Frederick. W. Chesson                                           File: LF\SJ.ART 
144 Fiske Street,         
Waterbury, CT  06710                              		Cpr FWC 1994,95 
         
         
         
         
         
         
                          "GOOD INTENTIONS GONE AWRY"       
                                      or         
                    The Rise and Fall of Saint James School         
         
				   Part 2     
                               School is Open 
    
     As the transformed school opened, Francis issued a policy statement, 
appearing in the New Britain Hearld's September 23 issue. The new
headmaster boasted of the importance of his year-round school-camp program 
under the over-all aegis of the Leo Foundation. Its goal was to mold the 
total-boy in a controlled environment (free of such distractions as blue 
jeans, loud music and the Opposite Sex) thus producing a mature, or at 
least a well-disciplined, specimen of Young America.  Even "Problem Boys" 
could be accommodated, just as at Camp Leo, a policy to be fraught with 
dire consequences within a few years. 
     The Foundation was presented as a major force in world education,  
although unfortunately not then recognized in any directory.  Among other  
"factual adjustments" was the school's advertised founding date of 1936, 
a year relevant only to Francis' graduation from Southington High School. 
Indeed, in subsequent editions, it varied from 1951 to 1956.  Neither were 
St. James or Camp Leo ever members of any major camp or school association. 
 
     To found a school requires far greater resources, determination and  
flexibility than operating a summer camp. And to open a very conservatively
-oriented school at the beginning of what was to become the most permissive
era in American Society would require unusual tact and flexibility...qualities  
unfortunately not in Leonard Francis' internal guidance system.  He also 
lacked academic qualifications, having failed to complete a Masters Degree 
in Education at Yale, alough sometimes titling himself as such in various 
advertisements. Likewise, his legalistic mind-set, honed while assisting 
at summary Courts Martial while in the navy, would prove a doubled-edged 
future asset. 

     Nevertheless, St. James' first years were marked by a rapid growth. 
Possibly, the escalating Cold War jitters over potential nuclear attacks on 
the Greater New York City Area may well have caused some parents to seek a 
less potential target area for their sons' education. By early 1955, St. 
James had its own Scout Troop No. 60, and soon its basketball and baseball 
teams were meeting other schools, especially Cheshire Academy, though 
usually at a JV level.   
     The Brandegee House, a historic landmark across from the Berlin Town 
Hall on Worthington Ridge, was acquired as a staff residence and office 
for camp and school, which were now advertised in the New York Times, 
Herald Tribune, Boston Globe and various monthlies and school guides.  
Soon, students from Canada and South America were arriving at St. James, 
mostly via Camp Leo. 
     In 1957, the school's drum band appeared in the Saint Patrick's Day 
Parade in New Haven, where its performance caused Arch-Bishop O'Brien 
to award them a "Free Day" from their studies.  They were also marched
in the first state-wide Loyalty Day Parade, held in Waterbury on May 5th.   
 
     1957-58 were probably the peak years for St. James, with 70 students 
reported in grades 4 through 12. The Connecticut State Department of Education 
added it to a roster of approved private schools. Admission was only by 
competitive examination, but with scholarships for "deserving boys" at 
both school and Camp Leo. 
     Religious duties were strictly observed, several students being cited 
in the Saint James Dispatch for attending Mass every day of Lent in 1958.  
Summers at Camp Leo were mandatory for most Catholic boarders, all in 
accordance with the Foundation's "Full Education" ethic.     
     Shorts were also mandatory most of the year on the St. James campus, 
for all but the top upper-class men.  Old-fashioned knickers and high-
laced boots, dating from Francis' own boyhood, were reluctantly allowed 
in winter for those having good grades and deportment.  Day students who 
had to walk any distance, were particularly embarrassed by the conspicuous 
attire, leading to dismissals or withdrawals.  Over thirty years later, 
one former pupil's only comment on life at St. James was a terse: "It 
sucked!"  Another fellow class-mate denied ever attending the place at all. 
     Boarders who had earned a rare weekend home were especially challenged 
not to have to arrive bare-kneed before whistling and finger-poking peers.  
Until Francis personally saw his Dress Blue-clad inmates off on the New 
York train, many found ways to switch to mufti at the Berlin railroad 
station. One rather inventive lad managed to secrete his forbidden longies 
within the interior of a snare drum which he carried between school and 
home to ostensively keep up with his band practice. 
     By way of illustration of the "St. James Look," a photo from the January
21, 1957 Herald showed three St. James teenagers at a town-sponsored event 
given for Berlin's seventh and eighth-graders, and rather naively-titled a 
"Play Party." Wearing dress-shirts and ties with their shorts and knee-socks, 
the trio look the acme of acute self-consciousness, and demonstrate most 
bleakly that cruelty is not necessarily confined to physical abuse alone.... 
    
     As the Fifties waned, the increasing forces of social change heralded 
severe stresses to private schools in general, and St. James in particular.  
Most of the original Camp Leo students had left and their replacements 
were bringing new disciplinary problems.  Such were the probable causes of 
the infamous "Gas Dryer Incident" of February 5th, 1959.  The event, 
reportedly not unique, saw Francis forcing a boy into a large clothes dryer 
and briefly turning on the gas. Other students released the victim before 
serious injury had occurred.  
     According to a contemporary, the "victim" was no angel, but instead
the ranking school bully, who once broke a smaller boy's arm with a base-
ball bat out of pure malice.  Others of his ilk reportedly engaged in 
organized mayhem against day students, younger boarders and even the
neighborhood children.  Despite such anti-social behavior, Francis kept 
the troublemakers on, either for their tuition income, or as a challenge 
to his boast of being able to reform any "problem boy," a goal now made 
increasing difficult as the new decade of the "Swinging Sixties" arrived....

     School opened in September, 1960 with clear signs of decline. The 
once acclaimed marching unit had disbanded and there was a lack of staff. 
To speed work on the gymnasium, designed by Francis, himself, students 
were required to carry cinder blocks up to the masons' work platforms, 
high above ground.  
     One former sixteen-year-old day student recounted how he was drafted 
into teaching math to younger boys and later to over-night "house mother" 
duties. He also reported seeing Francis, brandishing a chain, chase a 
scantily-clad youth across the snow covered grounds early in 1961. These 
and other "events" led to his early departure, along with at least one 
staff member and eight other students.  
     Many of the escapees went over to the new Laurel Crest Academy in 
nearby Bristol, which had a brief career in prep school excellence, 
before following its founder into retirement, a few years later. 
     Thus, Leonard Francis entered the fateful month of April, 1961, to 
face the dual consequences of excessive disciplinary zeal plus an
inflexibility to adapt to a rapidly-changing social scene.   
        
     The festering situation broke on April 5th, when two sets of parents  
complained to State Police Commissioner Leo J. Mulcahy that their sons, 
aged 15 and 19, had received excessive corporal punishment. 
     Following his April 14th arrest, Francis struck back with a $100,000   
slander suit against various police officials, claiming they had made such 
defamatory statements as: St. James had a fast turnover of both staff and 
students, that up to 75 percent of the students would be withdrawn, that 
because of excessive corporal punishment there were many runaways, that 
Francis took photos of the beaten boys both at Camp Leo and St. James, 
and that the school had become known as an "institution" in the state.      
     Indeed, some Berliners were referring to the place as "Mr. Francis' 
Ding Dong School," after a childrens' TV program presided over by one 
Miss Frances Horowitz.  Others, more darkly, regarded St. James as "that 
private reform school." 
     On April 18th, Francis was further charged with four counts of 
causing injury or risk to a minor, bail being set at $2,500. The headmaster
defended his disciplinary procedures on the grounds that many of his 
pupils were "problem boys," an open admission that the student body now 
had emotional and social difficulties, as well as academic challenges.    
     In the pre-trial interval, Francis was apparently banned from the 
campus, reportedly enabling a hard core of eight or ten "super-problem 
boys" to make life especially harrowing for staff and pupils alike.  One 
victim was nearly hanged, after a kangaroo court held at midnight in the 
unfinished gymnasium. 
 
     After protracted continuances, trial was held on Friday, June 30, 1961, 
at Superior Court in Hartford.  In what seems to have been a plea bargain, 
Francis admitted to two Cruelty to Persons charges.  For the infamous Dryer 
Incident, he was given a rather token fine of $50, and received a suspended 
Indefinite Sentence for a February 5th beating a student who had failed to 
wear his rubbers.  The State's Attorney, John D. LaBelle, revealed to the 
Court that Francis made his victims remove their pants and underwear before 
beating them with a hairbrush and a variety of belts and whips. Punishments 
were meted out for such "infractions" as poor grades, spending too much 
money, crooked knee-socks, failing to work on the new gym and...shame of 
shames...sitting with a girl at a school basket-ball game! 
     In a tacit admission that the slander action was untenable, Francis
dropped his suit a short time later. But a host of other legal actions, 
especially volving the tuition contracts of ex-students, were prosecuted 
with vindictive zeal, one Waterbury parent being pursued through the 
courts for some six years. 
 
     Notoriety, this time tragic, soon intruded on St. James again.  On
Saturday, September 8th, 1962 (LWF's 44th Birthday) David King, newly
graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, arrived to teach 
Music and History. Although near the top of his class, and Phi Beta Kappa, 
his academic successes were off-set by deep personal problems, including 
the recent suicide of his faculty mentor and close friend. 
     Thus, only three days later, young King slashed his wrists and throat 
in a spectacular suicide, which saw blood seep down through the floor of 
his bed room in one of the old Merricourt School houses, called the Cottage. 
The tragedy cast a pall of increasing doubt on St. James' viability, as the
already uncertain era of the Sixties continued to unfold.... 
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