​Aquinas Discipline

In the blink of an eye, we saw the student’s body disappear through the open window, where only certain injury or death awaited four stories below. Before we could say Hail Mary, a white habit was streaking thru the air with outstretched hands, diving and catching the student’s legs in midair. Hitting the floor, Fr. George G. Maley O.P., managed to hold on and brought the student back into the classroom. None of the 30 other students had moved. Then a collective gasp of relief filled the air. Stunned, Fr. Maley sat on the floor with the student. He yelled at the class “Put your heads on the desks.” and then sat down at his desk and did the same. He had just slapped the student with such force that the student went backwards out the window. The students in the class were now totally silent in disbelief and remained so until the end of class. 

This was an actual and very real event that terrified all the students in the class and Fr. Maley himself. It was the most dangerous and dramatic disciplinary action I ever witnessed or heard about while attending Aquinas College High School, Columbus, Ohio. Fr. George G. Maley was well liked. He had an easy going personality and was the school’s sports photographer. I never knew what caused him to slap the student. However, I do recall that he never struck another student in our class for the rest of the year. 

Aquinas College High School was well known for its discipline. We were called Men of Aquinas from the time we entered Aquinas to our graduation day. Acting anything less like a man meant facing some type of discipline. 

I was lucky. In my four years at Aquinas, I was slapped only twice.
The first time was in my freshman year algebra class. It was midwinter and the window was open 12 inches next to me. Snow was blowing onto my test paper and smearing the ink. (Yes! we used real fountain ink pens.) I got up and closed the window. As I turned around, Fr. William L. Smith, O.P. smacked me across the face knocking me sideways into the window frame. It seems he had opened the window before class and liked fresh air. That night my face was swollen and I found out my dental plate was broken. My dad asked me what happened, and I told him the truth. Dad had graduated from Aquinas in 1929, and to him Dominican priests could do no wrong, so obviously I must have done something really bad to upset the priest. Mom thought otherwise!

 Mom called Fr. James G. Crombie, O.P. the President of Aquinas, who listened to her, and then told her he would check it out. Fr. Crombie called back an hour later. Mom & dad listened on separate extensions, while Fr. Crombie explained how I had upset Fr. William L. Smith O.P., by closing the window without asking permission during a test. Mom pointed out that Fr. William Smith had broken my dental plate and his use of force seemed extreme. My dad took the explanation as an apology, and told Fr. Crombie that if any priests hit me again, “they should not hit him in the mouth”. It cost $125 to repair the dental plate.

In my senior year, fifteen or so seniors were having a giant snowball fight on the track near Fr. John R. Smith’s office. Ice balls, not snowballs hit the windows of Fr. Smith’s office and broke a window, just missing Fr. John Segren O.P. No one admitted making the infamous ice balls so our just punishment was a slap on the face by Fr. Segren. I say just punishment because he could have been injured by the ice ball and broken glass. The slap really did not hurt that much.

Our families sent us to Aquinas, fully aware that it had a Dean of Discipline – Fr. John R. Smith O.P. No other high schools had a named Disciplinarian. A student placing his hands on Fr. Smith’s glass desk-top would quickly find out why they called Fr. Smith ‘Frog’. He would spring from his chair with lightning speed, thus scaring the student with a push or shove.

In addition, the teachers were also known for disciplining their classes, sometimes physically. In the 50’s and 60’s, a “good Catholic” did not question the actions of a Priest or Nun. Sisters in Catholic schools still disciplined children by hitting them with rulers, and sometimes paddling. Priests were our conduit to God and spoke God’s word. A priest was never challenged for any action and his command always obeyed.

At Aquinas, the teachers were Dominican mendicant friars (priests), trained to preach the word of God. They were never formally taught how to teach high school students. At Aquinas, they were assigned a class and told to teach it. The priests learned on the job at the expense of the students. Some were natural teachers, some were not. Discipline was a means of controlling the students in the classroom. New teachers were given hints from older teachers.

In 1961, under the guise of discipline, one new teacher, small in stature, was told by an older teacher, how to control his class -- “He should daily berate and harass the largest student in class to show the class who was in charge”. The priest followed this advice and picked on one student. That student had no one he could trust to help him stop the harassment and bullying of the priest. His parents thought priests were always right, and could do no harm. This continual harassment and bullying during his freshman year caused the student problems, even into his adult life. It took many years for this man to overcome his hatred for the priest. Using harassment and bullying under the guise of discipline was unconscionable. The harassment and bullying should have been stopped and condemned at the time. Unfortunately, it was not. I did not know about this until years later when I asked various alumni about the discipline they personally encountered at Aquinas. A few alumni, including this person, told me about being slapped, harassed, berated, or bullied by priests, or witnessing it, at different times during their days at Aquinas. However, this one teacher did it continually to one student whose fellow classmates verified his story.  

In this 2016 world, the physical discipline administered by ALL Catholic schools, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, would cause criminal charges to be filed against the school, teachers, and perhaps the parents. Human nature has not changed, instead the world has changed. Today, continual harassment and bullying by a teacher would be despicable and criminal. 

Yes, there was discipline at Aquinas College High School. Although it sounds harsh today, that discipline, or even the threat of it, did prepare us for the realities of life. Unfortunately, the discipline is mentioned more than the everyday routine classes and studies, or the outstanding extracurricular activities that we enjoyed. Many of us enjoyed our high school days at Aquinas, but to a few it was hell. Often we remember only the good times and forget the bad. Ah! Selective memory.


Thomas Aquinas Burke
Aquinas College High School Class of 1963
Columbus Ohio 
19-22 August 2016

  P. S. My fellow classmate and friend Bob Bower, after reading a draft of this story, sent
  the following message:

  “My recollection of the story is that Fr. Maley slapped the student again as soon as he 
 had recovered him from danger. Fr. Maley then told the student that this second slap was for trying to leave the room without his permission.”

On older memories, here’s what Mark Twain had to say:“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened”. Bob

Addendum from classmate Larry Haldeman:

“Tom, on your Aquinas discipline article, I was the student, and as far as I can remember, this is what actually happened. It was the day after the parent/ teacher conference , Fr. Maley had asked that any student who had not completed their homework to stand up. There were about 5 or 6 of us that stood. When he got to me, all he said was “Haldeman, your mother is so sweet”, and then he hit me. All I can remember was falling out the window and him grabbing my legs as I was going out. After that I sat back down and it was all over. He never slapped me again, and we actually got along very well the next 3 1/2 years. I never mentioned it to my parents or anyone else. Larry Haldeman - 5 October 2016” 

TAB note: I could not honestly remember who went out the window. The fact someone did was so unbelievable and mind-numbing that, over the years, I often questioned myself whether it really happened. It did. I thought it was in our Religion class our junior year. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. 


Thomas Aquinas Burke
5 October 2016