BOOK : A guide for forming Catholic gentlemen and future priests – and a mini rant.

A prelude.

I treasure a copy of a French book of etiquette from long lost decades, Le Livre D’Or Du Savoir-Vivre. Dictionnaire Illustre De La Politesse.  It’s an informative hoot, since much of what it contains is seemingly outdated and, well, continental.  But in some cases it has been helpful.

Also, I remember stories and hints from our old pastor at St. Agnes in St. Paul, Msgr. Schuler, who constantly had young priests, seminarians, men interested in priesthood at the supper table. The evening meal was always formal, served from the kitchen.  We had our places and our proper napkin rings and you were expected to dress for supper.   When you have a lot of men living together, it is important that there be decorum and some feminine presence about the place, in the form of a housekeeper or cook.  Also, once upon a time, as a new priest assigned to the minor seminary, beginning with high school through college, he had been put in charge of teaching etiquette.  They took in young men often straight off the farm, who didn’t have a clue about social graces.   Heck, in Rome in the early 90s we had to help a few guys learn how to eat without causing shock and general revulsion.

That must have been a challenge, in the last years of the 40’s and into the 50’s, and the 90’s, but not as much of a challenge as it would today.

Now to my present point.

At the recent annual Canon Law conference organized by Card. Burke and held at the marvelous Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, some volunteers set up tables with books for purchase. I found a little treasure, in a reprinted book from the ’60s,

Social Manual For Seminarians.


UPDATE: NB that when I posted this, the price was $14.95.  However, I suspect that readers here got the copies that were in stock and they switched to some other, more expensive supplier.  There are other venues.

The contents include headings such as


There are, of course, others.

The book is a practical guide to help the 1960s seminarian be a “Catholic Gentleman”.   This was a necessary part of formation… and remember that seminary back in the day began with HIGH SCHOOL seminaries!

This stuff is important.   Of course, the publisher adds a note:

An intro to the Intro…

A few sample pages…

In the section about… WHEN THE LADIES ARE PRESENT

And also…

Sigh.  As the years are torn off the calendar like flying leaves in the fall, will there be any “ladies”?   The coarseness of young women now is alarming.  It is hardly surprising, really.  Look at entertainment these days.  Who are the most vicious and prolific killers? Women.  Think about it.

But I digress.

I am so glad I don’t have any annoying habits.

And, as ordination approaches, there is some really good advice in this section.  There are an awful lot of things to think about, and this book helps to identify them.

This book is simultaneously a nostalgic hoot and neuralgic poke.  It provokes smiles about lost days and it stimulates desire to recover what has been lost…


Decorum is the key to a great deal of the life of the Church.   Categories from rhetoric are applicable across the board.  Think about how for many centuries rhetoric tied together the whole formation of a young man.  They were to be trained in identifying the bonum, the aptum, the pulchrum.

Decor, that which is seemly.

The right word or gesture at the right time for the right reason.

Choices of gestures and words for the sake of eliciting the chosen effect.

How often I contemplate how liturgical abuses and bad choices and deficient ars celebrandi is not just a violation of law, or the rights of the faithful, or good taste.  They are also a violation of the priest’s own dignity.  They are infra dignitatem.   They manifest a lack of understanding of …

who the Church is,

who the priest is,

Who Christ is.

In any event, this book could be a great starting point for reflection not only among seminarians, but also among young priests.

And let’s not underestimate how parents of young children could take some cues from the helpful observations about “Catholic Gentlemen”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Decorum, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Just Too Cool, Mail from priests, Pò sì jiù, Priests and Priesthood, REVIEWS, Seminarians and Seminaries, The future and our choices and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Seriously…I am going to go digging for that book and order a couple. One for me, and one for a young man I’m lightly acquainted with who will be entering the FSSP seminary this September.

  2. acardnal says:

    “As the years are torn off the calendar like flying leaves in the fall, will there be any “ladies”? The coarseness of young women now is alarming. It is hardly surprising, really. Look at entertainment these days.”

    Just this morning I saw a woman at the grocery store wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed “I’m a nasty woman.” What are we to make of that?

  3. Pius Admirabilis says:

    Whenever the situation should arise that I have dinner with someone, I always observe how they handle their cutlery (knife and fork), and if their technique is refined. There is a lot you can learn about a person if they are handling their cutlery clumsily or completely inappropriately.

  4. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that manners and decorum were phony and that they needed to be dispensed with if one was to be truly “authentic” and “sincere.” Some people who do not agree with this nevertheless seem to consider bad manners as somehow the least of our problems. But in fact it is an ideology that represents a failure of justice and charity. This is a pretty big deal.

    Besides, as a career public defender, I can attest that the ideology of bad manners actually ruins lives. I have seen people end up in the criminal justice system, and even parlay minor offenses into prison sentences, by creating and persisting in situations they could have easily avoided simply by being considerate of others.

  5. samwise says:

    St Agnes’ own Pastor, Fr Moriarty, will be speaking on masculinity this weekend at UST:
    Additionally, Dr Savage’s “masculine genius” thesis will be a key topic. My wife and I will be in attendance

  6. aquinasadmirer says:

    Not sure if this is duplicate info, but Roman Catholic Books sells this too…

  7. Taryn says:

    Father Z, a response to your comment about today’s ladies:
    Looking back, I came to realize I learned most of what being a lady is (and how she is to be treated) from my father. He helped shape my self-worth, and did so in a different way than what a mother or other female does. There is much a father can do in a daughter’s childhood to instill good qualities before adolescence or popular culture gets a hold of her. Dads have more influence than they are given credit for.
    Lastly, the section of the book on “when ladies are present” should applicable to more than simply priests.

  8. Charles E Flynn says:


    Very helpful, as prices on Amazon’s remaining copies are higher, and Bookfinder has one that is used for $859.

  9. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr Z:

    I read this book about 14-15 years ago. I did agree that some of it is humorous, like getting a haircut every two weeks and how to smoke a cigarette without getting ashes scattered (it was c.1961), and I do agree that many items hold true today, like table manners.

    I had a job for a long time where 60-70 hour workweeks were common. My table manners got really lousy because I was either absolutely starving when I sat down for dinner or I had dinner at home in an apartment or with a buddy. It took me a little while to adjust when I got a job with better hours, and when I worked in an office more I had to clean up my trashy mouth because I was not on a construction site or a plant site. I also learned that when I would eat with friends (and when I had a date) I had to be extra careful with manners (napkin in place, silverware, pull out chairs, don’t eat too fast, let others talk, etc.) Even today, I am still careful about how I eat in the company of friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

    A man living like a hermit gets rusty in his social graces. This is one reason that single people (particularly under 35) are encouraged to have a roommate. It is healthy, saves money, and things like sharing, respecting spaces, and compromise keep each other from getting too set in their ways.

  10. Ed S says:

    Common courtesy and respect are out of fashion. I am old enough that my parents taught me and my brothers to respect women. We had four sisters. I still open doors for anyone regardless of gender. I am no longer surprised when I am scolded by liberated woman who are offended by what used to be called chivalry. My mother taught me is my response.

    When I was substitute teaching in the public school system for over ten years,I was in great demand by the administration simply because I did not accept boorish behavior from any student. Their teachers were used to it and rarely addressed it until it became too bad to ignore. I was educated in the parochial system where we were “encouraged” to be gentlemen. My sisters were shown how to be ladies. I told students that they would be treated as ladies and gentlemen, until they proved otherwise. Surprisingly, there were very few who challenged that approach. In a few rare instances, students actually complemented my approach as classroom demeanor improved and even they noticed!

    I will purchase this book as a reference for my son and son-in- law. They may chuckle but both are in responsible positions and will learn from it. I read Dress For Success years ago. It is still relevant in many instances. This book should be the new guide for any gentleman in what has become a too often rude society.

  11. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Was it Susan from the parish council?

  12. JARay says:

    I am an old man now but I still remember the dictum which I learned as a child :-
    “Manners maketh the man”

  13. John21 says:

    My younger sister is fond of watching vintage films of the Audrey Hepburn era, so whenever I’m home on a break (I’m a college student), I sometimes sit down with her and watch parts of those movies.

    What draws me in the most and grasps my interest is just how…different people acted back then. It was almost as if there was a respected science or an art form (or maybe a combination of both) to simply going outside and interacting with the general public.

  14. Anneliese says:

    I agree that our society lacks manners. Just this afternoon I was getting off a bus and a young guy essentially block my way out so he could get on before I even had a chance to get off. And just yesterday an elderly woman used a string of profanities at a man who asked to see if he had forgotten an item in his seat.

    However, which prolific female killers are you referring to, Father? I want to know which women are as prolific as a Bundy or Gacey, Green River killer, etc.? Besides Eileen Wurnos.

  15. Longinus says:

    When I was a young seminarian, brand new to the major seminary (in those days it was the last two years of college and then four years of theology) the rector told us “Gentlemen, we could teach you all you need to be ordained three years. We keep you here for six years to teach you how to eat with a knife and fork.”

  16. APX says:

    When I was 12 my aunt suggested to my parents that they send me to etiquette/finishing school to “help build confidence”. While I appreciate everything it taught me, and I’ve retained most of it, it makes me frustrated trying to get along in a society that that doesn’t follow said rules and annoyed when people don’t know how to eat in a formal setting. I was at a wedding this summer and my parents and I got seated at a table of dancers and their boyfriends (we were the first table to get to eat, so I forgive my cousin for this seating arrangement), but it was like trying to eat with the uncultured and crass. Who doesn’t know how to properly eat a bread roll or which bread plate is theirs. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  17. William says:

    I’m neither a seminarian nor a priest, but gosh if those annoying habits didn’t describe half my day!

    We all have things to work on, Father :)

  18. teomatteo says:

    APX, if i sat at table and made an ‘OK’ sign with both hands, the left would be a small ‘b’ for bread and the right hand would make a small ‘d’ for drink. Is that right?

  19. APX says:

    Yes, teomatteo. Also, the proper way to eat a roll is to tear small pieces off and butter them individually.

  20. Unwilling says:

    ” Look at entertainment these days. Who are the most vicious and prolific killers? Women.”
    I assumed Father was referring to the fictional 007-licensed, spies, hit-women, etc. that Hollywood has been providing in equal-opportunity fashion for the last couple of decades; e.g. Bonnie, Thelma & Louise, Mrs. Smith, Nikita, Colombiana, and so forth. Whether such women are “the most” bloody, I am not sure; but there are a lot of them.

  21. justanothermom says:

    It’s a reference to Trump calling Hilary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the 2016 campaigns. So, while not exactly a comforting explanation, it at least rules out other disagreeable meanings.

  22. Semper Gumby says:

    Etiquette and decorum, great post and comments.

    Anneliese: Good comment, though Fr. Z put it this way (per Unwilling’s comment):

    “The coarseness of young women now is alarming. It is hardly surprising, really. Look at entertainment these days. Who are the most vicious and prolific killers? Women.”

    Father was referring to movies and TV. Which reminds me of a NY Times article that at first was skeptical of the “fetishization of hyper-violent females” in movies, then proudly declared that these actresses are “defying gender roles.” My guess, is that almost all of those actresses are anti-2nd Amendment and pro-abortion.

    Instead of grinding out feminist fantasies and movies based on comic books (I heard Thor and James Bond will now be female), Hollywood has an untapped gold mine of movie heroines in the women who served in the OSS in WW II, used firearms to defend their homes against intruders, etc.

    Generally speaking, men and women both can use etiquette lessons these days, though there are an unusual number of women who enjoy behaving as immature sailors on shore leave.

    “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.” – Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon

    acardnal: Perhaps she is alerting fellow citizens that her skills in personal hygiene are sub-par, and that normal people should keep their distance…

  23. acardnal says:

    Semper Gumby, you are probably right. I definitely kept my distance.

  24. acardnal says:

    Semper Gumby, I saw her fondling fruit so I immediately avoided the area and went directly to the canned fruit section.

  25. Cafea Fruor says:

    Decorum is sorely lacking these days. My daily bus ride is a daily foray into uncouth-ness. From people talking loudly about personal matters into their cell phones, to people clipping their toenails and leaving the clippings on the bus floor, to healthy people refusing to give up a seat to someone in need, to people taking the aisle seat and not moving to let someone use the window seat, to people sucking their snot instead of using a tissue or handkerchief, to people yelling across the bus instead of sitting next to their companion and talking at a normal volume, it’s pretty depressing how bad it is. Many, many people don’t even greet the driver.

    Then there are little glimmers of hope. One young man on my bus (who actually wears a fedora and pocket square with his suit!!) gives up his seat for women and the elderly, refers to his fellow riders as Sir or Ma’am, etc. One time, I’d dropped my winter hat without realizing it when I got up to get off at my stop, and just before I exited, he saw it, grabbed it and followed me with, “Pardon me, ma’am, you dropped your hat.” It’s so refreshing. Sometimes, I’d prefer to stand if I’ve been sitting all day at my desk, but if he (or any other man) offers a seat, I take it anyway for the sake of promoting considerate acts like that. Too bad he’s married! (I checked–there’s a ring.) Some lady caught herself a good guy.

  26. Anneliese says:

    Thank you, Semper Gumby. I apologize to Father for not reading more carefully. And speaking of violent women in entertainment:

    Courtesy of Life Site:

    Strange times.

  27. Semper Gumby says:

    acardnal: Canned fruit is a Boon from God. Open it a little you got pineapple juice, open it more you got pineapple. Impressive.

    Cafea Fruor: Thanks for the great “little glimmers of hope” story.

    Anneliese: You’re welcome.

    That movie is an indicator that “Democrats” really, really don’t like to lose an election. Which is precisely why they should lose more.

    Strange times indeed…but all to the Glory of God.

    “It was the best of times,
    it was the worst of times,
    it was the age of wisdom,
    it was the age of foolishness,
    it was the epoch of belief,
    it was the epoch of incredulity,
    it was the season of Light,
    it was the season of Darkness,
    it was the spring of hope,”

    – A Tale of Two Cities

    [1] All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. [2] A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. [3] A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. [4] A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. [5] A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

    [6] A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. [7] A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. [8] A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace. [9] What hath man more of his labour? [10] I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it.

    [11] He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end. [12] And I have known that there was no better thing than to rejoice, and to do well in this life. [13] For every man that eateth and drinketh, and seeth good of his labour, this is the gift of God. [14] I have learned that all the works which God hath made, continue for ever: we cannot add any thing, nor take away from those things which God hath made that he may be feared. [15] That which hath been made, the same continueth: the things that shall be, have already been: and God restoreth that which is past.”

    Ecclesiastes 3

  28. The Cobbler says:

    Alas, I’ve known a Trump-hating nasty woman and far from ruling out worse things, it can be an excuse for them.

    You become what you identify with, much like how you become what you hate.

  29. The Cobbler says:

    I’ve always found it difficult to butter a whole roll. Thank you for revealing the solution to my problem!

  30. un-ionized says:

    Ah. I’m sick of men grabbing my hand for a shake. I recently gave the family silver to a young relative. “What’s this?” “A crumber, for removing crumbs from the table cloth.”Table cloth!? And what are these?” “Fish knives.” “Fish knives?!” Surrounded by pizza eating savages.

  31. Semper Gumby says:

    un-ionized: You make a good point about etiquette.

    Though, your “pizza eating savages” evokes a pleasant, bucolic scene: shaggy barbarians wearing horned helmets sitting around a campfire gripping their spears, gazing expectantly at an iron kettle bubbling with sauce while a large chunk of pepperoni roasts on a spit.

    We gotta figure out a way to make them a member of NATO.

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