I began my first day at Aquinas as a freshman in September of 1965. Of course, I was more than a little nervous. It was a challenge navigating my way through the halls searching for each classroom where individual subjects would be taught by different faculty members.
During my previous year as an 8th grader at St. Anne's School I had only one teacher for all subjects in a single classroom. This was uncomplicated: Same teacher, same classroom for all subjects. So the task of searching for separate classrooms for different subjects was daunting! And it needed to be accomplished in less than 5 minutes between bells.
At St. Anne's all of the faculty members were women. Half were "lay" women teachers and the others were Sisters of the Immaculate Heart Order. Most of the teachers there were strict but generally "gentle" in demeanor.
The faculty members at Aquinas were all men and about half were priests. It was obvious that the "dynamic" between me and the all- male faculty was going to be different. How different was the question. I was scared!
While I was an 8th grader at St. Anne's there were disturbing rumors circulating about an Aquinas faculty member by the name of Father La Riviere. The older brothers of some of my 8th grade classmates had shared stories about this "mean" man who frequently shouted at students in the classroom. Father La Riviere taught English and Latin at Aquinas and it was widely known that he was a very "hard" teacher. To say that he was "demanding" was an understatement!
So when I showed up at Father La Riviere's classroom on that first day of school he was standing just outside the doorway looking like he was 7 feet tall with his barrel chest and round belly.
He stopped me abruptly with an index finger jabbed into my sternum. In a booming voice he said "Take this sheet of paper, sit down, and be quiet!" I entered the classroom and found a seat. Most of the seats were occupied and you could hear a pin drop. Those who were already seated had experienced the same greeting at the door.
When the bell rang Father La Riviere entered the classroom and slammed the door behind himself. All of us in the classroom were startled by the loud slamming of the door. Most of us flinched!
Then Father La Riviere sat down at his desk in the front of the classroom and began to loudly call the roll. Each of the students would answer "here" or "present" when hearing their name called. Except he did not call my name.
After completing the roll call he asked "Has everyone's name been called?" I raised my hand tenuously and said weakly "my name was not called." Father La Riviere boomed "Speak up! What's your name?" I told him my name in a squeaky voice which drew some nervous laughter from the rest of the class. Father La Riviere said he would look into why my name was not on the list later.
Then Father La Riviere stood up and produced his copy of the sheet of paper that he had handed out to each of us at the door. The header at the top of the paper said "RULES OF THE CLASS." By then each of us had read through the list silently. He barked "follow along as I read them aloud." And he began reading each of the rules (about 8 as I recall) VERY loudly.
Rule # 1: There is to be absolutely NO talking during class unless I call on you!
Rule # 2: Under NO circumstances will any of you touch the chalk or erasers at the black (green) board!
Rule # 3: Under NO circumstances will anyone sit in my chair at my desk. NEVER!
Then Father La Riviere walked around to the front of his desk and pointed to a student sitting at a front row desk and boomed "GET UP!" The student meekly said "Me?" Father La Riviere boomed "Yes, you!"
So the guy got up and stood aside. Father grabbed the top of the student desk top with one hand and lifted the desk up about 90 degrees. I swear that the desk was suspended straight out in front of him and he boomed "See the bottom of this desk? There are supposed to be slats situated across this bottom frame. There are NONE on this desk because some BLOCK HEAD put his feet on the slats and they broke off!
Rule # 4: Under NO circumstances will anyone EVER put their feet on the slats on any desk in this class room!" La Riviere dropped the desk to the floor, barking at the displaced student to reoccupy his seat.
And so it went, as he reviewed the rules of the class. He finished by asking "Is everyone clear on these rules?" There was a murmur throughout the class "Yes we do!" So then Father La Riviere said
"Let's open our English text books to page 8."
Father La Riviere deposited the Rules of the Class paper on his desk and scooped up his English text book and walked over to the student sitting at a front row desk closest to the window and boomed "Stand up!" He asked the student "What is your name?" The student uttered meekly "My name is Jamie Bresinski"
Father La Riviere thumped Jamie in the middle of his chest with his knuckles. La Riviere barked
"Speak loudly, clearly, and distinctly!"
So then Jamie belched out his name loudly, clearly, and distinctly. Father La Riviere said "Very good my son! Now tell me everything you know about a Noun. So then Jamie said meekly "A noun is a person, place or thing."
Father La Riviere thumped Jamie's chest again with his knuckles and barked "Speak loudly, clearly, and distinctly!"
By now almost everyone in the class was laughing out loud at this captivating show. For the next 5 minutes Father La Riviere squeezed everything he could out of Jamie Bresinski about a noun. Then Father La Riviere said softly "You can sit down Bresinski. REST!"
As Bresinski collapsed into his seat Father La Riviere said to the class "If anyone wants to know anything about a NOUN just ask Bresinski. He's an expert!
Then La Riviere asked the next student to stand up and recall everything he knew about a VERB. It was pretty much the same show over again.
It quickly became apparent that it was OK to laugh at the antics of Father La Riviere. Often he laughed as hard as we did. You just had to pay attention and be ready to participate in class. And you had to DO YOUR HOMEWORK and turn it in on time.
There was almost never a dull moment in Father La Riviere's class. He was truly captivating and often times had you sitting on the edge of your seat. And you learned the subject matter!
Contrary to the rumors I heard at St. Anne's, Father La Riviere was not "mean." He was just "strict!". Without a doubt Father La Riviere was the best teacher I ever had. He had very high expectations of each of his students and insisted that they realize their highest potential through hard work and dedication.
Father La Riviere radiated incredible charisma! He was an amazing man and inspired so many to perform at their best! How lucky we were to know him!
P.S. The reason my name was not called was because I was not supposed to be in his English class. I was scheduled to be in Mr. Russell's class. I just assumed that Father La Riviere was the only English teacher at Aquinas. My mistake! However, I was enrolled in Father La Riviere's Latin class which was scheduled for later on that first day. So I witnessed Father La Riviere's opening day antics again in Latin class.