‘YOU dug up the wrong pipe.’
These portentous words were uttered by the student master on the occasion of a recent student meeting.
It was during our ‘break’ from formal studies and the students in the priory had each been assigned a variety of fascinating and engaging tasks, in keeping with the prevailing philosophical disposition of the student master – namely, that an idle mind is the devil’s playground.
So no idleness was permitted.
But we had dug up the wrong pipe.
Among our many assigned tasks, we had been informed of a leak from a pipe in the grounds that was flooding the cellar and causing havoc to the modest collection of wine that the cellarer – the friar in charge of these matters – had stockpiled over the years.
So we dutifully dug up the pipe, with a view to repairing it.
Once we had unearthed the problematic plumbing, we were perplexed to discover that it did not bear any evidence of a leak.
Because we had dug up the wrong pipe.
We had also been commissioned to ‘clear’ priory hall – the dilapidated building in the grounds that had been built in the 1920s and originally served as the first church and school for the area.
Long having ceased to function as a school, it remained an empty space until nature decided it abhorred a vacuum and filled it with all manner of junk.
Well, nature in co-operation with the friars who lived in the priory over the past few decades.
If something broke – whether a desk or a washing machine – it ended up in priory hall.
When we began our excursus into the exciting world of hard rubbish disposal, you could barely move in the hall for all the accumulated ‘treasure’ that had been stored there.
Describing how this evil was allowed to arise would necessitate a dissertation-length study on the distinction between the causative and permissive will of God, so I will simply say that it seemed rather a daunting task.
Yet after advertising all manner of objet d’art on the internet – from imitation crocodile skin suitcases once owned by now deceased brethren, to a small wheelchair and an old portrait of Pope St John Paul II – we succeeded in clearing a great deal of the space.
However, success has its downside as well.
One of the student friars was so enthused by his success in disposing of unwanted items that he began advertising bits and pieces that were – in his humble opinion – redundant, not just in priory hall, but in the priory itself.
The prior was not impressed.
Enthusiasm and zeal are virtues that ought apparently be applied to religion and not to the disposal of property.
The prior may also have mentioned something along the lines of dreading the sight of an unanticipated ‘For Sale’ sign appearing in front of the priory itself.
So those items were taken down from the internet.
We also had the pleasure of two seminarians staying with us for a few weeks during the ‘break’, while they undertook pastoral work at the local nursing home.
They were a welcome addition to our occasional bouts of board-game playing, though the intensity of Dominican argumentation may have proved a little disconcerting for our visitors.
At one point two student friars, one on each side of a hapless seminarian, were both arguing as forcefully as they could that he ought to trade his resource cards with them rather than some other friar.
They went into great detail as to their respective reasons; hand gestures were employed, Aristotle was alluded to, undying love and affection were promised – the moral character of the seminarian would be defined by his choice in this matter, according to one of these tenacious friars.
We had only just returned from the Salve Procession after Compline, during which we process into the nave of the church singing the Salve Regina, bearing lighted candles and are sprinkled with holy water by the hebdomidarian.
These two board-game playing, argumentative friars had not yet taken off their cappa after returning from the procession – wanting to get straight back into the game after leaving the church – and so they made quite a sight.
I was sitting on the opposite side of the table along with the other seminarian.
Surveying the scene before him, he leaned over to me and said, ‘I think I’ve just got a snap-shot of what the inquisition must have been like.’
I glanced back at my brothers in religion, their faces contorted with the passion of their pleas, forming a wonderful contrast to the perplexed and slightly terrified expression on the face of the seminarian between them.
Modern-day inquisition indeed.
There is also one student friar who is a committed fan of long-distance car trips.
I had heard tell of such people, but had never actually met one before entering a life of religion.
Through his influence, the student body also embarked upon a series of excursions into country Victoria during the ‘break’.
Bendigo was a very pleasant town, though the only gold we found was in the form of deep-fried potato from the local chip shop; a well-earned reward for the dusty travellers who had driven all that way essentially to see the cathedral.
Similarly, Philip Island proved a very engaging experience, despite one of the student friars helpfully circulating an essay-length news article about an insidious flesh-eating bacteria that has recently been plaguing residents on the Mornington Peninsula.
He sent it to us only the day before we left for the bay.
Our enthusiasm was not however dampened by this news – or the drizzly weather – and the prospect of picking up an exotic disease provided an interesting and endless source of conversation during our drive to the island, interspersed with various remarks upon the wildly varying quality and character of different translations of Augustine’s De Trinitate.
You may wonder what I have written here has to do with anything.
Well, people are always asking me what we do on our ‘break’ from formal studies at various point over the course of the university year – now you know.