Aftermath of Growing Up Catholic

I grew up Catholic.

When my parents got divorced mom packed up the car and we moved back to Philadelphia, where her side of the family lived. My Aunt had her daughter in the local Catholic school and so Mom sent me there too. To be honest, I was relived when I heard I’d be required to wear a uniform. My thought, to be exact, was: “At least I won’t have to worry about what to wear.”

I was in third grade.

Enter: Saint You Be Damned and Take the Elevator Straight to Hell Parish and School. Although I loved the ease of the uniform, where the only decision was which pair of shoes to wear….Penny Loafers or Saddle Shoes, the organization was enough to terrify a small kid.

It’s compatible to working with The Mob.

Boy, do I have stories. Between the nuns, gym tyrant, bullies and various liturgical performances ….I’ve got stories. However, I want to reflect on the mark the church mob has left on me.

Starting catholic school in third grade, I realized this was a mistake.

Starting for me in third grade was a monthly trip over to the church to go to confession. Kids would be kicking and screaming. Determined nuns holding the confessional door shut. Sinners….repent! Avoid damnation to the fiery gates of hell! Confess your evils, small children!

Since we were all little sinners, on the direct bus to hell, they’d line us up in the massive marble entombed church where we’d nervously wait our turn to talk to one of the priests. Each one of us was turning to the person behind us and asking, “what are you saying?”

The conversations would go like this:
(Mind you while trying not to get caught talking by Sister Whip Your Ass Fast)

: Mary, what are you going to say?
:: I’ve chewed gum in math class.
: Good one, I’m going to say I lied about my homework.

: Dude, what sins are you using?
:: Fighting with my brother.
: Cool. I’ve got stole my sister’s baseball.

Hands would be sweating. Hearts pounding. Stomachs churning. Kids would be trying to figure out if they could fake out the nuns and quickly return to the pew without having to go inside the little box or behind the privacy screen.

We’d be standing, some with our foreheads pressed against the cool marble wall, in line praying the same thing:

Dear Lord, don’t let me forget the words. What if I forget the words? I hate this. I hope I don’t forget the words. I have to pee. Don’t let me forget the words. What did I say I was going to say? Oh my god, I forgot my sins! Don’t let me forget the words. This is stupid. I hope I don’t get Father 3,000 Hail Marys today. Please Lord let me get Father Just Get Out of Here Kid today….

Options: screen in a box or face to face. Early version of Fear Factor. I always chose the privacy screen, inside the little box.

Once inside you knelt down and it was dark. Except for a little tiny pin prick of light that shone upon “the instruction” card. While waiting, you could hear the mumbling of the priest behind the fancy screen.

For me, it was always the same process:

1. Quickly read the instructions as I’m supposed to have all this stuff memorized.

2.. Remember this month’s sins.

3. Pondering would it be bad to pretend faint to get out of this situation? Of course, the confessional is so small I’d end up falling and cracking my head open on the marble floor.

Upon graduating 8th grade and moving into high school one theme came up again and again: No more forced confessions! Thank you! We are free at last. We were a lucky bunch, we survived it all. Thank you Jesus.

Enter 9th grade religion class. You can imagine my horror when surprise, surprise, our teacher announced we were going to the chapel for “confession.” CRAP! Eyes darted around the class, beads of sweat broke out on foreheads and I swear a couple kids fell out of their seats. WHAT?!

Up we go to the chapel….conveniently located inside the school. I still remember this day because as we sat in the chapel and the nun announced, “Father Get Your Act Together” is ready to hear your confessions. Not one person got out of their seat. You could have heard a mouse squeal with delight over a cheese crumb. We were in the collective mind set of: if you’re really still and quiet, she won’t see you. We were the hunted, finally out running the hunter. Sins be damned….we’re not going.

Needless to say, I haven’t been to confession since.

You can imagine my trepidation when my Better Half suggested we go to church – on a non-holiday Sunday. He grew up Baptist? Methodist? I can’t remember what he told me. Anyhow, the week before last, we decide to walk over to the non-denominational church, where a friend of ours attends. Honestly, our friend’s dad is the minister. They seem like a normal family so we thought we’d give it a whirl.

Better Half and I decide to wear nice jeans and sweaters (non-matching). Please note, I was not wearing jeans that required me to lay down to zip them up or paint them on…thank you. I wasn’t sure what to expect and as a grown Catholic, I was having flashbacks. I was pretty sure I was on the Hell Express wearing jeans.

As we walked over I continued to argue silently to myself:

What if we’re under-dressed?
At least we’re going.
Should I have worn heels?
Who cares!
Maybe I should have worn khakis?
Get over it Catholic school survivor!

We hit the parking lot and I’m now voicing my concerns out loud about my attire when I see it. A woman walking up to the front door in pajama pants. Yep. Full blown, cartoon character, fuzzy pajama pants with a blue sweatshirt. I look at my Better Half and smile. If God lets in with pajama pants then I’ll be okay in jeans. No, I wasn’t worried about Better Half wearing jeans as I’m 100% certain he didn’t grow up under the Catholic mob.

Of course, there’s more to say in regards to the service. Anything other than the usual: stand, sit, kneel, beat yourself into submission, we’re all doomed sinners….Catholic service is strange to me.

My Better Half, being the smart man he is, conveniently locked me into my seat by selecting a seat that required either I climb up over an elderly regular attending sinner or be restrained by him on the aisle side. As I sat and pondered my surroundings I thought silently to myself…I don’t see any confessionals. This is going to be interesting.

1 thought on “Aftermath of Growing Up Catholic

  1. Jennifer Byrne

    I do apologize for being the cause of your Catholic school nightmare. Never my intent. I haven’t had flashbacks like that in 23 years. Thanks for the memories. Can’t wait to hear more!


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