In the Beginning

Everyone’s seen those books written by survivors of Catholic school. Well, I could write one. And my time spent in Catholic school would be only the beginning of my very long and winding sojourn to where I am today. But let me start at the beginning.

In third grade, my family had moved yet again to a new city due to Dad’s promotion; Mom enrolled me and my sister  in a Catholic school. Prior to this, religion hadn’t made much of an impact on me. But once immersed in the daily rituals and strong discipline, religion was suddenly a big part of my life. This was in Fond du Lac at St. Joseph’s School.

Monsignor Riordon ran a tight ship, as they say. He was an elderly, somewhat obese gray-haired man who visited our classroom regularly; we were all nerves when he showed up decked out in all his priestly regalia. He performed our daily Mass, the Stations of the Cross and the rosary.

I had early doubts about some things the Monsignor said and did. One for the first was his rule about interaction with the children who attended the Lutheran school across the street. I don’t recall how me and my friends ended up in a sidewalk discussion with several of them one day. But I thought they were nice.

Soon an edict came down from on high. The Monsignor said we could not talk to or play with the children across the street. They are damned, he said, because the Catholic church is the one and only true religion and everyone else is damned to the fires of hell. That just didn’t seem right but what could I do.

I recall the big deal about making our first confession. After the Monsignor’s tutoring we lined up outside the confessional and nervously waited our turn. The Monsignor had insisted that everyone commits certain sins and he expected us to confess them. We all fight with our brothers and sisters. We all forget our morning and evening prayers. So, each time I went to confession I had to lie. It only took me once to see the folly of this exercise. My doubts grew.

Once my friend, Faith, (what a perfect name for a good Catholic girl!) was seen riding on the handle bars of a boy’s bicycle. The Monsignor’s punishment was for her to walk the porch after school; this was a well-known punishment that we all dreaded and did all we could to avoid. What made it the worst was it was so visible. Those Catholics are really good at shame and guilt. And the Monsignor was a pro.

The porch was long and open, running along the entire side of the rectory. My friends and I giggled as we gossiped (sinfully) hearing that Faith’s parents called the rectory long after dark that night. Where was Faith, her parents wanted to know. Well, there she was in the dark still walking around in a circle. I recall it was quite a while before another student was seen out there walking the porch.

Any survivor of Catholic school has a vivid memory of that especially cantankerous nun. Sister Patrice was mine. Besides all the minor day to day insults and recriminations she meted out, I especially recall how she shamed me and my friend, Ruth Ann, for our performance at the all school talent show.

Ruth Ann and I had worked hard on our skit, a pantomime of a Broadway song. My mother helped with our costumes and our complicated choreography. Even though my very Catholic mother saw nothing wrong with our skit, Sister Patrice did.

When we gleefully responded to the applause and calls for an encore, Sister Patrice stopped us before we could begin the second number. She pulled the curtain closed and told us in front of the whole school that we should be ashamed of what we had done. The compliments from students throughout the rest of the day and reassurances from my mom, did little to take away the sting of Sister Patrice’s harsh words.

In ninth grade I began to babysit. One of my regular customers was a family with two small children who lived across the street. Imagine my shock when during the Monsignor’s Sunday sermon, he called out this woman by name. He said she was damned, would burn in the fires of hell, because she had gotten divorced and was now remarried to a non-Catholic and no longer coming to church.

How could God, I wondered, allow someone to act and talk like that. Why would God have people as mean as the Monsignor and Sister Patrice teach in a school. I felt guilty for having such feelings but could not deny them.

Mother tells me I was very upset when we didn’t have the money for me to go to the Catholic high school. I’m sure it was that I’d be losing touch with all my friends. I had little faith left by that time.

Mom also told me that two weeks into public high school, I thanked her for not sending me to the Catholic high school. Now I could talk to all kinds of kids whether they were damned or not.


damned or not.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy Wicht
    Oct 27, 2018 @ 13:23:34

    Is this story true !

    Sent from my iPhone




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