An article written for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Belmont Abbey School in 1926. Dom Brendan Minney was in the original alumniate from 1922. He was headmaster from 1955-61



IN RETROSPECT, I am forced to concede that the step which I took on All Hallows Eve, in the year of 1922, was a retrograde one. It took me from an ordinary town Grammar school to the alumniate at Belmont, and, in scholastic terms at least, from the twentieth to about the fifteenth century. Not that I saw it as such there and then ; but, for all my immaturity, I could not but notice that the schooling was odd. In a sense it had to be, it just could not be otherwise, for it bristled with problems. Consider the age groups. Upper school consisted of five students, young men of seventeen and eighteen. In Lower school, where I became the third of three, we were each aged twelve ; while Middle school, and its complement of seven, bridged the intervening years. A total of fifteen, in three broad groupings ; and this marked another problem. Unhappily, there were but two class rooms ; one, the present calefactory, and two, the Lecture Room - as it was styled - lodged in Siberia, above the Library and below the Novitiate. This latter room also doubled for recreational purposes, among which was a species of indoor football with an unusual code of rules.

Problem three was the teaching staff. They are all now dead, and beyond my wounding; but, with one or two exceptions, they were simply not up to it. Mostly they were men already separated from an intellectual climate by reason of service in the Great War, now knuckling down to a painfully severe monastic life, and hard put to cope with their own ecclesiastical studies. I marvel at their diligence and kindness, and must think of them with deep respect ; but the standards were low in general, and, here and there, abysmal. Let me substantiate that word. I, a new boy of twelve and arriving at half-term, was at once apportioned to the Upper school for Mathematics. By no means a fledgling Einstein, I found myself flanked by towering giants - who actually shaved - and, to my horror, was rather more than a match for them. The fifteenth century showed in other ways. Science could be termed pre-Baconian (and I mean Roger rather than Francis) inasmuch as it did not exist, nor was the name so much as mentioned among us. My feelings are mixed. To have escaped Chemistry, I still regard as no small boon ; but Physics would have appealed to me, and Higher Mathematics captivated my fancy. In point of fact I was forced - not just permitted - to mark time, here or hereabouts for the next five years. History and Geography brought about a fusion of the Middle and Lower schools but neither subject was permitted to live or sparkle. They were facts. Wars and monarchs, monarchs and wars, capes and inlets, rivers and headlands were ground out like corn beneath a millstone. A residue of chaff still remains, to remind me. English brought a similar grouping but here there was warmth in the teaching and joy in the learning. I name no names, but I remember. French, avowedly without tears,  pursued an errant course, and called for sub- divisions of even small classes, as also did Latin. Latin. This was our daily pabulum. Not so much a subject, as a way of life. Latin. Class and prep, class and prep, day in day out, week by week, and term after weary term. We were saturated with it. Quite true : but not quite just. For the establishment I had joined, it must be remembered, did not purport to be a school, and was careful not to call itself one ; it was an alumniate. The studies and discipline were aimed at preparing boys, not for the university or world in general, but for the cloister and, to be specific, the Belmont cloister. Junior monks who taught us were themselves discomforted in their own studies by a want of Latin, and they were determined that we should fare better. In ramming it down our reluctant throats, they were motivated - I have no doubt - by compassion.

Great monks, they murmured to each other, from little monklings grow, and they shall lack nothing necessary nor be encumbered by aught unnecessary. At this point I must take another step, also retrograde, since it is from the fifteenth to the sixth century. We were, to all intents and purposes, the very "boys" mentioned by St. Benedict in his Rule. Not for us the grim letter of monastic law, but a pampered existence. To bed at 9 o'clock (after Latin prep, need I say), all together in the one open dormitory - oldsters and youngsters alike - and there to sleep untroubled, save for the tower clock and chimes and monastic knocker-up and morning office bells and the scurry of slippered feet, until fully 6 o'clock. Ablutions over, we clothed ourselves in the rig of the day, a scout uniform, where seniority declared itself by reason of the patches - occasionally on other patches - and went down to St. Anthony's for the 6.30 Mass. Quite fresh it would be, on a November morning, with combination-chair-kneelers that slammed and clattered as we turned them to the altar, under the fitful light of hissing or popping gas-mantles. Breakfast at 7.15, in the one refectory with monks and all, and in silence. Porridge. Every day. Porridge. No, I lie. Sausages on Christmas morning - and never such sausages before or since - and an egg on Easter Sunday. But, otherwise, porridge; and only porridge. It gives me no pain to see others enjoying it, but I have not taken so much as a spoonful in forty years. Breakfast done, at a quarter to, or ten to, or five to eight came the bell for Little Hours and Conventual Mass, when we donned our habits and short scapulars, and took our places in the front choirstalls. Classes from 9 until 1, with a brief break at 11 for coffee and a slice of bread-and-dripping - never such dripping - and, perhaps, a help-yourself basket of apples. Visit, and lunch at 1.5, with sung grace and reading, and good plain food in abundance. Then to the football field, if humanly possible, and the sheer heaven of joining an attack at the goal, guarded by two such backs as Ned Baker (Dom Andrew) and Charlie Power, with the incomparable Fitzharris (Fr. Thomas Fitzharris of Menevia) behind them. More classes and preps from 3.30 until 6.30, with a twenty minutes break for tea (and bread-and-butter, with a rock-cake on Sundays), and we attired ourselves for Vespers. Supper at 7.15, wholesome enough, and indoor recreation until 8.15 in Lecture Room, rounded off by Latin prep. Thursdays and Saturdays were free from lunch onwards, with generally a football match among ourselves, or against some strange local elevens. Monks and boys would both participate, and a good time was had by all ... until 8.15, that is to say, and Latin prep On Sundays, a long sleep until 7.30, and most of the day in church thereafter, including Sung Compline at night. These simple facts and figures disclose an horarium that would be deemed barbaric by a Borstal boy, but we did not wallow in self-pity. We were all in it together, and that seemed fair, while we knew that the monks had it much harder ; which also seemed fair. Although we all lived in the one house, the lines of demarcation were firmly drawn, and we mixed neither with the monks - except for 5. those in charge of us - nor with the senior boys. Yet there was an ease about it and a natural acceptance that dispensed with any rigidity. Then, too, the lines could be crossed upon occasion. Brother Aelred (Fr. Bainbridge, choirmaster at Westminster Cathedral) organised a small choir of Monks and Boys that I recall with delight, and gave me, personally, much help and encouragement with my violin. Together, we maltreated quite a portion of the Mendelssohn concerto ; but inflicted it upon none but each other. Such kindnesses as these more than compensated for those admonitions of St. Benedict faithfully carried out-on "How Young Boys are to be Corrected". Night Prayers, at the bedside, were not infrequently the prelude to a visit, in pyjamas, to Dom Cuthbert's room. These incidents he must have entered in a book, for, when he ceased headmastering, he issued a Roll of Honour. It touched me to discover that I was not just fobbed off with a "pass," but qualified for a Star. Lest I be suspected of complete moral turpitude, I would point to a host of rules, regulations, and finical bounds, calculated to trap the unwary. The cloister, for us, meant the refectory side of the cloister, and no more than eight inches from the wall. It was a lesson that I learned, eventually, and my very feet lead me there to this day. In the main they were happy days, from the very start to the very finish, and my own problem stemmed from another source entirely. I had come to Belmont to be a priest, a Benedictine priest, the only sort that I then knew. It was of my own volition, with no prompting from my parents, and I knew that I could leave without their blame or sorrow. But, to be a Benedictine priest, it seemed that I should have to be a monk. It was an obstacle in my way, a hazard that I had not allowed for. Monasticism, there and then in my first term, this was the truly medieval thing that just did not make sense. The first-fruits of the alumniate were ready to be harvested, and, at term-end, the five senior students entered the novitiate en bloc. Ned Baker and Tom Fitzharris I have already mentioned, and they were accompanied by Leonard Wilson, Doug Stewart and Denis Dinan. At the same time, Gerald Moriarty elected to leave, and our total dropped to nine . . . which was to be the nadir. Remaining in Middle school (now the Senior section) were Charles Power, Clive Grant and Harry Williams, with three more who were to become priests ; Pip Brightling (Dom Hilary), George Young (Dom Richard), and "Stiff" (Fr. Edward Prime, S.J.). In Lower school were Edward Connor and Maurice Sheehy (Dom Stephen) to keep me company. Seven priests from our original fifteen, and three more to come - Bernard Jackson (Dom Philip), Tony Wackrill (Dom Cyril) and Tubby Belt (Fr. James Belt of Cardiff) - before the alumniate closed, and Belmont Abbey School opened. I was there for the occasion, and happened, indeed, to be Head Boy - an altogether dizzy eminence - but the tale thenceforward can be told by others. Mine has been the pre-history, or palaeolithic prelude, not far removed - you will agree - from that state of inchoate chaos, which prompted the word . . . "Let there be Light".