People are always surprised when I tell them that I went to catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. I laugh about that and wonder if I have devilish horns popping out of my anchor helmet hair. Their surprise is always followed up with “Oh my God…did you hate it?” “That had to have been torture!” “Did you have to wear a uniform??” “Did you get in trouble in public school and they kicked you out?” Umm…what??
Let me be blunt. Catholic school was tough. You wouldn’t dare look at a teacher (especially a nun) cross-eyed. You wouldn’t dare chew gum…or show up with your uniform skirt a little too short. You would be downright stupid if you talked back…cheated on a test or started a fight on the playground. There were rules…and you followed them. And if you didn’t…there were dire consequences. And that dreaded call home to your parents…followed by a meeting with the teacher, the principal (who was a nun) and the head of the parish (a priest). Is there a hole I can climb into???
As a kid, I never realized what seemed to be an annoying, nagging routine, would shape me into the person that I am today. Every morning started with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a prayer. Every class started with a prayer. We said a prayer before lunch and at the end of the school day. We went to religion class nearly every single day…and went to an all-school Mass every Friday. (I still know every single word to every single song we sang in church). For most of us, our first time reading in public was in front of 800 kids at church. Every minute of every day, faith, morals and values were intertwined with math, science and history. Our faith wasn’t reserved for Mass on Sunday. It was who we were. When we were old enough to play sports, we would say the Our Father in the huddle…followed by “Our Lady of Victory…pray for us.”
There was something refreshing knowing that we could slip up but at the end of the week, we could walk into a confessional and ask for forgiveness. There was always a sense of relief when I walked out of the confessional booth. My heart was always beating a little faster and my palms were always sweaty. (I would always try to disguise my voice so Father wouldn’t know it was me. HA) We learned at a very young age, that there are consequences for every action. Like when I cheated on a test in grade school, I had so much guilt that I confessed to Father Mahoney what I did. He told me to say 5 Hail Mary’s, 2 Our Father’s and confess to my teacher. So I told my teacher the truth. Sure, she appreciated it…but she didn’t give me a high-five and slip me a cookie. She gave me 100 words and definitions and I had to write them out 100 times. I had plenty of time to do it, though. She gave me lunchtime detention for 30 days and ripped me out of the talent show. Do you know what that does to the social-life of a 6th grader?!?!? It was about doing the right thing. But I never realized it. When I was a kid, I was terrified of nuns. I would cry to my parents and say, “I THOUGHT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE WOMEN OF GOD!?!?!” I remember my parents turning their heads away from me because they were laughing hysterically. Sure…we were expected to do well in school…on science projects…in National History Day competitions…in musicals and plays…in sports. But more importantly, we were expected to have God in our heart. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do the right thing. And if we didn’t do the right thing…ask for forgiveness and try harder next time.
Bottomline…catholic school built my character. It taught me accountability. It taught me responsibility…empathy…compassion…acceptance. It was just different. People who went to catholic school know exactly what I mean…it’s almost difficult to explain.
My favorite teachers, to this day, are from my catholic grade school…Holy Name of Jesus. They loved us. They were the strictest disciplinarians but they loved us like their own children. I looked at them like I looked at my own parents…I could handle it if I made them mad. But the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint them.
We were our own tight-knit community…we still are.
This is why we send our daughter, and soon our son, to catholic school. I want our faith to be intertwined with their schoolwork. I want them to experience, what I had the fortunate opportunity to experience.
People tell me that I am strong…that I’m tough. My response? Damn right…I was taught by nuns:-)