When he was trying to cheer up myself and my Twin-Brother before we left home for Clongowes [way back in the first half of the last century, as already mentioned !] our Father told us that his saddest day was his last – the day he left. I did not believe him then – nor did that day in late June ‘56 turn out to be my saddest. No, it wasn’t – far from it! But that was only because of the many awfully sad homesick days I had spent in my first term! My memory of leaving CWC was simply getting a lift from one of the Community to Maynooth and then on back home to Belfast – relieved that the LC was over !
This past weekend of final leavings has been a very different experience for me during these very strange times. For 33 years now I have watched nearly 2,000 Rhetoricians depart the scene – and have seen their various experiences of leaving. Some just rushed out of the last exam with whoops of joy for Freedom-at-last ! – others just left quietly – and others were indeed sad – simply, very sad.
But this 34th year it has been so different watching Students coming-back-to-leave – whether it was a TLer, LLer or HLer. After 11 long weeks – when everywhere was so empty and quiet – it was good to hear the footfalls [loud!] and voices [always loud!] in the corridors and dorms. It made me realize that it is not the bricks-and-mortar – nor the beauty of surrounding nature – but the wonder of friendships across generations – which give meaning and life to Clongowes – and makes it what it is.
It was indeed very different to see Rhetoric arrive-to-leave for the very last time …….. no emotions of relief at exams concluded – no mad rush for the exit to enjoy longed-for Freedom-at-last !
I could sense just how different it was for them now – coming-to-go for the last time. Some liked to chat for a moment – a few dropped in to say Goodbye – and some just wanted to be on their own somewhere around the place which they had come to see as a real and true home-from-home. Even the Parents who were left waiting at their cars seemed to want it not to end – especially those on their last trip with friendships formed down the years through their association with Clongowes. It was another moment of be-glad-to-be-sad – not just for RH20 and their Families – but also for us who were bidding farewell to young friends whom we had watched grow in age and body and wisdom (?!) over the years.
Some time ago, I officiated [as a sub!] at a wedding which was not of the usual run-of-the-mill wedding experiences. It took place in the College Chapel – surely the most beautiful building in Clongowes – and was so different, and very special. There were only 8 present [including myself] – with none of the razzmatazz of the usual trimmings – music – flowers – hats and dresses and black-ties – everyone in casual dress – and in-and-out in about half-an-hour ! It highlighted the centrality and importance of what marriage is all about – the unique unconditional giving of oneself to another person all-the-days-of-our-life – in the context of the Eucharist [the example of giving by Christ.] What made it so special – not just for me – but also for the whole bridal party party – was the very simplicity of it all.
I think that the experience of CWC’s 206th Rhetoric this weekend has been somewhat the same – because the circumstances have been so different – so basically stark. Like for so many of us during this pandemic – the value of things taken for granted now began to surface – and their leaving CWC was suddenly for all of us, no longer a dream – but Real, with a capital R ! – the dreams now of the past !
From Elements’20 to Poetry’20 – as we look to CWC’s Year 207 – and in all of the wider CWC Family – let us be grateful for what we have shared this past year. And let us keep RH20 in our prayers – that, in a world awaiting them – as men-for-others – they make a difference – A.M.D.G. !