I have many memories from Catholic elementary school, some good and more than a few bad ones. In fourth grade Sister Del Rey taught the class that only people who were baptized Catholics would earn the right to get into heaven. No non-Catholics would pass through the pearly gates; they would have to wait in Limbo, with the others and stay “on hold” for an indefinite amount of time, maybe forever. I remember raising my hand and asking if there ever were any exceptions to this rule; she firmly answered, “NO, never”. We were also told not to tell our parents about this. Hmmmm…
This posed a problem for me because my dad was baptized Episcopalian and converted to Catholicism when he was in his twenties. He was an active church member, played Santa every Christmas, and was a pillar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. According to the Sister’s understanding of “the rules”, my mom, sister and I would be in heaven, but my dad wouldn’t be admitted. By the way, fat chance that my mom and sister would make it there—but that’s another blog entry… Excluding my dad bothered me to no end. He was a foster child and had a really tough childhood. He was alone a lot of the time and made the best of it. The thought of him being alone again while the rest of us were with good-ole God upset me. I remember the anger and tears as if it were yesterday.
When I got home, every time I looked at him, I cried. He sat me down and asked me what was wrong. I told him the whole story, despite Sister’s “When Asked, Don’t Tell” policy. His reaction is one of the many reasons why I loved him so much. He looked me right in the eye and said: “Oh, don’t worry about that. I took care of it. I had a long conversation with God, and we made a deal. As long as I am a good dad, he will let me into heaven. No problems”. I was so relieved. He certainly would hold up his end of the bargain. Then he added, “God also said not to tell Sister Del Rey.”
Bill Maher “religulous” comes to mind. I grew up catholic and only my mom ever went to church with me. I asked: “what about dad” and the answer was “he went to war and lost faith” – tell that to an 8 year old and you have his attention.
Great story…I’m always amazed about the conversations that stay front and center from childhood. Wonder what stories our kids will be telling about us!
Your dad sounds like a terrific and truly wise and man.
You and I endured the same nuns. Some of them struck terror into my heart. I was an impressionable, shy wallflower and I had no concept of any sort of personal power. Sister Eugenia, Grade 3, stood me up in front of class and humiliated me because I got a math answer wrong and made me stay after school. Which meant that my Mom would punish me if I wasn’t ready when she came to get me. I noticed through my tears that she had a satisfying smirk on her face, the sadistic biattchh. And then there was the story of the Excoboilator (ha ha, there’s not even a google term for it), which was in the basement of the convent. It was a machine that would tear bad little boys and girls from limb to limb.
I despised being a ‘Catholic’. And I thanked God that I lived far enough away from town that I did not have attend daily morning mass. I so wanted to go to public school where you could wear fun clothes, dabble in art and music. Yes, I am a recovering Catholic. It is a fear based religion that goes back through centuries of control and acquiescence. I recently asked a friend of mine who is a practicing Episcopalian how his faith differed. And he said, “It’s like being a Catholic but without all the guilt”
Well at least we had a stand up Parish priest, so there was no monkey business with the lads. And at least we were not living in the country where little kids were whisked away from Australia, etc. to Ireland, etc., where they were seriously abused.
BTW, if you have not seen Doubt, with our friend Merryl Streep, it is a very good movie….
I’m always surprised that so many of us survived Catholic school. There are so many powerful, toxic memories that continue to burn more than fifty years later. I remember the anxiety and humiliation of being brought to the front of class for some stupid reason– and it’s a real battle to make it go away. Guess I’ll never do well with dumb authority figures! I love your description of religion being based on “control and acquiescence.” That never worked for me.
I didn’t think so much of our parish priest. After all the years of being “good Catholics” and church workers, he didn’t come to offer comfort to my family when my grandmother committed suicide. He stayed away, because my grandmother “committed a sin”. Oh– it still aggravates the hell out of me. If there is a god, and I’m not sure about that, s/he would never condone that priest’s behavior.
But we survived… and that’s something. Needless to say, I don’t go to church and don’t give any money to any of its tentacles(haha– I almost wrote testicles! )I’ve got a few more St. E’s tales that are burning a hole in pocket, and I know I have to write about.
I served 9 years in Catholic school… My most relatable memory was in the 1st grade with, none other than, Sister Thomas Joseph at Immaculate Conception in Revere.
She had asked everyone to take out a certain assignment that was due that class. Now my desk, much like my head, was a jumbled mess of lots of different papers, knick nacks, snacks, STUFF, etc. When Sister noticed that I had already been searching my desk for about 45 seconds she condescendingly asked me what I was doing. I told her I was looking for my assignment. I kid you not, she promptly flipped my desk over spilling the entire contents of my elementary school life on the floor for all to see. I was speechless… just kind of sat there in disbelief… until she swiftly beckoned, “Well, what are you waiting for? PICK IT UP!” Needless to say, that was an incident I’ll never forget. That lady was old school, and was one of the true stereotypical nuns left at Immaculate.
I remember telling my dad the next day and he had a laugh, telling me a handful of similar stories from his experiences in Catholic school. I put in 4 more years there before going to public middle school, did two years at Catholic high school, then my final two years in public. I guess they just couldn’t keep me in there… mostly for reasons similar to those you describe yourself. Mostly based on the fact that I had questions… something generally not taken too kindly in the Catholic society. “Why do I have to go to church?” “Because God says so.” “Why doesn’t everyone get to go to heaven?” “Because God says so.” “Why can’t two women get married?” “Because God says so.” You get my point. I was always so troubled by the fact that with Catholicism we were taught to accept certain things blindly, almost directly against what I had been taught by my parents throughout my entirely life. This made certain parts of growing up very confusing for me, until I just came to accept my own beliefs over those handed down to me by the education system I was brought up in.
While reading your story about the “nun flipping” desk, I had the creepiest feeling, like it happened to me once. There is a thread of abuse of power that runs through my Catholic school memories. If there is a god, I know s/he wouldn’t approve. I’m also amazed at how long these awful memories last. I’ll be sixty years old in August, and these events loop in my head as if they happened yesterday. I am soooooo grateful that intellect, self-trust, and reason wins this battle, or I’d be in a rubber room somewhere.
I am curious, Diane. And forgive me if this is too sensitive an issue. Have you retained/recovered/renewed/reinvented any sort of belief in any manner of a higher power? There was a time back in my rebellious HS days and well beyond when I said and believed that “God is Dead”. What do you think? I am presently a student of The Course in Miracles which is a whole nother story. Along with other interesting observations and studies….
Well… I guess I’d say I’m agnostic. I’ve rejected most of the Catholic teachings and live my life by a few basic rules of my own: 1. Do unto others as you would have done to you
2. Leave the earth a better place.
I try to keep a short list of priorities with my hubby, kids and extreme self care front and center. So far it’s working well– and it’s basically what I have been doing since college.