The College of the Holy Cross and the culture of alcoholism

By Rosalie Tirella

Three or so years ago, after scores of InCity Times articles/Tony Hmura ads decrying the lewd, thoughtless and stupid behavior of dead-drunk Holy Cross students (one of our readers wrote us that a HCross couple was having sex in the hallway in the three decker in which she and her child lived!!!), I was at a corner store in the Madison Street/Southbridge street area of Worcester. I was heading to my car when a prepped-out (short haircut, loafer-wearing, no socks) late-40-something-year-old guy came up to me and told me: 1. He was visiting his kid at Holy Cross and could I give him directions to the school and 2. Could I also give him directions to the nearest package store (I think he even said “packie”!).

I was appalled. Here he was: the Holy Cross frat guy all grown up! Just as arrogant as he had been during his Holy Cross days – and, more important to me, just as big an alcoholic.

This weekend he was helping/enabling his kid to become an alcoholic.

I put two and two together: I gave boozer-dad directions to Holy Cross, but I didn’t tell him where the nearest package store was.

Then I got into my car thinking alcoholism IS A GENERATIONAL CURSE. It is passed on and on and on … from grandparents to parents to kids … from holiday parties to birthday bashes to summer cook-outs to wakes and to gatherings of all sorts (both happy and sad), with Holy Cross college being some kind of milestone for young alcoholics. Here the kids were: at school, away from home, under all sorts of pressure, enjoying all sorts of new experiences. Boozing, somehow, made things seem more real. Alcohol was/is a big part of Holy Cross students’ lives. And when Dad visits Holy Cross, he drinks, too, he parties, too. (Especially if there’s a football game! Go Crusaders!)

Drinking is also – and I don’t want to stereotype – an Irish thing. From the beautifully written drinking songs/poems of Robert Burns to the booze-soaked plays of Eugene O’Neil. Holy Cross is filled with Irish kids. Many of whom enjoy all of the above and for whom boozing is part of growing up in an Irish/Catholic family. A few years ago, a magazine article listed the world’s top drinkers. At the top: The Irish. And just so you don’t think I’m being a jerk: Also at the top: WASPS. It seems the Allen Fletchers of the world also love the sauce! Also: a few years ago a magazine article was published on the incredible drinking problem of Ireland. It theme: alcoholism was a national problem for Ireland – with saloons being closed earlier as one solution to an entire nation’s tippsiness!

Holy Cross’ president, the Reverand McFarland, is full of shit when he tells Worcester that he has this boozing thing under control. He doesn’t. How can he, when HCross students’ most important mentors – their parents – are alcoholics? How can Rev. McFarland – even with the help of Worcester cops! – eradicate boozing on his campus and the mayhem that accompanies it, if his students’ parents are doing pretty much the same thing? Only they are doing the same thing in the privacy of their suburban homes back in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

Two things we need to do:

1. Somehow get Worcester cops to make more arrests – being “cuffed,” given a ride in a piss-smelling “paddy wagon,” and spending some time in an equally smelly holding cell – will give many Holy Cross students a scare. Making sure this arrest goes on their records – and publishing the names of the kids in all the newspapers – will shame them into getting help. And make it a three-strikes (three arrests/police raids) and your out – out of Holy Cross. Forever. That’s right, permanent expulsion. There are plenty of bright, upper-middle class kids who don’t have drinking problems and whose parents have a ton of money. Holy Cross can recruit these saner kids/families.

2. Holy Cross needs to have someone – at this point it’s probably The City of Worcester – do an intervention. Grab Holy Cross by its Izod collar and scream: YOU’RE AN ALCOHOLIC! YOU’RE RUINING YOUR LIFE AND THE LIVES OF THOSE AROUND YOU (Caro Street especially!)! GET DE-TOXED! JOIN AA! STOP DRINKING! WE WILL DRIVE YOU STRAIGHT TO A HOSPITAL! NOW!

That’s right. Some of these kids are most likely toxic with booze. Take them to the hospital, get them detoxed and let them know they need to stay on the wagon – forever.

I attended UMass/Amherst in the ’80s. I knew lots of party boys and gals – good kids but crazy. One kid was especially sweet – a bright engineering student from the Boston area. But my God, he loved to guzzle! And guzzle!

Maybe you can booze to your heart’s content as a liberal arts major, but you can’t be an alcoholic, if you’re an engineering student. The math classes are way too hard. The work load way too challenging. You’ll flunk out in a semester.

Sure enough, my pal at UMass failed his engineering courses. He was gone from UMass the next semester. Where’s “Bob”? we all asked. His pal told us: he was being destoxed.

Yup. Detoxed at 19. The nicest kid! I don’t know what happened to “Bob” – he never returned to UMass.

If Holy Cross were WPI – an engineering school – South Worcester would have zero problems. Caro Street would be filled with malnourished looking geeks running to their next classes, their backpacks stuffed with books. Visit WPI. This is exactly what you’ll see on the city’s West Side streets.


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