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Seminary Boy: A Memoir (2007)

Seminary Boy: A Memoir (2007)
3.64 of 5 Votes: 3
0385514875 (ISBN13: 9780385514873)
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Seminary Boy: A Memoir (2007)
Seminary Boy: A Memoir (2007)

About book: The journey from impoverished adolescent thug to the cloistered halls of a Catholic seminary.John Cornwell was quick with his fists and intelligent enough to be dangerous. He was headed for a life of crime until a poor parish priest showed him another road. Head of a growing gang of youthful thugs and exiled to the hall in public school, John was considered a waste of space and education. His domineering Irish mother and his crippled and often absent father fought constantly, often throwing things and coming to blows. John shared a bed with two younger brothers and had one older brother and sister. Moving from a tenement row house to the greens keeper’s cottage where his father worked made things a little easier for the family, but did not change their overall poverty or family situation. When John became Father Cooney’s altar boy everything changed. He saw another life and discovered something outside himself that answered the hunger inside for something more. John felt the call to become a priest like Father Cooney and with the father’s help was chosen to go to Catholic seminary at Cotton College, an elite rural seminary, although John was behind in Latin, and nearly every other subject. His mother and father didn’t know if they could afford the clothes John would need, but Father Cooney helped them get funding from the diocese and thinned out the list. A few days into the term, John arrived at Cotton College and was shown to his bed in the dormitory, the washroom and given very few instructions. He went to bed cold and lonely and woke to the thump of a book at the foot of his bed. Bleary-eyed and freezing, one of the boys helped John get around and thus began a life very different and quieter than the one he had known all his thirteen years. John Cornwell writes with exacting and lyrical detail of his life before, during and the 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. He faces his wild and misspent youth until he enters the seminary 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. 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 against the backdrop of poverty and familial trials and tribulations that are not without a certain poignant charm.

Cornwell does a great job in giving the reader an insight into the mind of a boy who decides he wants to be a priest. His descriptions, too, of the seminary and the pre-Vatican II priesthood is very interesting. But, sadly, that's all. There's not much of an emotional connection, nor is there much of an arc to his story. It is, instead, a string of unrelated incidents. A lot of time was spent on his early life, but his later dissatisfaction with the church was rushed and glossed over. He also had many interesting and powerful relationships but these were always kept at a distance from the text. It all left me rather cold and unfulfilled.Ultimately it's not a book I can recommend. If Cornwell had delved deeper into his experiences, motivations and feelings this could have been a fascinating book. Otherwise it's only factually intriguing.
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This book is not for everyone. Given my fascination with Catholicism, I suppose that I was primed to find this book interesting. However, as intriguing as this memoir is as an evocation of a lost time and unfamiliar culture, I was soon overcome rather by the simple, painful story of a soul. It is a work of interior and spiritual biography, not unlike Augustine's Confessions. Its sincerity and honesty arewhat give it much of its power, but be warned, the book is very frank (without ever becoming--in my opinion--prurient), even when dealing with difficult material such as sexual abuse. I found it, for reasons I can't quite explain, one of the most moving books I've read in a long time.
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