Tale of four priests, four friends and one faith undergoing historic changes

The Salt Lake Tribune

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune

Whether by accident, serendipity or divine design, four future heavyweights of American Catholicism found themselves in the Class of 1962 at St. John’s Seminary on a lush hillside 60 miles from Los Angeles.

Momentous societal changes were surfacing all around the young men, but seminary life for George Niederauer — who served as Utah’s bishop from 1995 to 2006 — and pals Roger Mahony, William Levada and Tod Brown continued much the same as it had since, oh, the 16th century. Part spiritual boot camp and part modern-day monastery, the school and its choreographed schedule stretched far beyond normal college rhythms — a Catholic “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

The four friends — a pair of cardinals-to-be, a future archbishop and bishop — were assigned alphabetically to desks and dorms. They arose at 5:30 a.m. to the blare of an insistent hallway bell, and, within a half hour headed to the chapel for prayers and Mass. Silence was required during meals and after 7:30 p.m. Moral theology and philosophy classes were taught in Latin.

The priests-in-waiting had neither televisions nor telephones and were forbidden to leave the Camarillo, Calif., campus without permission. They could read about current events — such as the 1960 election of the first Catholic to the White House — but only in clips from approved newspapers.

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