Mount Paul Novitiate was a cloistered religious retreat on a small lake in the middle of a thousand acres of forest in New Jersey’s Picatinny Mountains, about 50 miles due west of New York City. When 30 young men from across America showed up there in September 1962, we were a wary bunch of college wise guys, gingerly sticking our toes in the water of a vowed religious life, testing vocations to the priesthood. The Catholic Church we were signing up to serve, it seemed, had not changed since the Council of Trent in the 16th century. And that was fine with us. We wore loafers, chinos, crew neck sweaters. We were attuned to Chubby Checker, J.D. Salinger, Duke Ellington. Yet we were embracing a discipline forged in another era, putting on black cassocks, taking on Gregorian chant — casting off “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
Already we were drawn by the aesthetic glories of high medieval culture, the church’s global order, Catholic timelessness, moral rigor — all symbolized by the Latin Mass. If ours was a damning God, ruthlessly consigning enemies (whether godless Communists or the Protestants next door) to the eternally boiling lake of fire, we knew that, as Catholics, we were among God’s elect. One day, as priests, we would be God’s elite.