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Reflections on a Golden Era

By Ralph J. Diverio ’50

In the wake of his 55th reunion, at which 77 members of the Class of 1950 returned to Mount St. James, Ralph Diverio reflects on the era when he and his classmates came of age.

Ralph J. Diverio '50 Commencement, June 1950: A long time ago, but the memories remain vivid. Times were so different, so simple, so innocent.

There were no such things as credit cards, televisions, computers or cell phones. Cigarette smoking was common, but excessive spending was rare. There was an occasional portable radio for listening, no cars on campus, only five dorms—with three students to a room and two Jesuit corridor prefects on each dorm floor. Bed checks and an 11 o’clock lights out. And plenty of discipline.

Holy Cross was an all-male school in those days. The 600 or so members of the Class of 1950 who assembled in September 1946, were a diverse group—perhaps the most diverse group in the history of the College. Two-thirds were veterans of World War II, utilizing the newly established “G.I. Bill” to pay for a college education. The remaining third of the class was comprised of high school graduates. Ages ranged from 17 to 28 years.

But despite the disparity in ages, backgrounds and experience, there was a common thread woven among the group—I think we can define it as a shared culture. Most everyone came from a two-parent family with a working father and an at-home mother. We were the children of the Great Depression, understanding poverty and, in many cases, delighted simply to have food on the table and a roof over our heads. Luxuries were rare, as were vacations.

We were reared with family values, respect for authority, a certain amount of good manners, obedience, respect for women and our elders, and a devout belief in and practice of the Catholic faith, received from parents, school and parish.

Holy Cross provided an opportunity to achieve success through an excellent education, religious training, discipline and the inculcation of moral standards. The College provided a fine level of studies, preparing us for our chosen careers. But it was the Jesuit faculty—significant in number at the time—that imparted direction through their Ratio Studiorum, their daily guidance and their ability to make us think, training us to search, always, for the truth, striving to develop “the whole man.”

We were taught to seek perfection, realizing that we would never achieve it in this life. For four years we studied Catholic theology, and for two years, the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas—material that gave us the bedrock formula for a successful life defined, not in terms of status and wealth, but, rather, as accountability, service to God and neighbor and a freedom rooted in responsibility. This was, indeed, “the Golden Era of Jesuit Education.” And the Class of 1950 bears testimony to that era—producing 25 vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

It was a time of rituals and long-lost customs: mandatory 7 a.m. Mass, with a priest always available for confession; jackets and ties worn at all classes; meals served by fellow class waiters; Glee Club concerts; the annual Spiritual Retreat; classes until noon on Saturday; Big Band music from the Crusader dance band; the daily October and May outdoor rosaries; Monday night Benediction; and our Senior Ball, in Kimball Hall, the first post-war prom, where we danced to the sounds of the Glenn Miller Band under the direction of Ralph Flanagan.

Athletics at that time had yet to be invaded by national TV and big money. At a school like ours, genuine student-athletes could compete at a national level, as when we won the 1947 NCAA basketball championship—without a home gym and with only a half-court floor on which to practice. Playing the Red Sox and vying for the championship in national collegiate baseball was an annual event. We gave Miami a run for the money in the 1946 Orange Bowl. Saturday afternoon football games at Fitton Field drew crowds in excess of 20,000 spectators. And win, lose or draw, the Holy Cross Marching Band always provided a rousing post-game concert.

Fifty-five years later, as we read the headstones during a visit to the Jesuit cemetery, we are reminded of the teachers who helped to mold our character and shape our values. Over the last half century, we have experienced tremendous change—much good and, indeed, much bad. But in meeting with classmates after all these years, we find that the “spirit of Holy Cross,” which was formed during our undergraduate years, is still alive and strong. In the end, Alma Mater provided us with a most worthy and meaningful education. And, as we look back and reflect on those days, we are reminded what a fine time it was to be alive. And we are grateful.

 

Following graduation from Holy Cross, Ralph Diverio ’50 served in the Coast Guard during the Korean Conflict. Retiring in 1992 from a career as a banking professional, he continues to serve on the board of several colleges, senior housing agencies and non-profit institutions. A Knight of St. Gregory, he is also a Knight of the Military Order of Jerusalem. For 38 years, Diverio was a captain in the Coast Guard Reserve. He and his wife, Eileen, reside in Maywood, N.J. They are the parents of six children.

 

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