Seminary Boy: A Memoir by John Cornwell

Seminary Boy: A Memoir

John Cornwell evokes a vanished time and way of life in this moving and, at times, troubling memoir of an adolescence spent in the isolated all-male world of the seminary. Born into a destitute family with a dominating Irish-Catholic mother and an absconding father during World War II in London, John Cornwell's childhood was deeply dysfunctional. When he was thirteen years...

Title:Seminary Boy: A Memoir
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0385514875
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:334 pages

Seminary Boy: A Memoir Reviews

  • J.M. Cornwell
    Feb 03, 2008

    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 thin

    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

    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.

    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.

  • Andrew Watson
    Mar 01, 2008

    When John Cornwell describes his life prior to the junior seminary, his time at there and when he looks back at what it taught him, this book is fascinating. In spite of its many imperfections, Cotton made John Cornwell. In between time, we get a great deal of detail about events that simply drag; I'm not sure I wanted to know about them either...

  • Becky
    Mar 02, 2008

    Cornwell, a former juvenile delinquent, developed a religious calling and was sent off to a Catholic junior seminary when he was in his early teens.

    This highly readable memoir reads like a novel. One really feels Cornwell's affection for the seminary that took him out of a tumultuous, poverty-stricken home life. Also palpable, painfully so, is young Cornwell's anguish and confusion as to what a junior seminarian is supposed to do about his budding sexuality.

    Speaking of sex, yes, the book does co

    Cornwell, a former juvenile delinquent, developed a religious calling and was sent off to a Catholic junior seminary when he was in his early teens.

    This highly readable memoir reads like a novel. One really feels Cornwell's affection for the seminary that took him out of a tumultuous, poverty-stricken home life. Also palpable, painfully so, is young Cornwell's anguish and confusion as to what a junior seminarian is supposed to do about his budding sexuality.

    Speaking of sex, yes, the book does contain stories of abuses perpetrated by Catholic priests. But these are not the point of the book, and they are presented with minimal details. The horror of such abuses is still felt, but any trace of sensationalism is mercifully absent.

    I felt that the most interesting parts of the book dealt with the varied, sometimes conflicting pieces of advice Cornwell received from the priests who were his teachers at the seminary. Each priest had his own way of doing his job, and some of the priests seemed better at it than others. I was also struck by the different philosophies espoused in Cornwell's various readings (Therese of Lisieux's autobiography, a work by St. Francis de Sales, etc.) and how he attempts to put these into practice.

    And, of course, Cornwell's spiritual and emotional journey -- the whole point of the book -- is moving and fascinating. I'd be interested to read some of his other books.

  • Nicholasjordansherwood
    Sep 04, 2009

    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

    . Its sincerity and honesty arewhat give it much of its power, but be warned, the book is very frank (without ever becoming-

    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

    . 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.

  • Stephanie
    Sep 27, 2009

    I've been cleaning up my book-shelves... obviously the unread book section.

    I came upon this book through work... a draft sent to be reviewed by the paper. Instead, contrary to the hopes of the publisher, this book found itself in a pile for any staff member to take home and read.

    Coming from a family of Catholics... with grandparents as devout as they could come; I wanted to read a book about a time when it was considered a great honor to have a seminarian in the family. I really feel it would ha

    I've been cleaning up my book-shelves... obviously the unread book section.

    I came upon this book through work... a draft sent to be reviewed by the paper. Instead, contrary to the hopes of the publisher, this book found itself in a pile for any staff member to take home and read.

    Coming from a family of Catholics... with grandparents as devout as they could come; I wanted to read a book about a time when it was considered a great honor to have a seminarian in the family. I really feel it would have been my paternal grandmother's greatest joy to see that realized... and I have a feeling she would have had my father do the honors.

    His writing style is easy... a few parts of theological musings eluded me, but I've not studied the saints and their writings to the degree Cornwell has.

  • James T Kelly
    Dec 28, 2011

    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 ha

    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.

  • Beth Withers
    Feb 18, 2015

    I'm not sure why I picked up this book, but I'm glad I did. I enjoy memoirs, and this one was well written. Cornwell spent some years as a teenager in a minor seminary, preparing to train as a priest. The book was a window into a world I know nothing about, and since I enjoy learning, the book was interesting. Not being Catholic, however, I did find parts of it hard to follow when he speaks of the daily rituals and routines that involve the church. I appreciate the honesty also.

  • David Bisset
    May 01, 2016

    This is a moving account of life in a junior seminary with its trials and tribulations, and also its positive facets. This memoir helps to explain the radical critique which the author has made in his voluminous writings of the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. Yet he returned to Christianity after twenty years of agnosticism. This book is superbly written and is of particular interest when on considers the crisis which was about to follow the Second Vatican Council.

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