Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Growing Up Catholic

...interesting read from The Catholic Moment via Catholic Online. Robert Orsi lectures on "Growing Up Catholic in the Mid-20th Century"
Orsi previously taught at Fordham, Indiana University and the Harvard Divinity School. He is past-president of the American Academy of Religion. The author of several books, he is an expert on Catholicism in the United States.

His research focused on Catholic children between 1925 and 1975. During that 50-year period, Catholics caught up with Protestants and Jews educationally, and by the 1970s they were more educated, and earning more, than either group, he said.

“These children were prepared for the world and did very well in it,” he said.

Catholic children, especially those taught in Catholic schools, tended to be disciplined and extremely well-versed in their faith, Orsi said. To them, supernatural things were real. Guardian angels were real. Souls in purgatory were really released. The saints depicted on religious cards shed real blood.

“Before World War II, if the crayon makers made colors just for Catholic children, they would come mostly in shades of red,” said Orsi, whose study involved interviewing adults across the country about their Catholic childhoods.

Solemn rites, deep theology

In addition to teaching academic subjects, school sisters wanted to ensure that the souls of their students were saved, he said. They made them memorize their catechisms. They stressed the sacraments, and expected them to understand complex theological concepts at an early age.

Because Catholic high schools were relatively rare, “the nuns and priests knew they had children until eighth grade,” Orsi said.

Catholic rites were solemn, and that intensified the imaginations of children. There was no such thing as a “children’s Mass.”

Some interview subjects admitted that they didn’t understand transubstantiation, and were terrified when they entered a confessional for the first time. They worried about the souls of unbaptized children in limbo, and cried when an adult told them that a beloved neighbor, who was not Catholic, could not enter heaven.

In many cases, the Church presented by adults “eluded their grasp,” he said. They were presented with “secrets and knowledge they were not ready for,” but that still prepared them for their adult roles.
Some admitted they didn't understand transubstantiation? Well, that's why it's called a Mystery. And I hope that they still think enough about the unbaptized children in Limbo and pray for the souls in Purgatory. I had Catholic nuns who taught me as a child and I will never forget how to diagram sentences or how to behave in different social situations. They were quite strict and put the fear of God in us. Getting rapped on the knuckles did the trick. No, I am not emotionally scarred from the experience because I didn't dare to cross the line. And there were no behavioral problems, thank you very much, which freed us to learn what we were supposed to learn.


Anonymous said...

Amazingly, in a class of 45 children, my Felician sister teacher held us all in thrall when she spoke of sacred mysteries, of saving "pagan babies", of the beauty of the Mass, the seriousness of the Confessional, etc. All this in 4th grade!!!!! (circa 1965) We could name the parts of a cathedral, the priests vestaments, and the seven deadly sins and much, much more. Plus, we could pray in Latin!

When I enrolled my 4th grader in "Catholic" school last fall, her lay "episcopalian" teacher held 45 minutes of yoga each morning, the classroom appeared to be a day-spa and a tiny cross with a fully dressed stylized corpus was the only hint that the classroom was Catholic. Religious instruction was held once weekly. Truly a disappointment.

Argent said...

All you've described seems amazing now, but I'm sure that Felician sister wouldn't have thought it remarkable. She expected you to know all that she taught and you all learned it.

Now your daughter's case is revolting in my opinion. I hope that she's in a better setting now.