Seminary Boy
John Cornwell

Hardcover/321 pages
ISBN: 978-0385-51487-3
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". . . an unbiased and candid tale of a privileged and sometimes difficult life in cloistered halls . . ."

Seminary Boy: The journey from impoverished adolescent thug to the cloistered halls of a Catholic seminary.

John Cornwell is quick with his fists and intelligent enough to be dangerous. He is headed for a life of crime until a poor parish priest shows him another road. Head of a growing gang of youthful thugs and exiled to the hall in public school, John has been considered a waste of space and education. His domineering Irish mother and his crippled and often absent father fight constantly, often throwing things and coming to blows. John shares a bed with two younger brothers and has one older brother and sister. Moving from a tenement row house to the greens keeper’s cottage where his father works makes things a little easier for the family, but it does not change their overall poverty or family situation. When John becomes Father Cooney’s altar boy, everything changes. He sees another life and discovers something outside himself that answers the hunger inside for something more.

John feels the call to become a priest like Father Cooney and, with the father’s help, is chosen to go to Catholic seminary at Cotton College, an elite rural seminary, even though John is behind in Latin, and nearly every other subject. His mother and father can’t afford the clothes John will need, but Father Cooney helps them get funding from the diocese and thins out the list. A few days into the term, John arrives at Cotton College and is shown to his bed in the dormitory and the washroom but is given very few instructions. He goes to bed cold and lonely and wakes to the thump of a book at the foot of his bed. Bleary-eyed and freezing, one of the boys helps John get around. Thus begins a life very different and quieter than the one he has known all his thirteen years.

John Cornwell writes with exacting and lyrical detail of his life before, during and after the seminary, giving the impression he is still figuring it all out. A sense of wild purpose and unflinching honesty fills Seminary Boy with charm tinged with a touch of sadness. With a bright and mischievous wit that never veers into melancholy in spite of the sometimes sad and wrenching details of his family’s battles and prejudices, he faces his wild and misspent youth until he enters the seminary.

Cornwell sets a lively pace that is at times as humorous as it is appalling. Seminary Boy is no diatribe against the Catholic Church nor is it a tell-all book of salacious gossip. Rather it is an unbiased and candid tale of a privileged and sometimes difficult life in the cloistered halls of the seminary balanced against the backdrop of poverty and familial trials and tribulations that are not without a certain poignant charm all their own.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell