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What I Learned in Catholic School

By Roger A. “Pete” Peterson

7 or 8 me.

7 or 8 yr. old me

Just before turning five, I began attending a catholic church school in Lewiston, Maine. Catechism, or religious instruction, was the first class of the day. Our teacher was an elderly nun dressed in a full habit (black robe and head cover). Her teaching began with the Book of Genesis, the first chapter of the Old Testament, which tells the story of how God created heaven, earth, and “man in the image of God.”

After reading the Story of Creation out loud, the nun said, to paraphrase her, “By eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil against God’s “command,” Adam and Eve committed the first or Original Sin. And because all humans are their offspring everyone is guilty of sinfulness. “She quickly added, “and you can’t trust the flesh because it will always betray you.”

Wow, I couldn’t believe my ears, what an awful thing to hear! With my jaw hanging down to my knees and my eyes wide open in disbelief, I turned and looked around the room at the other kids to see how they were reacting to, what seemed to me, to be damning information. Until this moment all I had seen in their faces was happiness and innocence. Why would the church and this woman* tell a roomful of kids that everyone is bad and no one can be trusted? I was outraged and voiced my objection angrily. She told me to be quiet, so I turned my back on her in protest for the rest of the class. I didn’t want to hear anything else she had to say, which was impossible to do of course.

 *  At the time, I was very angry at this person. Later, as I began to delve deeper into the nature of consciousness, I began to suspect that she might be a friend, an ally from beyond the confines of this flesh and bone, earthly experience. Who else but a friend would play such a dastardly role unless it was important for us to understand that there is more to life than what we are currently told, and that there is more to our role in life than making money and raising children, more than just being human? What if we are here to live, love, learn and evolve into something greater than we are now?

The next morning, as we stood in line outside her classroom, the nun sternly walked up to me and asked, “Are you going to learn your catechism today?” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “NO!” As if expecting this response, she grabbed the wrist of my right arm with her left hand and pulled a large, eighteen inch, wooden ruler out of a fold in her robe. I knew what was coming next and tried to pull my hand away to no avail.

Holding my wrist tightly, she began striking my knuckles as hard as she could and continued to do so until I could no longer bear it without crying out in pain. I didn’t want to cry but I couldn’t help myself. (Here’s a question that came to me at one point in life: Was she was trying to break my resistance to these awful beliefs through pain and humiliation?) Turning my head and looking at my fellow classmates through tear-filled eyes, I felt a great boiling rage rise up in me at the church and this nun for thinking it was their right and their duty to torture children into accepting their view of reality without question.

The following day, as my seven year old brother Dicky and I walked to school, I decided not to go to class. I told him I’d wait in the woods behind the church until we could walk home together. Standing in the woods alone for hours was scary. What made it even worse was the idea that there might be quicksand in the woods. On previous occasions, Dicky and his friends would try to scare me with tales like this because they were not happy being saddled with someone younger than them.

I knew about quicksand from seeing it in movies and it was doubly scary knowing that I was all alone with no one to help me if I did step in some. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess I stood in one spot the whole school day. My mother often made Dicky take me with him to get us both out of the house. That was fine with me because it was always an adventure to go places with him and his friends, no matter how much they complained about having me tag along. Sometimes, they seemed to get a kick out of scaring me.

After Dicky and I returned home from school, I told my mother what happened the day before. I also told her I was never going back to catholic school again and meant it! When school officials corroborated my story the next day, she gave them a piece of her mind and immediately transferred Dicky and me to the nearest public elementary school. As it turned out, things weren’t that much much better. While the church told me we were all bad and can’t trust ourselves, public school inferred that we were “blank slates” that needed to be written on, that we were children and “children should be seen and not heard unless spoken to.”

For example, when I was asked to get up and introduce myself to the class, I did. I told them my name and why I left Catholic school. Then, I asked my new teacher how public schools treat their students. Instantly, his face turned red and, pointing his finger at me, he shouted “Sit down, shut up, and do as I tell you. I’m the teacher and I know what’s best for you!”

Yikes! Were all schools prison camps run by bullies or was it just me, bringing out the worst in people? Probably a little of both. Fortunately, I met several teachers along the way who I loved and respected greatly. Mrs. Doughty, in the fourth grade, was one of them. She came to my rescue when she overheard my third grade teacher tell me she was going to keep me back for a year because my reading ability was poor. After Mrs. Doughty got me to promise to work hard with her on my reading, my third grade teacher, who used to babysit my brothers and me, let me move forward to remain with my classmates.

I loved Mrs. Doughty for that and I rose to the top third of the class in reading the following year, mostly, just to earn her respect because I didn’t much like school. I loved learning but I didn’t like being told who to be, what to do, and when to do it. The message I got from Helen (Mrs. Doughty) was that she wanted me to learn how to read and write for my own sake, no one else’s. She treated everyone as though they possessed intrinsic value. She was one of the only people I knew who was capable of loving others without judgment. Needless to say, she was my favorite teacher and I loved knowing and working with her.


Side story: One day, when I was three or four, my brother Dicky and I were walking home through the woods behind our house. Hearing strange metallic sounds behind us, followed by a loud thud as something heavy hit the ground, we turned and saw a full grown man dressed in a devil’s costume from the top of his head to his toes. He was staring at us from about a dozen feet away, holding a trident in his right hand and his tail in the other.

Looking for an answer to the creaking springs and the loud thud, we looked above his head and saw a narrow metal bed frame, tied between two trees for support. It was still swinging back and forth. What was he doing, lying in wait to scare little kids like Dicky and me?

Bending forward, he made a circle with his arms and made an awful sound as he flexed his muscles and prepared to chase us. Even though Dicky and I knew it was only a man dressed in a devil’s costume, we both yelled in fear, turned, and ran like hell towards home. As I ran, I wished I was big enough to turn around and kick this guy’s ass for scaring us so much and turning us into chickens. Years later, my oldest brother, Rudy, told me it was his seventeen-year-old friend from high school who loved scaring little kids for laughs.

Pete – https:/realtalkworld.com

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

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