BEFORE Tom Cruise was a Scientologist, he was a Roman Catholic. For Cruise’s 50th birthday and as Cruise’s third marriage was unravelling, Father Ric Schneider, of the Order of Friars Minor, who recruited Cruise for the seminary decades ago, mailed him a photo, as a memento.
Father Ric took the photo when Cruise was 14, and known by his family name, Mapother. In the photo, Cruise is standing with a boy by a pond. A smiling Cruise is holding a radio-controlled boat the boys built in the hobby shop at St Francis seminary, outside Cincinnati in Mt Health, Ohio.
“A cute little kid,” Father Ric says. Cruise, like most of his classmates, attended the seminary for the education, not to become a priest. But he shared the others’ devout routine. “You went to daily mass, you went to morning prayer, you went to evening prayer, you prayed before meals, you prayed after meals,” Cruise’s classmate, Don Weller, says. “He was well-indoctrinated ... For him to totally shut himself off was just amazing.”
Cruise went to the seminary after hearing Father Ric give a talk at St Raphael the Archangel school in Louisville, Kentucky. Cruise’s mother had moved there with her son and three daughters after leaving his father. The mother had instructed her children to have their bags packed but hidden. The father followed his family to Louisville but there was no reconciliation. The couple divorced shortly after Cruise’s 13th birthday. Cruise was to have attended his father’s alma mater, St Xavier high school, in Louisville, but Father Ric’s seminary was an alternative.
Father Ric visited the boy’s home and spoke to the mother. “Nice home, nothing fancy,” the priest recalls.
The priest administered the standard IQ test to Cruise to determine if he was capable of college-prep-level studies. “He just made it,” Father Ric says.
Father Ric drove Cruise to the seminary on a Friday. Cruise attended class on Saturday, and on Sunday Father Ric drove him home.
Cruise enrolled, but not to become a priest.
“It was pretty obvious,” Father Ric says. “I think he went there to get an education. I didn’t get a sense he was serious about the priesthood or the religious life.”
In the fall of 1976, Cruise joined 67 other freshmen at the seminary. The superior, the friar in charge, was Father John Boehman. He says Cruise was “basically a good kid” who was always smiling, but also “one of the ones more likely to get into trouble. If he could trip somebody or do something like that, it would be right down his alley.”
Cruise was of modest stature and in need of an orthodontist. One of his snaggled front teeth was chipped. “His teeth were different than they are today,” Father John says.
Cruise was not among the top students in academics. The instructor who appeared to make the biggest impression on him was Father Aubert Grieser, the speech and drama teacher. He would put students on the stage to overcome their inhibitions.
“I think he did more for Tom Cruise than maybe anybody else did at that time to help him,” Father Hilarion Kistner says of Father Aubert. “He could just bring somebody out of themselves, get over their inhibitions and act and sing.”
At St Francis, Cruise played soccer and basketball and teammate Weller remembers Cruise could be “a little bit of a jerk. He was overcompensating for his height and his musculature. The upperclassmen kept him in his place.”
The seminarians worked, played, ate, and prayed together, shared a dormitory and lived under a code that was strict, though not harsh. But Cruise did not form deep friendships. “I don’t think he was particularly close to really anybody,” Weller says. “Basically, more of a loner, I guess.”
But Cruise showed the cockiness that would animate his starring roles. “That’s what he was as a freshman in high school,” Weller says. “He had that kind of persona. But he wasn’t big enough to make it stick, and he kind of became a little bit of a whipping boy. He was always trying to prove something.”
Cruise did not return after his freshman year, enrolling, instead, at St Xavier’s in Louisville. The friars and his seminary classmates were not surprised, as he did not have a calling.
Weller stayed but the seminary closed after his graduation. He says they were astonished when Cruise appeared on cinema screens, with a new name and new teeth but that same cockiness.
“We were stunned: ‘Oh my God, that’s Mapother’?” Weller says. “None of us had any idea that’s what he’d grow up to be.”
When Father Aubert saw Risky Business, he said to a TV interviewer that Cruise had lost too much inhibition. “Tommy was such a fine young man,” Father Frank Jasper recalls Father Aubert saying. “And now it’s disgusting. He’s making these dirty movies and jumping all over the furniture in his underwear. It’s totally disgusting.”
The classmates felt rejected by Cruise’s ‘conversion’ to Scientology. “With only 68 people in the whole class, you got to know everybody pretty well,” Weller says. “To see him go over to Scientology was really kind of a shocker.”
Just before the Cruise-Katie Holmes break-up, Weller attended a St Francis reunion. The defunct seminary has not been implicated in the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the Church. Father Ric put on a slide show. The long-ago photo of the two boys holding the radio-controlled boat flashed on the screen. “Somebody said, ‘Oh, there’s Tom’,” Father Ric says.
So, he mailed a copy to Cruise. By bad luck, it would have arrived just as the star was ‘celebrating’ a bleak 50th birthday.
Cruise’s wife had slipped away from him with their daughter, just as his mother had slipped away from his father with him. Holmes fled after considering what it might mean for a child to be raised in Scientology rather than in the faith that she and the seminarian-turned-star shared before they met. Her escape was managed by her father, who, along with the rest of her family, remains a prominent fixture at Christ the King parish in her native Toledo, Ohio.
As for Cruise, he should know that in the true spirit of his former faith, he retains the very best wishes of all the friars.