Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (1)

June 29, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Family History, Memoir, Religion | 5 Comments
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We were a fairly typical Catholic family of the 1950s. Migrants from England, we were steeped in the Church’s ancient traditions and guided by its precepts. We believed all we were told: that the Pope spoke with the authority of God; that the Bishop was his representative; that the priest acted for Christ in the Sacraments, and was a respected teacher who would lead us on the way to Heaven. Everything I learned reinforced all this as I passed through the primary grades of our parochial (parish) school in the Illawarra area of New South Wales.

 

When I look back, I see that much of our life was related in some way to the church and its activities, and to the people who attended there with us. Some of the hymns I loved were those that asserted our Catholicism, especially “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Faith of Our Fathers”. I was much chagrined when I later learned that other denominations claimed these hymns too!

St Pauls Catholic School 1959

St Pauls Catholic School 1959

 

Our three-roomed, red-brick Catholic school stood on a parcel of land at the edge of town, a water tank was attached at one end of the building. Between the school and the huge pine trees that lined the fence alongside the road, was a bare playground. In the same parcel of land as the school and not far from it, a the small wooden convent housed our three Sisters of St Joseph teachers. Beyond that was the two-storeyed presbytery for the priest. I could never understand why, being for only one person, it was so big. And finally, furthest from the school was St Paul’s church. This was a white-painted, brick building in the solid rectangular style, with a tiled roof. To me, it was a substantial reminder of the solidity of our Faith.

 

We lived about five miles from the school, and caught a bus there every day. Our school used one local bus company and the state school used the other one, though both sets of owners attended the Catholic Church. I have a feeling that, as well as it being logistically a good idea, keeping the two sets of kids apart was one of the reasons for this. Actually, while there was some animosity between the Catholics (Micks or Tykes) and the other denominations (Proddies) in the cities, we didn’t see much at all. Sometimes we walked in class groups into town, for Salk inoculations against polio at the Council Chambers, or something similar. We had to go past the state school and, if it were lunch time, there would be some heckling and cat calls from the Proddy kids. I’m sure we gave as good as we got in spite of our holy escorts. However, it seemed to me, that we kids got more stick for being Pommies than for being Catholic. The chant, “Pommy-whackers stink like crackers!” often followed us as we walked by a group of kids playing on the otherwise quiet dirt roads.

 

(c) Linda Visman

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5 Comments »

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  1. What I always find fascinating Linda is the way we slowly transcend these limitations and then look back on them and actually see them for what they were.

    • You are right, Don. If we are aware enough, we can see how those limits affected us and hopefully cast them aside.

  2. It is interesting that some behaviours seem to be universal. When I went to school in Johannesburg, South Africa, we practised the same religious segregation between those of us who attended Catholic school and other students. We crossed streets to avoid each other whom we identified by school uniforms. Great post Linda 🙂

    • I think the 1960s were probably the decade when those differences were really beginning to fade. After hundreds of years of discrimination against Catholics in the English-speaking countries, the 60s & 70s saw the last of that.

  3. I guess religious tolerance wasn’t a strong point…


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