Seminary Boy by John Cornwell
A Memoir

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John Cornwell evokes a vanished time and way of life in this moving and, at times, troubling memoir of an adolescence spent in the isolated all-male world of the seminary.

Born into a destitute family with a dominating Irish-Catholic mother and an absconding father during World War II in London, John Cornwell's childhood was deeply dysfunctional. When he was thirteen years old he was sent to Cotton College, a remote seminary for boys in the West Midlands countryside. For the next five years Cornwell lived under an austere monastic regime as he wrestled with his emotional and spiritual demons. In the hothouse atmosphere of the seminary he strove to find stable, loving friendships among his fellows and fatherly support from the priests, one of whom proved to be a sexual predator.

The wild countryside around the seminary, the moving power of church ritual and music, and a charismatic priest enabled him to persevere. But while normal teenagers were being swept up by the rock ’n’ roll era, Cornwell and his fellow seminarians continued to be emotionally and socially repressed. Secret romantic attachments between seminarians were not uncommon; on visits home they were overwhelmed by the powerful attractions of the emerging youth culture of the 1950s. But when they returned to Cotton College, the boys were once again governed by the age-old traditions and disciplines of seminary life. And like many young seminarians, Cornwell struggled with a natural adolescent rebelliousness, which in one crucial instance provoked a crisis that would eventually lead to his decision to abandon his dream of becoming a priest.

Written with tremendous warmth and humor, Seminary Boy is a truly unforgettable memoir and a penetrating glimpse into the hidden world of seminary life.

About John Cornwell

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John Cornwell is an award-winning journalist and the author of numerous novels and works of nonfiction. The director of the Science and Human Dimension Project at Cambridge University, Cornwell lives in Cambridge, London, and England.
Published June 13, 2006 by Image. 336 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Seminary Boy

Kirkus Reviews

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An English writer now in his 60s recalls his wild boyhood and his experiences in "minor seminary," a secondary school for boys preparing to become Roman Catholic priests.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Seminary Boy: A Memoir

The New York Times

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Sadly, this is a conclusion as deeply unsatisfying and disappointing as the rest of Cornwell's account — an account that serves only to confirm the worst stereotypes of Catholic life without elucidating any of what even a recovering Catholic can acknowledge are that life's profound mystical attra...

Jul 02 2006 | Read Full Review of Seminary Boy: A Memoir

The Guardian

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Seminary Boy by John Cornwell 402pp, Fourth Estate, £15.99 A chat with the bishop, a biscuit and a glass of milk, and it's done;

Sep 02 2006 | Read Full Review of Seminary Boy: A Memoir

The Guardian

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Seminary Boy by John Cornwell Fourth Estate £15.99, pp352 John Cornwell, author of bestselling broadsides such as Hitler's Pope and Breaking Faith, is a renowned liberal critic of authoritarianism in the Catholic church.

Oct 01 2006 | Read Full Review of Seminary Boy: A Memoir

Publishers Weekly

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Readers who objected to Cornwell's controversial bestseller Hitler's Pope may not appreciate his portrayal of Catholics in the 1950s, and the memoir police may accuse him of erring on the side of invention, especially since he kept no diaries.

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Book Reporter

No matter where Cornwell looked, he found reasons for guilt: his unwanted erection on a somber Christmas morning, his schoolboy crush on another flirtatious rich boy, and even an old emotional scar: he'd been assaulted by a stranger in a train station after pinching money from his mother's purse ...

Jan 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Seminary Boy: A Memoir

USA Today

John Cornwell's beautifully written Seminary Boy brings alive a hidden world of religious faith and its practitioners.

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