Seminary Boy
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 old he was sent to Cotton College, a remote seminary for boys in the West Midlands countryside. For the next five years Cornwell lived under an austere monastic regime as he wrestled with his emotional and spiritual demons. In the hothouse atmosphere of the seminary he strove to find stable, loving friendships among his fellows and fatherly support from the priests, one of whom proved to be a sexual predator.The wild countryside around the seminary, the moving power of church ritual and music, and a charismatic priest enabled him to persevere. But while normal teenagers were being swept up by the rock ’n’ roll era, Cornwell and his fellow seminarians continued to be emotionally and socially repressed. Secret romantic attachments between seminarians were not uncommon; on visits home they were overwhelmed by the powerful attractions of the emerging youth culture of the 1950s. But when they returned to Cotton College, the boys were once again governed by the age-old traditions and disciplines of seminary life. And like many young seminarians, Cornwell struggled with a natural adolescent rebelliousness, which in one crucial instance provoked a crisis that would eventually lead to his decision to abandon his dream of becoming a priest. Written with tremendous warmth and humor, Seminary Boy is a truly unforgettable memoir and a penetrating glimpse into the hidden world of seminary life.

Seminary Boy Details

TitleSeminary Boy
Author
FormatPaperback
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 18th, 2007
PublisherImage
ISBN0385514875
ISBN-139780385514873
Number of pages334 pages
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography, Religion

Seminary Boy Review

  • Nicholasjordansherwood
    September 4, 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 Confessions. 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 Confessions. 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.
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  • Becky
    March 2, 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.
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  • J.M. Cornwell
    February 3, 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 Seminary Boy 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. Seminary Boy 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.
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  • Stephanie
    September 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.
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  • James T Kelly
    December 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.
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  • David Bisset
    May 1, 2016
    A spiritual odysseyThis 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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  • Beth Withers
    February 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.
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  • Andrew Watson
    March 1, 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...
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  • Cynthia Karl
    April 26, 2009
    This was a memoir written by an Englishman who entered pre-seminary around age 13 in the 1950s. The descriptions of his home life, the period, the place and his time at the seminary make for an interesting read.
  • Therese
    August 21, 2011
    Very interesting insite into what it was like for boys in 1950s England to go to minor seminary (a school for boys that were thinking of joining the priesthood). Really tough experience and a lot of devious things going on, but very interesting nonetheless!
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  • Patricia
    April 18, 2013
    It's not for me.
  • Karen
    December 23, 2010
    an eye opener
  • Sue
    April 11, 2010
    What a family life he overcame!! Interesting to consider that priests need family which they do not have while they counsel people about their lives.. they need friends... a contradiction it seems..
  • Dell
    August 3, 2007
    I love memoirs. As a former Catholic, it was fascinating to me to get an inside glimpse at this former seminarian's upbringing and schooling.
  • Michelle
    September 29, 2012
    Interesting look back at a way of life that's now firmly in the past - the life of a minor seminarian, a boy being groomed to eventually after years of formation become a Catholic priest.
  • Liddy Barlow
    May 24, 2007
    Cornwall describes his experiences at a Catholic boarding school for future priests in the England of the 1950s.
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