Dennis Schell – Class of 1968 • Sept. 2018

I attended St. Martin Academy from kindergarten through 8th grade and have very fond memories of it. While it’s true that we had to wear uniforms and spent more time on homework compared to my public school friends, the set of values we were taught, the disciplines we developed, and the superior education was invaluable to me.

I attended Helix High School in La Mesa after St. Martins and didn’t have to crack a book to get straight A’s until halfway through my sophomore year. As a bonus, at Saint Martin’s we periodically got saint’s holidays off from school to the envy of our public school friends.

I was an altar boy and served countless Masses and funerals. My favorite was being the go to guy for reading the Epistle during Mass. I also recall the dichotomy of serving funerals for deceased military veteran parishioners at Fort Rosecrans in Point Loma. It was such a beautiful setting, but watching the surviving family members, I always had to fight off bursting into tears. It taught me at the ripe old age of 8 or 9 that life is precious, and very worth savoring, and to harbor gratitude toward the sacrifices made by everyday heroes.

My favorite priest to serve Mass for was Father John Daly. He was a true character and was beloved by the parishioners. He was always joking with us altar boys. When an altar boy was in training, he was called a statue and was to stay close at the side of an experienced boy and remain still and not make a move until given the sign. There was a lot of repetitive kneeling down, standing up, sitting down, (call it altar choreography) involved, and Father Daly occasionally asked us not to let any of his statues move and fall over. My favorite was when he once started his sermon by advising the congregation, through his thick Irish brogue, that he wanted to quell a rumor going around questioning his age. He said that when the Bible mentions that Jesus taught daily in the temple, he wanted to assure us they weren’t talking about him.

My Saint Martin’s career peaked in the third grade when I, along with Anne Loveberg and Deborah Lint, were chosen to be excused for 3 days from class to be extras in a Robert Mitchum movie being filmed at the San Diego Zoo. (We were chosen because we were A students and could afford the time away from studies. Boy, I must have really had some people fooled!) It was a safari adventure movie, and Elsa Martinelli was the co-star. I was struck by how many people and the amount of equipment it took to film a movie, and how much standing around and waiting was involved. We were dressed as German schoolchildren and I was decked out in britches, lederhosen and a feathered hat. We lined up double file and marched under a camera on a crane overhead with strict instructions not to ever look into the camera. So here I am staring a hole in the camera while I marched along, and inexplicably, it was included during the movie credits and my grandmother in Iowa went to see the movie and witnessed my moment of glory, however fleeting. The best part was when Robert Mitchum came up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders, and started talking to me. I was too stunned to react so I played it cool and we chatted for a few minutes before he left. I was star struck for months after that encounter with one of the world’s biggest movie stars at the time. (But I doubt that I left the same impression on Mr. Mitchum.)
Later in life, I remained in the San Diego area and worked in sales and the legal field. I had 2 paralegal offices in Mission Valley and Oceanside and worked directly for the public. Now semi-retired, I occasionally teach Paralegal Studies at Miramar College and San Diego City College.
I have the fondest memories of St. Martins “old church” that thankfully was preserved, and I remember the construction of the “new” existing church. Another fond recollection was playing our beloved kickball and dodgeball games on the slanted parking lot. Occasionally, despite our best efforts, a ball would get away from us and roll down the hill, out the west parking lot driveway, and onto El Cajon Boulevard. Sometimes, a car would hit the ball, but one day a roaring bus ran over a ball and it exploded with the sound of a cannon. (The ball that is, not the bus.) I don’t know why, but it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. We felt justified leaving the school grounds to go retrieve the pancake ball, but I think my buddy Jack Larson really wanted to duck into Taplin’s Market across the street and score some Good ’N Plenty candy.

I am grateful for the experience of Saint Martin Academy and for the effort my parents made to send my brother and me there. With the limited student population, I was a big fish in a small pond, got a great education, and had more fun than I can remember.  But even though I had my shot, it didn’t make me a movie star.

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