The story was lore in William Buchanan's big white house in Northwest Washington, with its sloping acre of lawn and nine children to fill the six bedrooms.
Buchanan, then a high school freshman, was about to go to Western High School, a public school in the District, when two Jesuits showed up at the door and asked why Buchanan was not at Gonzaga. Buchanan's parents were separated and his mother said she did not have the tuition money.
We don't want your money, the Jesuits said, we want your son. The year was 1919 and the Jesuits got Buchanan that day. Eventually, they got his seven sons, too, including his third, Patrick J. Buchanan, director of communications for the White House.
Today, Patrick Buchanan, Gonzaga class of '56, refers to his high school days as a "great nostalgia bath." But his experience at Gonzaga was clearly important in forming his tightly wound tough core and the unbending conservative point of view that has become Buchanan's political trademark. The Jesuits, he said, taught him how to think.
Every morning Buchanan and his two brothers would rise from the breakfast table and hitchhike a ride down Fifth Street. Gonzaga was "half a city away" and a world apart from the Buchanan home on Utah Street NW. A row of run-down houses, including a whorehouse, stood across the street from Gonzaga -- but Buchanan loved the middle-class fighting spirit that seemed to exude from Gonzaga's walls.
"We could have run the Celtics right out of there," Buchanan, a varsity basketball player, said.
He competed fiercely, taking Latin and Greek, and eventually graduated first in the class. While there, he admired the Jesuits' sense of discipline and loyalty. The Jesuits would punish swiftly and severely, but they would not abandon easily -- a trait others would attribute to Buchanan several years later when he stood by President Richard M. Nixon as his speech writer, long after others had jumped ship.
Buchanan recalled one story in particular when a football player from a poor family had been arrested for stealing several cars. "Father Troy the headmaster put him in 'jug' detention but he kept him in school," said Buchanan.
Politics did not command much attention in the austere classrooms with crucifixes above the doorways. But debating did. Buchanan, whose accountant father had abandoned the Democratic Party, had an easy time arguing when the annual debating topics rolled around his freshman year. He argued in favor of pulling out of the United Nations and in defense of U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy.
Gonzaga was a place where "if someone passed the competitive exam to get in," he deserved to be supported, Buchanan said.
When Clarence Mitchell III, the son of the civil rights leader, arrived at Gonzaga and became one of three blacks there, Buchanan befriended him. Once, Buchanan and Mitchell were suspended together for smoking in a locker room.
"He helped break the ice by being willing to openly show his friendship with me," said Mitchell, now a Maryland state senator.
Gonzaga was a manly place and Buchanan cut a popular figure there, earning the nickname the "gay blade" for his success with girls. But Buchanan also knew how to box. His father had made all his boys hit a punching bag every night; 100 lefts, 100 rights and 100 one-twos.
"Our father wanted to ingrain in us never to start a fight but always to be ready for one," said Hank Buchanan, Patrick's older brother. "It wouldn't bother Pat to lose a fight, but the bad thing would be to run."