Aw, the good old Catholic church festivals.
In the town were I grew up, toward the end of every summer, the Catholic churches had festivals.
There were many parishes in our town, and just as many Catholic schools.
The closest one to our house was St. Peter and Paul. The church was majestic with spires points upward, to give parishioners a clue as to which direction they wanted go after they died. The church stood sentinel next to the parochial school baring its name.
It wasn’t until I was toward my last year of high school that I was allowed to go inside.
We were Presbyterians. We were the Christians and the Catholics were voodoo. At least, that is pretty much the message I got from my mother. Mother thought Mary was probably a nice woman, but she didn’t like how the Virgin seemed to overshadow Christ.
On the street where we lived, it was a real mix of Catholics and Protestants, and we knew which people lived in which houses. Many of the Catholics had statues of the Virgin Mary in their yard.
We had shrubs and a swimming pool in the back.
There was a neighborhood park down the street, only a few houses away. It is where I grew up. There were two park leaders, usually college students, a male and female. They kept things in order, organized ball games
This is where, in the summertime, the Catholic and Protestant kids played together.
I was taught to be polite to the Catholics and not say anything, but since they were going to have a harder time getting into heaven, (according to my mom), I should be careful. I guess they went to someplace called Purgatory, which didn’t sound like it was a trip to Coney Island, so of course, that made me even more curious.
It was great fun playing with the Catholics. From my vantage point, they were a much more fun group than the Presbyterians. They smoked, drank and cursed. They also prayed to win softball games. My mom was aghast at that, and so I became a bit holier than thou about it.
My friends in our neighborhood were a boy name Teddy, a girl named Libby and another boy named Greg. Greg and Libby were Catholic and Ted was not. It only mattered in who was available to play on any given day.
We were jealous of the Catholics because it seemed as though they got out of school at least one day a week. Holy Days. Saint This and Saint That. And were public school kids wee stuck in old buildings waiting for recess.
I was intrigued by the Catholics. In my mind, they were closer to God because they did the sign of the cross. Why didn’t we do something like that? It was so cool. Some did it more deliberately than others. I saw kids who were deliberate in their motions and others who flailed their hands about so quickly that you didn’t know if they were making the sign of the cross or chasing flies.
I practiced the sign of the cross a few times but feared I would go to Hell for faking a religion. Another aspect I thought was divine, was how they wore doilies on their heads. It was such a nice accessories and helped bad hair days.
Those were the two main reasons I wanted to go inside the Catholic church.
Skip confession. I wasn’t going to tell anyone my sins, even though it did seem like a good idea. Confess, wipe the slate clean and go out and try again.
But I didn’t trust the priests. I don’t know why … I just didn’t. And nuns? They scared the whoop out of me. In their habits, they didn’t look human.
It is interesting what a young mind can conjure.
Any type of divide didn’t matter when it was time for St. Peter and Paul’s festival. Of course, my mom thought it was disgusting how the church made money from drinking and gambling. In the Presbyterian faith, if you were going to sin, you were supposed to do it behind closed doors without making a spectacle of yourself.
But come August, when we’d see the booths set up behind the church, and the lights strung up like it was a restaurant in Italy, we knew that school was around the corner and we had to see which boys grew a couple of inches during summer and which girls were lucky enough to get bigger breasts.
There was a lot of laughing at the festival, especially by the beer booth. Men stood around drinking their beers and talking progressively louder. Games of chance and spinning wheels were everywhere. The pavement was littered with the losing paper numbers.
My friends and I would play a few games, but because we didn’t have much money, we’d walk around and look at the boys. Had Mike grown a couple of inches this summer? Did Doug’s eyes get deeper blue? I was always thrilled if the dos grew a couple of inches because I was always taller than everyone.
The drinks and the money flowed at the festival. To be Catholic on that night was to be queen.
I stopped going to the festivals by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I could drive then and Mainliner Frisch’s was better for cruising for guys.
It was in the summer, when I was a junior, when I finally walked through the doors of St. Peter and Paul church. I went with a Catholic friend. I wore a mantilla that she loaned me.
I thought the lit candles in the small glass containers were really pretty and what a nice idea that you could light one for a loved one. There was a donation box beside it. The offering was taken up by putting your money in baskets that were on long poles, that whisked in front of you. And the up and down of the service was surprising. I didn’t know when I was supposed to sit, stand or kneel. It was a bit Jack-in-the-box.
It was definitely different from the Presbyterian church, where you sat so long that you could fall into a snooze.
I think my mom was relieved when I came home and didn’t want to become Catholic. I really never did want to, I just wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.
St. Peter and Paul is now Trinity Church. Most of the other churches in the town closed their schools. Money, time, scandals, and people have changed the Catholic church since those days. I moved on from Norwood, and being a Presbyterian, too. I have tried other religions on for size, just like I try on shows.
Who is to say what is the “right” religion, or if religion is a prerequisite for whatever waits for us beyond death? Religion is certainly more than a festival. In my mind, religion can heal, or it can hurt. It would be easy to say that in this world, religion is causing a lot of hurt. But it also is doing a lot of healing. It is just that hurt and anger seem to talk louder.