Poles Apart

Chanel High School R.I.P.

A strange memory from the past popped into my mind this afternoon as I was heading for the exit of the Century City parking garage. I thought back to our old high school cheer, which was openly contemptuous of Poles. Chanel High (later renamed St. Peter Chanel High) belonged to the North Central Athletic Conference, which consisted of a handful of Catholic high schools, including St. Edward, Elyria Catholic, and—most particularly—St. Stanislaus. I say “most particularly” because we had chosen St. Stan’s to be our official enemy. It was only a few miles away and located in a largely Polish Catholic neighborhood.

When our cheerleaders revealed the following chant, there were a few hard feelings:

OOH sah sah sah!
OOH sah sah sah!
Hit ’em in the head with a BIG KIELBASA!
Put ’em in a barrel
Roll ’em down the street
FIREBIRDS, FIREBIRDS
Can’t be beat!

We, of course, were the Firebirds. Fortunately, during my years at Chanel (1958-1962), we mostly prevailed over St. Stan’s. And it didn’t keep us Hungarians, Slavs, and Italians from enjoying Kielbasa sausages.

Back Then, All Our Cheerleaders Were Male

Once I graduated from Chanel, big changes happened. The biggest of them was the admission of girls. Then, there were a number of black students. Finally, the school was ceded to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and was no longer controlled by the Marist order of priests. Around the same time, the name was changed from Chanel to St. Peter Chanel.

Unfortunately, it’s all moot now, as Chanel closed its doors a few years ago and has, I believe, been subjected to the wrecking ball. Sic transit gloria mundi!

 

The Philosophy Club

St Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

When I was attending high school at St Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, between 1958 and 1962, I started two extracurricular activities. One was a literary magazine called The Phoenix (our school teams were the Firebirds). I am actually a little embarrassed about the quality of our articles and illustrations. But more interestingly, I started a philosophy club which met evenings. Our moderator was a gaunt Marist missionary priest who had spent years attempting to convert the natives of New Guinea to Catholicism.

Imagine his discomfiture when a bunch of high school kids decided to argue about the existence of God. We had a couple of firebrands in the group—Ed Jaskiewicz and Rodger Harper—who set about demolishing two millennia of church dogma.

The “Angelic Doctor,” St Thomas Aquinas

As a good practicing Catholic (at the time), I introduced St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God. That didn’t sit too well with Jaskiewicz, who shot them down while Father Barrett, our moderator, turned a vivid shade of fuchsia. For my part, I started to stammer. It just wouldn’t do for Chanel’s star student to foment heresy.

Well, neither the philosophy club nor the literary magazine exist today. In fact, St. Peter Chanel High School is no more. The last I heard, the school was going to be torn down by he Bedford, Ohio, Board of Education. And I’m still a little skittish about philosophy. It’s not because I still believe in Aquinas’s five proofs, which are the bedrock of Catholic doctrine, but because I’ve always found philosophy so difficult. In no other field of endeavor do all the participants so anathemize one another.

I am currently reading Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and actually liking his existential philosophy. It’s nice sometimes to undergo change after so many years.

 

Old School

Side View of Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

I started Chanel High School as a freshman in September 1958. It was a Catholic school run by the Marist Fathers (Society of Mary), whose quarters were on the third floor of the school. Its unusual name was owing to the existence of a Marist missionary to Oceania from the same family as Coco Chanel who was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954. It is possible—though I have not been able to prove this—that when he was martyred by the natives of Futuna Island (north of Fiji) in 1841, he was eaten by his tormentors.

The Marist priests who taught me were, almost to a man, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers and all-around good human beings. I was in the school’s second graduating class (1962), when I was not only the valedictorian but the recipient of the Mr. Chanel award as the best all-around student in my class. The good fathers wanted me to become a priest and were disappointed when I said I did not see that in my path. Considering that I was suffering from excruciating pain the whole time I was there due to a brain tumor that was destroying my pituitary gland. It would have been an expensive move on the part of the religious order to pay for my operation and continuing care.

What, Girls at My Old High School? (Yay!)

From the time I graduated to the closing of the school a couple years ago, there were a lot of changes. Although the school still remained Catholic, it was under the control of the Diocese of Cleveland. The Marists were no longer in charge. And not only were there black and Asian students, there were also girls!!! (When I was there, the student body consisted mostly of assorted Central and Eastern Europeans and a handful of Irish and Italians.) Also, the name had been changed to St. Peter Chanel High School.

Except for my brain tumor, my years at Chanel were happy ones. I do not have the frequently encountered anger at the Catholic Church for having screwed up my life. Physically, I was a mess; but I still managed to look forward to my life with hope.