September 4, 1964 was my first day at St. Joseph’s College, Up Holland, a Catholic seminary boarding school. “Dead gear” were the words I remember saying when I first saw the school building as my Mam, Dad and I walked up the long driveway. We had just taken three buses to get there from our town of Widnes, some fifteen miles and a world away. I had cried on the first bus. Not quite eleven, I was leaving home for the first time because six months earlier I had told my parents that I wanted to become a priest. After being interviewed by the parish priest of my local church St. Bede’s and then the archbishop of Liverpool, now I was entering a whole new life in a seminary school. I was excited, nervous and very scared.
The first year students, known as Underlow, slept in the Lower Line dormitory. Every night a prefect would check that we were in our cubicles, in bed with the curtains drawn. No talking was allowed. Before lights out, the prefect would slightly open each curtain and recite “Dominus Vobiscum” (The Lord be with you). We would dutifully answer “Et cum spiritu tuo” (And also with you). The lights would then be turned off until the morning. I would listen to the distant college clock. One ring for quarter past, two for half past, three for a quarter to. On the hour the tone would change and it would slowly clang out the time. Otherwise, silence, except for the occasional coughs, and the creaks of old floorboards as the prefect stealthily walked his rounds.