The Novitiate in Orange, situated on Connecticut's route 34 not far from Yale University, was the first Legion property I knew in the United States, en route to my assignment in New York in 1976. I had a sense of foreboding about the Novitiate which I mention in my memoir "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" scheduled to be available on May 1st:
The Irish Institute in Mexico City was where I would have wanted to spend my priestly ministry, if I’d had a choice, and I envied David’s assignment. The months spent training him were a tantalizing taste of what might have been. It was the place where I felt most at home as a Legionary.
During my fifteen years training, I had come to expect my ministry would be in Mexico, or somewhere in Latin America. Mexico was like home for me - I loved the people and the country. Other than my immediate family, Mexico was where the people I most cared about lived.
David, for his part, spent much of his Legionary life preparing to work as a priest in the United States. I know how much he loved New York and I don’t think he was thrilled to be assigned to Mexico. Our vows of Obedience trumped personal preferences. I departed Mexico City, with sadness, just before Christmas.
Fr. Alfonso Samaniego, the Legion’s Regional Director in Mexico, came with me on the flight to New York’s Kennedy airport. Alfonso was having a Christmas break from his work in Mexico City and he confided in me on our flight. “I’m thrilled to be going to the States for Christmas, but I hate the idea of staying at the novitiate.” The plan was for us to join a small group of US novices spending Christmas in Orange, Connecticut. It was nice to feel Alfonso was talking to me as a peer.
“What’s the problem with staying at the novitiate?” I asked.
“You will see for yourself. It is hard to relax there.”
I replied, “Let me tell you, I’m not happy to be coming to the States at all. I hate leaving Mexico.”He gave me a knowing look.“Well, at least you will get to see your friend Declan again.” I think he shared my sense of misery.
The prospect of meeting Declan and his Legionary colleagues from Washington D.C. was the only positive I could dwell on as we drove up interstate 95 to Connecticut. We went to the same school in Dublin. He influenced my decision to join the Legion because he was an outgoing character and always exuded a great joy for life. He was good at sports, played the piano, and he was popular and fun. Even though he was a year ahead of me, I thought if he could adjust to the Legion then so could I.
We arrived at the novitiate in the early evening. I remember being impressed with the length of the winding driveway. To our left, as we entered, I caught a glimpse of a small run down house. It appeared abandoned and didn’t blend well with the surroundings. The black asphalt driveway snaked up a gentle hill bordered on each side by roughly mown fields. Mature trees sheltered the property from the busy traffic on the main road. The main house perched at the top.
Fr. Anthony Bannon greeted us in the hallway. I believe this was the first time I’d met him, because he joined a couple of years after me. The house was a family dwelling, large enough to accommodate the first group of American novices. It had some of the qualities of a typical New England home – white shingles on the outside, wooden window frames, hardwood floors, and a creaky stairway with wooden banisters. It reminded me of Hazelbrook House in Ireland, where I had started my own novitiate.
Fr. Anthony was attentive. “Welcome to our novitiate,” he said. “I’ll show you to your room Fr. Alfonso.”
My gut reaction to Fr. Anthony was ambivalent. His wire-rimmed glasses accentuated the sense of austerity he projected. He was not quite as tall as I, but his frame looked like he could be made of steel. He was trim, efficient and to the point. I found him welcoming, but not warm.
“Jack,” I thought to myself, “give the guy a chance. This is not Mexico, get used to it.” I picked up my suitcase asking, “Do I follow you Fr. Anthony? Which way is my room?”
He was halfway up the stairs and turned to look over his shoulder.
“No, Fr. Keogh, you will be staying in our guest house, with the Fathers from Washington.”
I didn’t like his style, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. I think I realized he was a stickler for the rules. However, I would have to be able to get along with him, since he was my new superior. I was already hoping my time in the US would be short
Somebody drove me back down to the ‘guest accommodations,’ which were, of course, situated in the small, dilapidated house. Gripping my suitcase, I walked inside. It was cold outside and I welcomed the warmth as I entered, but the house was shabby and depressing. The hallway smelled musty, and already, I didn’t like the place.
This morning's New Haven Register reports:
ORANGE — The one-time U.S. headquarters for the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative order of the Catholic Church that has come under fire after its founder had fathered a child and allegedly molested seminarians, has been vacated and is on the market, town leaders confirmed.