By Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB
No doubt, one of the primary activities at any reunion is the telling and retelling—and perhaps the embellishing—of stories of glorious days past. Well, some of the days may have not been so glorious. But those stories get told too.
At one of the annual reunions of the Salesian Old Boys, it seems that someone suggested that our stories should be collected. And George Stanton and Spencer Boudreau undertook to do the collecting and the editing. Their work, which is truly the work of many hands, has come to excellent fruition in We Were Brothers: The Stories of Salesian Seminarians Who Followed a Dream, edited by George and Spencer and containing contributions from 33 former Salesians and two present Salesians (yours truly was asked to present Don Bosco in the “front matter,” and Fr. Joe Occhio offers a memory of Br. Joe Traina). There is also a short essay on the Preventive System taken from the website of the Australia-Pacific Province. The communications office of the SUE Province assisted with photos.
George and Spencer divided the contributions into 10 sections, opening with “Don Bosco and the Salesian Way” (what I just called the “front matter”) and ending with “The Legacy” (as you might expect, what some of the contributors took from their seminary experience). In between come the chronological phases of formation: junior seminary, novitiate, and college (with some practical training included); and topical subjects: the coadjutor brothers, extracurriculars, “The Lighter Side,” and “Unforgettable” (tributes to personal heroes).
Many dozens of half-tone photos (147 of them, according to the publisher) are interspersed: people, places, events. These have been culled from personal collections, old yearbooks, and an archive in New Rochelle. The cover photo of the Don Bosco College community of 1963-1964 will impress with its sheer number of seminarians and faculty (as well as offering possible hours of fun trying to identify them).
The blurb on the back cover gives a fair summary of the contents: “The book poignantly captures the joy and exuberance of these men as they moved through their days in junior seminary to their formative experiences as novices and young religious at Don Bosco College. The various contributors speak frankly about not only the convictions that initially drew them to a religious life, but also the sadness, anger, and disappointment they felt when leaving it. Just as often these men can spin a yarn so funny that it’ll leave little doubt as why each author expresses common gratitude for the brotherhood that still unites them.”
The memories cover the gamut of Salesian formational experience, almost all of them well told. One memoirist remembers a DBC teacher telling him he could write; and that’s true of many of these essayists. Those who have shared these experiences—often with these very brothers—will recognize many of the names, most of the places, the practices, the attitudes, the feelings, the atmosphere, even some of the specific events of those times so many years ago (from the 1950s to the 1970s). They include a lot of excitement, some monotony, many praises, some complaints. It’s real life—at least as lived in the seminary in days of yore—vividly narrated.
We Were Brothers will prove to be a valuable source for future historians of the Salesians in the U.S. and perhaps of religious life in the U.S. Best of all, it’s a “fun read” for any Salesian or former Salesian; perhaps also for friends of the Salesians.
The 280-page paperback is handsomely designed with a large, easily readable typeface. There are occasional errors—misspelled names, some erroneous dates (including that of my novitiate)—but nothing that can’t be fixed easily should a second printing be called for.
We Were Brothers may be ordered online at Amazon and is also available as an eBook through Kindle. The ISBN is 978-1-55059-382-2. The eBook is free of charge with Kindle Unlimited and the paperback costs $15.99. Royalties will be donated to a charity designated by the Salesian Old Boys.
Editor's Note: The majority of this article with the exception of where to purchase the book is from the original book review when We Were Brothers was first published. Additionally, the book can only be purchased through Amazon and not through the publisher as originally referrenced prior to correction.