piece.

Vatican II. Vietnam. Assassinations. Race riots. Chicago Democratic Convention. Nixon. Dump the Hump. Mandatory weekly Sunday-evening talks by Fr. Eugene Kennedy, MM, on the beauties of celibacy. Six hundred seminarians packed 2-3 to a room when we arrived in 1965; 120 seminarians, each practically with his own wing of the building by the time we graduated in 1969.

You’d think a class that went through all that and more at Maryknoll College Seminary in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, would find all kinds of reasons to go our separate ways. And in most ways, we did. But thanks to the faithful and persistent efforts of a few members—notably Ed Peterson, Mike Purcell, Terry O’Conner, and others—this class has somehow managed to get together at least every five years for five decades. Up to 35 of us from a graduating class not much larger than that, along with our spouses and even a couple of young adults from the next generation who wanted to see what their parents were constantly talking about, have attended one or several or all of these reunions.

Somehow we arrived at our fiftieth-anniversary reunion last summer. We had all gotten a lot older (now in our seventies); several of our classmates have passed away; we have lost contact with many; and yet there we were. One priest from our class, Fr. Scott Harris, MM, joined us and celebrated Mass. (Our class did, in fact, produce several priests, including an eventual superior general of Maryknoll, Fr. John Sivalon, MM.) There were also several deacons, as well as an assortment of practicing lay Catholics, a few Protestants, and maybe an agnostic or two.

What was really amazing is that all the members of the class and their spouses clearly had found a vocation and pursued it. In addition to the handful of priests and deacons, our class produced people who had been called to be counselors, lawyers, social workers, teachers and educators, businesspeople, community and union organizers, doctors and nurses, artists and writers, spouses and parents and grandparents. Every one of us carried out the central thing we had been taught by Maryknoll: that it is our job to help bring about Christ’s vision of the reign of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” So the four years we spent together at Maryknoll College had been successful, even though most of had never been ordained and the seminary building itself has been torn down and replaced by million-dollar homes called “Maryknoll Estates.” (There is a delicious irony in that for some.)

We met in Chicago for a weekend in May; had a few meals and a couple of drinks; took a bus tour to Andersonville and Lincoln Park and Little Italy; got to know one another yet again and maybe really for the first time; mourned the most recent death of one of us (Greg Towle); and welcomed back someone who left the seminary as a sophomore and not one of us had seen in 52 years (Jim Colasacco). We were all over the place in terms of religious and political ideology, but we joined in a two-hour celebration of our communion with one another and with Jesus of Nazareth, who was there as well.

Gregory F. Augustine Pierce, Maryknoll College Class of 1969, is the publisher of ACTA Publications in Chicago and the author of many books, including The World as It Should Be and Spirituality at Work. He runs “intensive immersion” workshops on writing for specific kinds of writers, such as the “Writing for Community Leaders and Organizers.” For more information, contact him at or 800-397-2282.