“Suspend your belief or disbelief and fully engage your imagination … let yourself go.” Saint Mary’s spirited storyteller, Brother Michael Meister, prefaces his haunted tour of the Saint Mary’s College with this disclaimer - to open our minds and allow these legends to exist somewhere in our consciousness.
Despite an unnaturally warm day in October, the longtime theology professor sends chills down our spines, detailing nine stories of deaths, disappearances and eerie occurrences as he guides our class around campus. We learn the tragic story of Amy, a young girl starring in a production at the old theater that no longer exists. She and her parents were killed in a head-on collision on the icy roads of Moraga and it’s said she still haunts the campus. Drama students consider her “part of the cast,” says Brother Michael. Apparently she is a cheerful spirit: “She laughs, she cries, she turns the lights on and off, and she moves props.”
Our group marches down to Aquinas Hall, which was known as the morgue when Meister lived there because it was so quiet. Thirty years ago, a group of students discovered that a girl was living in one of the attic closets, Meister said, though it seemed doubtful considering their small size and perpetual darkness. She appeared from her hidden room one time only to be cornered by a group of students, who were trying to find out her identity. She climbed out one of the fourth-floor windows and onto the wet roof, where she lost her footing, slipped and dangled high above the ground from a gutter. Suddenly she fell. But the fire department said the cause of death wasn’t the fall; instead, they said, she died of fright.
Not many students at Saint Mary’s today know that there once was a lake, long since dried up, behind Assumption Hall. Students were prohibited from swimming in or rafting on the deep lake, yet on a warm Saturday night, three football players decided to head out on the water for a bit of fun. The first boy to jump in never came up. After an exhaustive search, no body was ever found. Years later, when the sewage system on campus experienced some problems, a section of blocked pipe was removed, and skeletal remains were discovered. The bones belonged to the football player who never returned to the surface. He was identified by the initials inscribed inside his school ring – still on his finger.
A well-known campus superstition revolves around the catacombs, an extensive system of tunnels spanning the underground realm of the entire campus and more. In previous years, it was a favorite place for adventurous students to explore on a whim, though not everyone has made it out in the same condition as when they went in.
After venturing underground with friends, Meister said, one student got so hopelessly turned around in the tunnels that it was impossible to find him, even with a search team. Three days later, he was discovered at a dead end, eating dirt and curled up: he had gone completely mad. The student spent the rest of his years in a mental hospital, never recovering from his horrific experience in the catacombs.
Not everyone believes in ghost stories, though they do seem a bit more realistic when you are standing right where they are said to have occurred. Brother Michael lights up when he recounts the many terrors faced by students on campus. Whether or not these stories are factual, if we open our minds, the stories exist, if only in our imaginations.