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Love and loyalty through the years

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They are fathers and grandfathers now; most have retired. A few are priests. Sadly, more than a few have died. They have regular reunions because they formed a brotherhood many years ago and want to stay in touch with each other and a school they loved.

Father William J. Byron,
SJ

Back in 1956, the U.S. Congress passed legislation that taxed four cents from the price of every gallon of gasoline sold and put those pennies into a fund to build the interstate highway system. The purpose of the system was to pull the country together for economic advancement and military security and it enabled Dinah Shore to sing to all "tele-viewers" that we should "see the USA" in our Chevrolets. We've been on the road ever since.

I was a Jesuit scholastic teaching at Scranton Prep in Pennsylvania when the interstate highway network was launched. Some of the boys I taught graduated in 1958. That class gathered for a reunion a few weeks ago (as they now do every two years) and were kind enough to invite me.

They are fathers and grandfathers now; most have retired. A few are priests. Sadly, more than a few have died. They have regular reunions because they formed a brotherhood many years ago and want to stay in touch with each other and a school they loved.

Some still live in Scranton. Others fly in from all around the country. Still others use the now-complete interstate highway system to drive in without passing through the many small towns and big cities that were familiar boyhood sights. Those Main Streets with their restaurants and stores have now faded into memory.

Gasoline tax pennies still pour into that highway fund. The system is now about 47,000 miles long. Think of what it costs to build one mile of modern highway, then multiply that figure by 47,000 and you can get an idea of the number of pennies that had to be accumulated to build the interstate highway system. The gas tax for highways is now a little over 18 cents per gallon and occasional infusions from general funds are needed to keep the highway system in repair.

Now that we have our sprawling interstate highway system, we can get there -- wherever there is -- quicker, but we no longer drive through the small towns. We no longer savor the soups and stews that the old restaurants served up, and we no longer enjoy those old hotels and special stores that lined Main Street after Main Street in the towns we no longer see. Much has been gained, but much has also been lost along the way.

The telephone company used to advertise that we should "reach out and touch someone" by making calls that enable us to have contact without, however, actually touching other human beings. My former students, now well along in their eldering years, are wise to make a special effort to get together -- face to face -- for reunion meals, recreation, Mass and lots of conversation.

The bonds that they first forged as boys have deepened considerably. Their Catholic faith has also deepened, although the Catholic Church that still holds their allegiance does so in a noncoercive, nonthreatening way.

They have "kept the faith," as we like to say. They have also kept in touch with the love and loyalty that began in their prep school years.

Father Byron is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.

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