Fairfield Now - Summer 2008
The Golden Stags
Getting better all the time
By Steven Scarpa '98
Golden Stags and some of their spouses gathered in March for Mass at Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, followed by a special luncheon, where they helped the University archivist identify old photos and other Fairfield memorabilia from the 1950s.
When Harold Mullen '52 attended Fairfield University, describing the school's facilities as "modest" would have been an understatement.
Consisting of only a few classroom buildings (the current home of Fairfield Prep) and no dormitories, campus life beyond the academic had to be constructed from scratch. Clubs needed to be founded, singing groups formed, athletic teams staffed, and newspapers written. That could have been a disheartening prospect for anyone going to college for the first time. But it took a particular kind of school spirit to build the institution, perhaps only the kind that men who had served their country could muster. "We had nothing, but fortunately we were a mature bunch of guys who realized we had the opportunity to start things," Mullen said.
Bob O'Keefe, a member of the Class of 1955, remembers looking at a map of what Fairfield University would become in the future. The map had 50 buildings on it, far different from those first few buildings surrounded by farmland. "We were influenced by that. We knew it was going to be a big place," O'Keefe said.
To honor these trailblazing students, the Golden Stags were founded in 2001, the 50th anniversary of Fairfield University's first graduating class. Over time, this group continues to be a vibrant part of the University community, contributing both time and talent to further the Jesuit ideals they embraced decades ago.
Maria Bolis, reunion giving manager, has unofficially adopted the group, cultivating them and trying to convey the importance these first students had in the development of the University. "With most universities, you only get what you can read because the founders passed away long ago," Bolis said. "That history is here. We can get it straight from them."
Max O'Meara, a member of the Class of 1952, used to be a mentor to recent undergraduates in the University's Ignatian Residential College. While O'Meara might have some strong ideas on what the University can do to improve, he has no intention of preaching about the "good old days" to the students. What he tells them is something he heard the Jesuits say back during his undergraduate days, a philosophy that is ultimately the underpinning of the entire Fairfield University experience: "It is your example that is important, not just your discussion or speech."
Like O'Meara, all of the early alumni of the school bring their various opinions, life experiences, and backgrounds to the table, but what unites them is a sense that a Jesuit education continues to matter in our increasingly complex world. Janet Canepa, director of alumni relations, notes, "The Golden Stags have a strong sense of pride about this institution which has meant so much to them. Many of them have encouraged their children and grandchildren to come here."
|A walk back in time ... Vin Scully '58 and Ken Felsner '58 look over old yearbooks at the luncheon.|
The early days
When Fairfield University opened in 1947, the school was exclusively for "day hoppers" - otherwise known as commuters. Most of these early students were World War II veterans getting an education on the G.I. Bill. Many alumni believe that the maturity and poise of the early student body created a singularity of purpose. These men, oftentimes working, raising young families, and dealing with the academic rigors of a Jesuit education all at the same time, still found time to get involved in extracurricular activities.
Mullen recalled that the early glue on campus was the successful Glee Club, founded by Simon Harak, the father of former University professor Simon Harak, S.J. The Glee Club was the most popular of the early on-campus organizations, often showing up to perform at student parties.
The biggest difference between the Fairfield University of the 1950s and today, aside from the obvious absence of women back then, was the number of Jesuits on the campus. In those days, Jesuits outnumbered lay faculty two to one, bringing a unique brand of logical discourse to the educational process, something the University still encourages today. Students were required to study Latin, philosophy, and religion - an academic regimen that, while modified, is still reflected in the University's core curriculum.
Most early alumni recall the Jesuits fondly - stern, yet progressive; pious, yet often with a touch of the theatrical, bedecked in their black cassocks. Mullen recalled a Jesuit trying to convey what a ballet dancer's performance did for the audience. He paused for a moment before flinging himself towards the open second-story window. Mullen remembered that the students cried out breathlessly, "Father, don't jump!" The priest calmly pulled himself back and said, "You know how you feel now? That is what the dancer did for his audience."
"We gave him a round of applause," Mullen said.
What's in a name?
The early days were, quite obviously, a time of firsts, and athletics was no exception. A track team, known as The Men in Red, was formed in 1947. Other sports followed shortly after, including basketball and baseball. A good University needs a good nickname and the Jesuits at the time thought they had just the right one: The Chanticleers, a medieval term for roosters.
The what? "Could you imagine with 10 seconds left in a close game, the point guard taking the ball down the court and the crowd yelling 'Go Chanticleers!' They would have laughed us off the court," Mullen chuckled.
That's exactly what Mullen thought when he first heard the proposed name. He was the basketball team's manager in 1948, the second year of the school's existence. During tryouts at a club in Bridgeport, then-basketball coach Joe Dunn sidled over to Mullen. "Coach leaned over and said, 'The priests want to name the team the Chanticleers. I don't know what that means. Come up with another name,'" Mullen said. "One thing I learned in the Navy was to never volunteer for difficult duty."
Mullen went over to the chapel in McAuliffe Hall (named for the bishop who invited the Jesuits to found the university) to pray for inspiration. On his knees, he glanced up at the Hartford diocesan banner, a deer fording a stream. The word "stag" popped into Mullen's mind ... and the rest is University history. Contrary to what might be obvious, the name had nothing to do with the University's then all-male student body.
"Wherefore art thou?" ... The ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) are a group of Golden Stags and Fairfield Prep graduates who get together regularly to talk shop and enjoy each others' company. Pictured at a recent lunch in Bellarmine Hall with President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., are (l-r, front row): Charles Schaefer '55, Frank Carroll '55, Tom Donnelly '55, Leo Czajkowski (Prep.'51), Hon. Sarsfield Ford (Prep. '51); (l-r, back row) James Marino '55, Donald Browne '55, Robert Roche '55, William Burns (Prep. '51), Fr. von Arx, Nick Macol '55, Anthony Incerto '55, and Robert O'Keefe '55.
The Golden Stags have continued their contributions to the University, partially funding the annual St. Thomas More lecture, a series developed by the Center for Faith and Public Life. The goal of the series is to feature nationally known lecturers addressing social and political change from a traditional Catholic perspective.
In addition, they have been asked to help the staff of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library on a relatively new project to preserve information from the early days of the University. The DARCroom Project (Digital Archives) entails the creation of a digital library archive chronicling the history of the University, explained Elise Bochinski, access services librarian and University archivist.
While the main part of her job encompasses the administration of the online archive, Bochinski has spent time with the Golden Stags, listening to their stories and asking them to identify photographs. In early March, Bochinski participated in a Golden Stags alumni event, sharing information about the DARCroom Project. "We basically worked the room," she said.
In turn, the Golden Stags have embraced Bochinski's efforts, providing her with contributions of their own memorabilia for inclusion in the library's permanent archives. She hopes to start collecting oral histories from alumni to add to the collection. "It's important for us to know our roots," she said. "Their stories lend a personal touch and an unmistakable ring of truth to our understanding of Fairfield's earliest days."