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Confessions of a Cultural Catholic

by Kathy Copeland Padden about a year ago in Teenage years
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I have fallen away, but I brought some stuff with me

Heirlooms, dammit. Photo by Kathy Copeland Padden

My name is Kathleen Marie Patricia, and I grew up Irish Catholic in Boston. Like everyone else I knew, I attended twelve years of parochial school and went to Mass every weekend. I didn’t even know any non-Catholic peers until I was in my teens. These kids went to public school! They were like exotic aliens to me.

I started to have serious doubts about the whole dealio when I was 14 or so. So I’d query the nuns.

"Sistah, how can a virgin have a baby?"

"Through the power of the Holy Spirit."

"How does the power of the Holy Spirit fertilize Mary's egg?"

"It’s a matter of faith."

"So you don't know then."

"Kathleen — "

"That doesn't even make sense."

"Go to the office."

None of the nuns would — or could — provide me with any satisfactory answers. Most never even tried. They just told me I was bold as brass, whatever the fack that means.

And sending me to the office was hardly a punishment. Even if I decided to actually go to the office, I could sneak a ciggie on the way. If I chose not to go to the office, I could sneak several ciggies, have a snack, and maybe a wee nap.

After my high school graduation, I stopped going to Mass except for weddings, funerals, or when my mother literally dragged me along. I didn’t wear anything remotely plaid for at least a decade. Twelve years was enough, thank you. No more Stations of the Cross, Holy Days of Obligation, or, best of all, no more nuns.

I was done with all that shit.

Well, I was almost done with all that shit.

I still have some of the trappings. OK, I have a lot of them. Family heirlooms. All over the place.

"Nice rosary beads, Kath."

I am immediately on the defensive.

"They belonged to my grandparents.”

"I said they were nice. Whoa, is that a missal? No, TWO missals. Well, well."

Grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s, dingus.”

"Oh, NO WAY. Is that a relic?"

Oh, for the love of God


"Shut up."

"I think it's cute."

"I hate you."

My friend had a point, though. To the casual observer, one might mistake me as a practicing Catholic. I’ve certainly got all the accessories. For example, I wear a miraculous medal. Do I do this because I believe Mary can save my heathen ass from damnation? No. I wear it because it’s beautiful, and Goddesses manifest in many forms.

I still put up my grandmother’s manger scene every Christmas. Why? Because it was Grammy’s and part of my childhood. It also happens to be beautiful.

There’s an element of nostalgia as well. The Catholic Church and my childhood are intrinsically linked. How could it not be? Much of my younger years revolved around it.

It’s definitely not about dogma. I knew it was horseshit by high school and left that behind once they handed me my diploma. I’ve never missed the religious aspect of Catholicism. Oh, hell no. But I have missed the sense of community inherent in parish life.

All the neighborhood kids went to Sacred Heart elementary school until we shipped off to our same-sex-only Catholic high schools. We had carnivals in the schoolyard, flea markets in the gym, and variety shows at St.Clare’s High School. We marked the passage of time with these annual events. Once you hit the May Procession (oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms todaaaay) it was the home stretch of the school year and almost time for the Sacred Heart carnival. Wikkid pissah!

So the Parish encompassed a good chunk of our social lives, something I only realized in retrospect. For kids living in the Dirty Old Boston of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, we were pretty sheltered.

I’ve still kept many of the habits spawned from my Catholic youth as well.

More conversation with an old friend from Boston during the guided tour of my house:

"Oh my God, Kathleen, you’re so Catholic."

Christ, not this shit again.

"The fuck I am. I haven’t been to Mass in 30 years."

"Doesn’t matter. They threw water on you as a baby. They own your ass. For eternity."

"Maybe your ass, altar boy. Not mine."

"Kath, You tear up at Ave Maria and cross yourself when an ambulance or hearse passes by."

I give up.



"Shut up."

"I think it's cute."

"I hate you."

So yeah, you could say I’m ambivalent about my Catholic upbringing. I know that the smaller it gets in my rearview mirror, the more I romanticize it. I understand the process. We all do it. It’s just a natural, universal part of getting older. Sigh.

And hell, I've got some great stories.

Now I’m off to sort me holy cards.

Teenage years

About the author

Kathy Copeland Padden

Political junkie, history buff, and music freak spending the End Times alternating betweencrankiness and bemusement. Come along! It's fun!

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