The picturesque stained glass windows and statue forged from the death mask of St. Francis of Assisi left alumni from St. John’s Atonement Seminary in awe, following a Mass at St. Francis Chapel.
The former seminarians’ mouths were agape, Father Emil Tomaskovic, SA, described, as they learned about Graymoor as part of a reunion retreat the weekend of August 19. By the time it was over, there was tearful sentimentality and a spiritual feeling that enveloped the nearly 30 former students who attended the get-together.
“They really got the spiritual experience,” Father Emil said. “They were extremely grateful. It was a great experience.”
St. John’s alumni from various classes attended the reunion, including past students from Father Emil’s graduating class of 1962. The weekend featured plenty of reminiscing, a tour of the Graymoor grounds and Mass at St. Francis Chapel, among other activities. Alumni flocked to the reunion from as far away as Texas, Georgia, Illinois and California, while others who live locally also dropped in.
Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, the founder of the Society of the Atonement, originally christened St. John’s Atonement Seminary in 1907 at Graymoor. But the seminary later moved west, to Montour Falls in 1949, when the Society of the Atonement purchased and renovated the building with 35 acres. It had previously been known as the Cook Academy.
Some students became ordained priests within the Society of the Atonement, though several others pursued the priesthood or became deacons in other dioceses. The majority of the students pursued careers in various other professions, and many served in different branches of the military.
As such, most of them had never been to Graymoor before, and were moved by its beauty and all it has to offer.
“I think we all felt welcomed by the Friars and everyone on the staff,” said Steve Wannemacher, an attendee who graduated in the Class of 1967. “It felt like we were home.”
Reuniting for a Weekend
The reunion, which lasted through Sunday, August 21, was filled with events, including a walking tour of the Graymoor campus.
Alumni first visited the Friars’ cemetery, as many were eager to pay respects to some of their former teachers who have since entered into Eternal Life.
“They were all former students, so they knew a lot of the teachers that were there,” Father Emil said. “They wanted to see all those teachers (buried in the cemetery) that made an impact on their lives.”
Alumni were then shown the Palace of Lady Poverty, where Father Paul lived for a number of months after he arrived at Graymoor in 1899. They were also given a tour of St. Christopher’s Inn, the on-site addiction treatment center and a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
“We saw the wonderful work they are doing,” Wannemacher said of the visit to St. Christopher’s Inn.
Father Emil and Minister General Father Brian Terry, SA, concelebrated the Mass at St. Francis Chapel. After, Father Brian pointed out many of the relics and artifacts that rest in the chapel.
“They were like kids in a candy shop. They really couldn’t get enough of everything that was going on and what they were seeing,” Father Emil explained. “They were impressed by everything.”
Alumni also had the opportunity to dine with Friars, including Father Bill Schmidt, SA, and Father David Fitzgerald, SA. Attendees spent their two nights recollecting their halcyon days at St. John’s.
“They enjoyed being with one another. They regaled about all the stories and remembrances they had over the years,” Father Emil said. “They come back and see each other for the first time in 20 years, and it’s like they’re picking up the conversation from right where they left off. So, they feel there is something that’s happened to them as a result of the education and training that they received.”