From Priesthood to Psychological Warfare, A Local Man Reflects
A recently completed project at The Orchards brings memories of an adventurous life.
By Jessica Kastner Plaskett
"I've always had an affinity for kids, they actually called me 'Uncle John," McLennan said. ". . . it was quite a thing to run a school during the 50's, 60's and 70's, with all of the problems of drugs and war protests and so on. "
Now spending his later years at The Orchards, the 83-year old McLennan recently participated in a life stories project, where residents create a book with pictures and memories narrating their lives.
McLennan's story unfolds after attending a Catholic preparatory school in Massachusetts at the age of 13. He then attended a monastery with hopes of becoming a monk.
After earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy and spending three years studying within a monastery, however McLennan's independent spirit led him to switch paths in life. In 1951, just one month after his decision to try something new, he was drafted into the Air Force. He served in active duty in the Korean War, teaching psychological warfare and then returned home to earn a master's degree in psychology from the University of Connecticut. He taught English for one year before becoming vice principal and eventually principal of a high school in New York City for 20 years.
During that time he lived on Long Island and traveled extensively to a countless number of countries including Thailand, Japan, all of Europe and South America. McLennan never married.
"I was lucky because I had family in many different places in the world so I got to stay in places like Paris and Scotland for long periods of time, really experiencing the day-to-day life, not just a tourist kind of experience," McLennan said.
He also spent much time sailing along the coasts of places like Scotland and near his Long Island home.
If John McLennan's life was a book, it would tell a story of adventure, travel and hard work.
Raised by his mother in Waterbury, McLennan's life path took him from nearly joining the priesthood to teaching psychological warfare in the military, to leading a New York City school as principal for 20 years.
In 1983, at the age of 55, McLennan retired and chose to move to Southington, where his sister lived. Not one to shy away from leadership, he was president of Spring Lake Village for years before moving to The Orchards due to some minor medical problems.
His last trip was to Thailand three years ago.
Looking back, he attributes much of his strength of character to his kind and positive-minded mother, and to the many people including members of the Catholic Church and military officials of note, who always took him under his wing and identified his talent from childhood.
"I'm blessed because everything I've planned for to happen in life, has just about happened" McLennan said.
"I feel at peace with the world around me," he writes at the conclusion of his book.
Life Stories Project Organizer Lynn Patrick said the project is extensive, but worthwhile. After interviewing around 10 residents for about 60 hours, she input the information into a web-based program, edits, adds pictures and then presents each resident with a personal copy.
"Our residents here are really mentally intact so they're able to share their stories, and they really seem to enjoy it," Patrick said. "What a great keepsake to have."