Religion and Girl-Power

This is the third installment in my series about my high school, Holy Rosary Academy. I think it will be an interesting insight into Catholic education, or the lack there of, in Catholic schools. And people will gain a better understanding about why all of us Catholic reverts complain.

As I wrote previously, the school was founded by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine. There were three Dominican sisters who worked at the school. Sister Suzanne worked part-time in the school office; I’d guess that she was in her late seventies. Sister Charlene worked in the accounting and recruitment office. Sister Rose taught religion and geography and was a spiritual counselor, as opposed to the guidance counselor. I know that Sister Rose is the same age as my dad, so she was in her mid-fifties when I was in high school. Sister Charlene was probably around the same age. There were no priests on staff, although we had a chaplain assigned for Masses and confession.

We were required to take religion class every year. We had Mass or a prayer service about once a month, sometimes in the Church of the parish next door and sometimes in the gymnasium. The musical director, who also taught religion, usually tried to incorporate upbeat songs. A favorite was “I have decided to follow Jesus…” with lots of hand clapping; it was probably a Protestant hymn. Confession was available one or two lunch periods a month, but it was completely optional. Each class also had a retreat each year: one day for Freshman, two days for Sophomores, two days and one night for Juniors, and four days and three nights for Seniors.

Every school day started with prayer over the intercom system. Then every religion class started with prayer. Usually, the teacher would ask if anyone had any “special intentions”. This was supposed to be prayers for sick family members, but it really turned into the social news bulletins. “I want to pray for Julie because she and her boyfriend broke up.” “I want to pray for Stephanie because she and Amanda had a fight.” And we all knew that more special intentions equaled more wasted class time.

For Freshman religion the teacher was a really great guy named Mr. Stairs. He had dropped out of medical school to pursue teaching, and he left the next year to work with Canon Law office for the Archdiocese. The first week of class he gave us a historical tour of the school and taught us the Alma Mater. Then we started digging in to the Old Testament. It was awesome. We talked about the various writing sources and put everything in historical context. It was like many of the classes I would take as a Religious Studies major in college. Then after Christmas his wife had a baby and he took two weeks of paternity leave in which we watched The Ten Commandments. When he came back we had to study “Affective Skills” to build our self-esteem and teach us how to communicate more effectively. (Now stick finger in mouth and pantomime vomiting.)

My sophomore year we started out with a guy whose name I can’t remember. He had previously taught at the University of Louisville. His most notable feature, though, was that he was also a real estate agent and he was arrested for stealing medications from homes he was supposed to be selling. About the second or third week we came to school and were rushed to an assembly where we were told that he would no longer be teaching and not to talk to the press. They had apparently arrested him at the school at the end of the previous day.

Then we had Sister Rose for two or three days and started doing the same kind of work with the New Testament as we had done the previous year with the Old Testament. Those were the only days all year I learned in anything. The man who acted as the permanent replacement was a very, very nice man who shall remain nameless. He didn’t really teach us anything. We basically just had class discussions about various nonsense topics. Religion class became a great time to do homework, draw pictures for your friends lockers, or basically anything else you wanted as long as you didn’t interfere with the discussion. That teacher only lasted one year.

Junior year we had Sister Rose and the topics were Sacraments and Social Justice. For all of Sister Rose’s great points, looking back, I think that year was kind of bust, too. I remember her talking about how sometimes poor people are just victims of bad luck and poor medical insurance. She was really big on spelling and emphasized that “judgment” does not have two e’s. We each also had to do volunteer work at a daycare, nursing home, or other facility for six Mondays in the Spring during the school day.

And I remember Sister Rose saying, “Protect yourselves, ladies. You’ll be out with a boy and he’ll say ‘What does that old nun know anyway; she ain’t getting none’, but protect yourselves, ladies.” She never actually said to use artificial birth control, but I think she’d given up on promoting abstinence. She would also bring in articles about strains of STD that could live on toilet seats and tell stories of how you could get pregnant just from fooling around in your panties. Protect yourselves, ladies!!

Senior year was with Mrs. Vessels and it was divided between Church History, World Religion, and Christian lifestyles. Never mind that the history of Christianity (which is the same as the history of the Catholic Church) encompassed two semesters in college, but we had to squeeze through it in a third of school year.  I think we really just studied the history of the diocese.  More than the vaguest overviews of Judaism and Islam would require more time as well. So basically the first two-thirds of the year were a waste of time.

For Christian lifestyles we discussed marriage, religious life, and the single life. We talked about the ideal division of labor between married couples, we carried around sacks of flour as babies, and had to tally the costs of a wedding and having a baby. The single life was just the single life, except I think there may have been a slight mention of not having sex. For the religious life, a very young priest came and spoke with our class. He started to get a little uncomfortable when some of the girls started grilling him about a few things, like the idea of women priests. We also listened to Sister Rose talk about how she tried to avoid her calling to religious life by accidentally joining the FBI and how she struggled with her vow of celibacy due to a friendship with one particular man.

Through all four years liberal and feminist theology reigned. Crumbly sweet bread was used for the Eucharist at some Masses. We used the highly controversial inclusive language at all times. Submitting to your husband in any way was completely outdated. Again, there were no discussion about what the churches teaches about modesty, chastity (outside or inside of marriage), birth control, or abortion.

It was just kind of assumed that you knew intercourse outside of marriage and abortion were somewhat wrong. “Rhythm method” or any other form of natural family planning were slightly mocked in health class. The aura was that these poor girls are going to have sex no matter what so we better tell them how to avoid pregnancy and diseases by artificial means. The saddest part is that close to 25% of my small graduating class of about 50 girls either had a baby by graduation, were pregnant at graduation, or had a child out of wedlock within a year of graduation.

As I went through high school, there was very much an idea that we were unveiling the truth. We were encouraged to question Catholicism, but now I realize that we were never given the answers to our questions. In the age of relativity, there were no “right” or “wrong” or Catholic answers. We were given the impression that we were expanding our Catholic awareness, but we were really being blind folded and left to wander on our own. It was all kind of empty. We never had a Dumbledore telling us to choose between what was right and what was easy. It was just assumed that it was ok to choose the easy way because God would still love you. And that was that.

In Catholic schools I learned a lot about Catholic culture, but I really learned more about what the Catholic Church really teaches in my four years as a Religious Studies major at a secular university than I did in 12 years of Catholic school. I’ve learned even more in the almost ten years since I graduated from college through private study. It is really no wonder that many Catholic parents choose to homeschool so that their kids won’t be taught heresy in the Catholic school system. There are unofficial lists out there of which Catholic universities are really Catholic and which ones are just private colleges. At some point many Catholic schools lost sight of the fact that they were instituted to become counter-cultural. And many, many Catholics have been lost because of it.

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One Comment on “Religion and Girl-Power”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Did you have Mass more often in elementary school? Where we lived before, Mass was weekly at most elementary schools, and the one we sent our daughter to had daily Mass for the children.

    I’m really trying to remember if the high schools had weekly or monthly Mass. Monthly just doesn’t sound very often for a Catholic school to me, but maybe it’s a high school thing. You’d think the high schoolers would need Mass more frequently, though. They’re much more capable of understand what is going on theologically, and more in need of the graces.

    Okay, I just checked. One high school website said this:
    Every Monday & Tuesday – Liturgy of Hours 7:40 am in Chapel
    Every Wednesday – Mass 7:20 am in Chapel
    Every Thursday Faculty Rosary 7:40 am in Chapel
    Every Friday Rosary for Life 7:40 am in Chapel

    That would be once a week for Mass, but that early, it’s probably optional.

    The other said this:
    The celebration of Mass is an integral part of who we are at SJ High School. The entire school comes together to celebrate Mass once a month and on special holidays.

    So, not unusual for Catholic high schools, then.


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