I want people to understand that there are many things I love about the
Roman Catholic Church and many things I miss. So I am **not**
attacking the RCC, merely sharing what was quite honestly my
Today my contemporaries call me eccentric, when I was a kid, they
called me peculiar and weird and I suppose all those words fit.
When I was 2 or 3 and allowed outside in the yard by myself, I had a
friend whom I thought of as Someone Else. If he had a name, I don't
remember it. Because in my mind he was Someone else, I
don't think he ever told me his name. It wasn't until I was 7 or 8
that I figured out Someone Else was invisible. He was always very
solidly real to me and we would play in the sandbox or the swings. He
used to accompany me to the hen yard where I would decide which hen
had laid my breakfast egg and we would thank her. I knew that Someone
Else was a different sort of person from my parents, but I was a
toddler, what did I know?
Whenever I was off by myself, which was often because I liked
it, Someone Else was there. Or maybe I sought solitude because when I
did, he was there. Anyway.
We lived out in a rural section of NJ just north of Princeton. After
I completed kindergarten, we moved into Princeton itself and I started
first grade. For the first 3 days I went to the Nassau Street School
but on the fourth day, I was transferred to St. Paul's Roman Catholic
School. This was because the NSS was going to make me walk home for
lunch everyday and my parents didn't think that was safe. I have to
say that first day at St. Paul's was also the first I knew my parents
considered us to be Catholic.
Because there was no empty desk, Sister Padua had me sit at a little
table off to the side of the room. It was very uncomfortable because
she sat me facing the back of the room so I had to continually crane
and twist myself to look at her when she was talking. I was just
getting my courage together to ask her if I could move to the other
end... this took some doing because frankly, I had never ever seen a
nun before and that voluminous black habit and veil scared me.
Anyway, I was going to ask when Alfred Perrone was called to the front
of the room, made to bend down over the desk in the front row and she
broke her yard stick on his backside. Mark Sayles was sent across the
hall to borrow Sister Mary's yardstick and Sister Padua broke it
across his butt. That never happened to me, but I was scared of the
Sisters the whole rest of my time in that school because they all hit.
One even caused a neck injury because she slapped a boy with her open
palm along the base of his skull. Come to think of it, that was
Another thing about Sister Padua was that when I would raise my hand
and ask if I could go to the bathroom, she would say no. With the
result that I wet myself almost every day. As we wore wool jumpers,
mom was constantly having to pay for drycleaning. My parents were
outraged that Sr. P wouldn't let us leave class to use the bathroom
and complained and all of a sudden Sr P would allow it. I think I
wasn't the only kid.
And then came the day when we were considered able to read and were
each given a brand New Baltimore Catechism Revised Number Two with a
picture of the dome of St Peter's against a very blue sky and fluffy
white clouds. And we began to learn the catechism. You may imagine
my surprise when from the pages of that catechism, or as much of it as
we 1st graders were able to read, I recognized that Someone Else had a
name and it was Jesus.
It was then that my troubles with the RCC began. To be fair, I
suppose it is astonishing to be presented with a 6 year old mystic. I
suppose it is also possible that human feelings like jealousy might be
at work because here's this tiny child (very small for my age)
claiming to experience on a daily basis that which possibly may have
been the thing that is most hoped for by those in the religious life.
But I was, unfortunately, and unintentionally a trouble maker because
Sr would tell us things that just didn't jive with my own experience.
For instance, she was continually telling us to pray to Mary and not
to Jesus because He was too busy. I don't think she ever actually said
"to bother about you", but I always felt that's what she meant. And
there am I, chatting every day with Jesus, telling him all my concerns
and everything I did. And so I raised my hand and mentioned that Jesus
was with me everyday, that I told him everything and that he didn't
seem too busy to me. She sent me to stand in the corner for what
seemed like eternity but was probably only 5 or 10 minutes.
Then there was the day she taught us about our guardian angels and we
were even to sit to one side of our chairs so our guardian angel could
sit with us. I asked for another chair for mine as I was already
sharing my chair with Jesus. Back to the corner.
One would think I would have learned to shut up but whenever I saw one
of the priests on the playground, I would run up to him and ask him
the questions Sr. P sent me to the corner for and he'd pat me on the
head and call me a precious child.
By the time I was 10, we were much farther along in the Catechism and
my questions were becoming theological. Something in me persisted
so I ask and the nuns said ask the priests and when I asked
him, he'd pat me on the head and tell me it was not necessary to
understand, only believe. Which frustrated me intensely and I would
say "But, Father, what does it mean?" and they'd tell me I was too
young for such things and by the way, had I outgrown that childish
nonsense about Jesus sitting on my chair and talking with Him all the
After 4th grade my parents had purchased a house and we moved to a
more suburban section of Princeton and my brother and I were
transfered from parochial school to public school which was quite the
shock to me because I had been taught all kids in public schools were
going to burn in hell and that's what I thought was going to happen
to me. But eventually, those kids were just kids, no different from
the kids I had gone to St. Paul's with. So that fear eased.
We continued to go to mass, which I found unutterably boring, except I
liked making the responses in Latin. Some door to door RC Bible
salesman had sold my mother a Bible, a missal, a prayerbook and a Life
of Jesus which was really a harmony of the Gospels) I used to take
that with me to church and I would read it during the service. I read
that book over and over until I was given a proper missal and I
finally knew what it was the priest was saying.
I also had read the Bible through a few times before I was 12.
Whenever we were leaving the church, I'd always have some question for
the priest and by then all of the priests were responding to me as if
I were a trouble maker. Their answers were the same then as when I
was 6 and it frustrated me no end. It also infuriated me because
these questions were important to me and no one had ever taken them
Then came confirmation classes and we memorized the entire catechism
and I had even more questions. In the little reception afterwards I
even tried to ask the Bishop some of my questions, but he had been
warned about me.
I had a faith that was real, alive and growing, and the nuns and
priests were continually shoving me back into some box that was too
small. And a practice of faith that consisted of repetitive actions
and words which seemed so empty to me. All of this anger, frustration
and discouragement, along with the sham of our family life resulted in
depression which went unnoticed by anybody for several years. worst
of all, I lost that sense of the presence of Someone Else.
And then along came Vatican 2 when I was in high school. I liked the
mass in English and I liked singing hymns. But it also brought with
it changes that confused me. Having never reconciled the questions I
had, on top of them I had a whole bunch of new ones making me
miserable. Because i was now a "young lady", the priests were even
more condescending and patronizing than they had been, telling me
stuff like now I was old enough to understand that as a girl I have no
business thinking such things, that I should pray to the Virgin to
send me a good husband and many fine babies.
That was the last straw. I had already made my mind up when I was 10
that I wouldn't have any kids because I was never going to to do to
another person what was being done to me. I already had my father
wanting me to take typing so I could support myself as if I weren't
smart enough to have a better job than a secretary. And now my
priests telling me I was not to pursue that which most interested me
because of my gender. And yet, I'd read many lives of saints by then
and knew that women could be more than babymakers and housewifes.
Besides it was the 60s.
Anyway, I lost my faith completely, how I got it back again is another
story. But when I did and showed up at mass one Sunday and tried to
tell the priest what had happened to me, he wasn't interested and told
me once again to get married and have babies. So I basically wiped
the dust of the RCC off my feet and went where what I had to offer was
I cannot begin to tell you how deeply wounded I have been by this
history. Maybe it won't even make sense to others. But I know
piercingly that more was available than just praying the rosary and
going to mass and the people who also knew that, refused to make it
available to me.