Manhattan College in the Bronx is noted for a number of things, not least enduring among them the invention of the seventh-inning stretch. That goes back to 1882 when the varsity was playing a semipro team and Brother Jasper, the first athletic director, noticed the students in the stands getting restless. He called time out and ordered everybody up to stretch. It worked, and it still does, having spread to professional baseball. As for the wise Christian Brother who came up with the idea 118 years ago--why do you think today's Manhattan College teams are nicknamed the Jaspers?
Recently, I heard another Manhattan College story which deserves to be enshrined. Almost every single graduating class has had a priest among its alumni. Cardinal Patrick Hayes was Class of 1888. His friends at Manhattan included George Mundelein, who became the first Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago; Austin Dowling, the future Archbishop of St. Paul, and Joseph P. Donahue, who became an auxiliary bishop of New York and Cardinal Francis Spellman's vicar general.
"In 1865 it was a sort of junior seminary," Manhattan's president, Brother Thomas J. Scanlan, F.S.C., remarked when I asked him about the vocation history of the college. "In the 1920s half the priests in the archdiocese were Manhattan graduates," he said. "I got here in 1987 and it's a point of pride."
How does it happen? "I wish I knew," Brother Scanlan said. "We'd do more of it."
The list is long of New York priests who were undergraduates there. A random sampling: Auxiliary Bishop Patrick V. Ahern, a student in 1936 and '37; Msgr. Peter G. Finn, Class of '60; Father Jefferson Hammer, '55; Father Jack Arlotta, '72; Father Lawrence Paolicelli, '80.
Father Eugene Hamilton, who struggled with cancer and was ordained on his deathbed in 1997, was Class of '94.
The truth is, there are not great numbers of young men choosing seminary after college these days. "Each year, there is at least one ordination of a graduate," Brother Scanlan said. And more often than not, he is a man who has had a career, maybe for 15 years, before answering the call to priesthood. This year there were two: Father Frank Bassett, Class of '70, who was an aviation engineer, and James Beegan, '71, who was a stockbroker.
Brother Scanlan is happy that there are men from St. John Neumann Seminary Residence, the archdiocesan preseminary program, who are students at Manhattan and are a quiet reminder of the priesthood vocation.
Manhattan College has a strong religious studies program and a tradition of imparting values to its students, he said. But he sees the need for a different approach now than in the past. "We struggle to educate and show the values to the generation that has been exposed to the culture of today for 17 or 18 years when they come to us," he said. "They are searching. They are not interested in institutions. They are interested in doing good. There was a time when we met them in church. Now we are finding students interested in service. We meet them there, and then move to reflection."
The campus ministry program is active and creative in providing opportunities for service under Brother David Lee, F.S.C. Recently he took a group to South Africa where they did carpentry for people, taught kids, built a Web site. They were doing good...and reflecting on the value of giving oneself.
"We're dealing with the mystery of God," said Brother Scanlan.
Manhattan's "chronology of vocations," he said, "is a wonderful mark of achievement for the college, a contribution to the Church."
Maybe there's a kind of seventh-inning stretch going on in the vocation picture these days. But the De La Salle Christian Brothers are determined to continue the action.