Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (6): Some Things I Learned as a Catholic Child

October 26, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in 1950s, Catholic doctrine, Catholicism, Education, Memoir | 8 Comments
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Religion – the Catholic Church – was always an integral part of my daily life until I was in my mid-teens.

As well as Sunday Mass, there was regular Confession, attendance at special rites and rituals, and saying the Rosary – that last one was every evening especially in the bad times. A statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus) always stood in a prominent position. It had been a wedding present to my parents (I think it was from Mum’s parents), and I have it now as part of our family history artefacts.

The Sacred Heart statue that stood in my parents' home for 72 years

The Sacred Heart statue that stood in my parents’ home for 72 years

We all had our missals (Mass books) with the words said by the priest and altar boys in both Latin and English. The congregation did not respond to any of the ritual in the Latin Mass. We also had the Green Catechism, from which we learned by heart the basic dogma of the Church, in the form of questions with answers. Eg, Q.1: “Who made the world? A:”God made the world”.

Latin-English missal

Latin-English missal

We were instead taught to accept everything the Church told us as irrefutable Truth. This dogma, well learned and integrated into young lives, was aimed at creating good Catholic children who would do good in the world and eventually carry the word to others. Here are some of the things that I learned and accepted:

The green catechism

The green catechism

  • God was omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent.
  • The Pope was Christ’s representative on earth and the repository of God’s truth, therefore infallible; the priests & nuns  were the teachers of this Truth to their, with the priests (bishops, etc) being the only ones who could forgive sins on God’s behalf.
  • We are all born in a state of original sin due to the sin of Adam and Eve.
  • Christ died for us, but it was our obligation to live a pure life; we would go to Hell when we died  if we weren’t pure or committed a mortal sin that we didn’t confess, or to Purgatory if we had small sins on our soul.
  • Satan was always there to tempt you to sin and you had to stay away from ‘occasions of sin’ so you would not be tempted to do wrong.
  • We were given a Guardian Angel who we should always ask to help us stay away from sin. It was nice to think a lovely, white-robed angel with big white wings would always be there to help us, but I never felt really protected.
Guardian angel

Guardian angel

I always had feelings of inadequacy because I was not perfect; I wanted to be like the angels and saints, but thought I must be a bad person because I often sinned by getting impatient or angry or fighting with my siblings or disobeying my parents, etc, etc. I feared Hell but desired Heaven, whilst believing I was not good enough to go to Heaven.

Saint Michael the Archangel Vanquishing Lucifer by Francesco Maffei

Saint Michael the Archangel Vanquishing Lucifer by Francesco Maffei

  • God’s Word in the Bible was to be interpreted for us by the Pope. We had only short readings from the Gospels and Epistles within the Mass, and were never taught what the Bible actually said apart from that. The Pope was the one from whom the Word of God came down to the people.
  • If babies died before being baptised, they would go to Purgatory because they were in a state of original sin.
  • Non-Catholic Christians could not enter Heaven because they did not conform to the original teachings of the original Church. I think they went to Purgatory too.
  • Those who did not believe in our God had no hope of Heaven and would, instead, spend eternity in Hell.
  • If we prayed to the Virgin Mary, she would always help us. She was a powerful ally and would speak to Jesus for us.
  • If we said lots of prayers for the souls in Purgatory, and made little sacrifices for them, they would be allowed into Heaven more quickly.
Virgin Mary holy picture

Virgin Mary holy picture

We were constantly told of God’s love, but I at least always lived in fear of committing a sin. I didn’t question, but somehow lived with the inconsistencies of what we were taught. Also, because we were not to question any Catholic teaching, I never learned to question anything.

Our lives were focussed on religion – church, school, praying the Rosary at home, at school & at church, reading the lives of the saints. The only movie I saw until I was in my teens, aside from those on TV, was “The Miracle of Fatima”, based on the appearances of the Virgin Mary to three children in Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917. I wanted to be one of those children, even though they were treated badly by the authorities. I firmly believed the Miracle of the Sun had happened and that Our Lady had truly appeared to those children – and to Bernadette at Lourdes.

Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the three children

Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the three children

Making my first Confession and First Communion were special days that I believed would make me holy. I loved getting holy cards with pictures of Jesus, Mary, the saints, angels, etc. These would be given as rewards for doing well at school, for good behaviour and for doing special, extra things to help the nuns. I felt guilty if I missed Mass, even if I was ill,

Looking back, I have often realised that my Catholic upbringing had both positive and negative aspects. The major positive influence was the inculcation of a moral code together with development of a strongly developed conscience. I do not regret that aspect.

However, my religious learning was mostly based on fear, and what that created (in many others besides me) was a child ridden by guilt who had no ability to question what I was taught. The constant striving for perfection against the forces of evil, and especially the guilt of not achieving what I felt I should, adversely affected me in many ways and for many decades. But that’s another story.

(c) Linda Visman

Being Catholic in the 1950s and 60s (5): The Brown Scapular

October 19, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Catholic Church, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 4 Comments
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When I was writing about Catholic rituals (like Confession, Holy Communion, the Holy Rosary and the Children of Mary), there was another religious sacramental that I overlooked. The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the earliest of several scapulars, is a very old devotion to Mary. It is said to have been instituted by the Blessed Virgin herself in 1251 when she appeared to St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite monk.

Our Lady said to St Simon:

“Take this Scapular. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire”.

She also said to him, “Wear it devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you are continually thinking of me, and I in turn, am always thinking of you and helping you to secure eternal life.”

Mary appearing to St Simon

Mary appearing to St Simon

This has become known as the “Scapular Promise.” There was also an additional promise, given later to Pope John XXII by the Blessed Virgin Mary:

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in purgatory I shall free so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

This is the “Sabbatine Privilege” of the brown scapular, named for the Jewish Sabbath. This saves the wearer from an extended stay in purgatory. There are certain conditions to be met.

  1. to obtain the graces and promises, one must be chaste according to their state of life (whether married or single);
  2. an action must be performed that shows the wearer’s devotion to Our Lady, such as praying the Rosary, reciting the Little Office of Blessed Virgin, or something else the priest may give at the time of investment.

Scapulars were once given only to the monks the Carmelite order. However, in the sixteenth century, the Carmelites began distributing Brown Scapulars to the laity. There is a requirement for its proper investiture during a simple ceremony in which a priest enrolls the wearer in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Once invested, the person wears the scapular as a visible sign of their devotion to Mary.

Holy card: Our Lady with Jesus, offering the scapular

Holy card: Our Lady with Jesus, offering the scapular

All of my family were enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular at some stage in our childhood. I don’t remember just when, though it would definitely have been when we attended St Paul’s Primary School. I certainly remember wearing mine then. Mum’d had hers since she was young I think. I don’t know if Dad actually had one. He became Catholic in 1941, when he converted so he could marry Mum.

A scapular, before and during the early Christian era, was simply an apron that protected one’s clothes from dirt. The religious scapular, from when it was first instituted in the thirteenth century, would also have been rather like an apron. I suppose the name has continued on since then. There have been some changes though since then.

When we were young, it consisted of two small pieces of brown woollen cloth with pictures sewn on. These pieces were attached to each other by brown cord, making a kind of necklace. The scapular went over the head, around the neck and (usually) under your clothing. One piece of fabric went to the back, the other to the front.

The brown scapular

The brown scapular

We weren’t supposed to take the scapular off – after all, we might just happen to die when it was sitting on the bed when we were in the bathtub, or in a bag when we went swimming. If we did die without it, we might go to Hell – or at least spend a long time in Purgatory. Although we believed in the efficacy of the scapular as we’d been taught, we kids didn’t like wearing it. It was ugly, it chafed, it looked silly (to us), and often poked out of our shirt or dress. In summer, when we wore light clothing, it was a real source of embarrassment when that happened among non-Catholics.

Man wearing the scapular

Man wearing the scapular

Devotion to the Virgin Mary in the form of wearing the scapular still exists in the Catholic Church, as does this traditional scapular. However there is now also a scapular medal, which may be worn as well as or, I’ve heard, even instead of the old cloth one. A medal, like a piece of jewellery, would certainly look better and be more comfortable. You can even get them in sterling silver!

Sterling silver scapular medals; worn as the cloth ones are.

Sterling silver scapular medals; worn as the cloth ones are.

I have no idea when I stopped wearing my brown scapular – probably after I went to a public high school. I don’t know where it went either, and I haven’t even thought about it for many years – about five decades at least, I’d say.

An interesting source of information on the brown scapular can be found here.

(c) Linda Visman

Secondary School (2) Leaving St Mary’s

October 12, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Education, Family, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Polio epidemic | 6 Comments
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I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I wasn’t particularly happy that I had to leave St Mary’s College in 1961 after the polio epidemic. I was even less happy to be going to Dapto High – our nearest state high school – even though both my brother and sister had earlier attended there for between one or two years.

I hadn’t made any friends at St Mary’s, although I did talk with some of the girls at breaks. I always travelled to and from Wollongong alone as there were no other pupils from my school on the train, and nobody to accompany me on the half mile or so walk to and from the station at Wollongong. However, I hadn’t been unhappy there. I was comfortable with the school and its religious context, the learning style and how I was progressing in class.

Paper Clipping

Dad and David, just after Dad came home from hospital. Illawarra Daily Mercury, Dec.1961

The months of not being able to attend school due to the polio epidemic had been unsettling for all of us, and we’d been glad when the restrictions on our movements were lifted. But it had not been in time for school, and Dad was still struggling to get on his feet – literally. It also took a while before Dad was granted a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated (TPI) pension. For many weeks, we’d had no spare money. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the charity of the church, the police and a few friends, we wouldn’t have had anything at all.

The school holidays of summer 1961-62 meant that my younger sister and I had a lot more to do at home. Our older brother and sister had managed to get work again and were gone all week. Sheelagh and I helped as much as we could, not always with the best grace, to help Mum with the housework. We also had our little brother, three-year-old David to look after and keep occupied when he wasn’t at medical appointments. He had to wear a calliper on his leg to support his polio-affected ankle and foot, though I’m not sure just when he was fitted with that.

Me with my little brother in 1962. Dave is wearing his caliper.

Me with my little brother in 1962. Dave is wearing his caliper.

Anyway, when the time came to go back to school at the end of January, it had been decided that the only school I could attend was Dapto High. My sister still had a year to go at St Paul’s Primary. I don’t remember any details of being enrolled at Dapto, nor of getting a summer school uniform. I don’t remember catching on the train for the first day at the school. Nor do I remember walking the half a mile or so from the station at Dapto up to the school with a bunch of kids whom I neither knew nor wanted to know.

What I do know was that I was resentful, sulky and as unco-operative as a usually obedient, religious thirteen-year-old could be.

(c) Linda Visman

Photos We Loved: “Change”

October 8, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Australia | 2 Comments

How good are these photos from various WordPress blogs on the subject of change!?

The Daily Post

Last week, we enjoyed sifting through your submissions for Kristin Snow’s “Change” photo challenge. From volatile skies to the juxtaposition of old and new, here are our favorite interpretations of the theme:

2812 Photography

Freelance photographer Pete Rosos at 2812 Photography set up his camera to take multiple shots of a clock at one-second intervals. He then combined the images in Photoshop to create this fantastic image commenting on our perception of time.

Taking One Day at a Time

Sarah Longes at Taking One Day at a Time stayed out through a misty night with her husband to capture this eclipse sequence of the super blood moon, in the North Downs, south of London, England. She captured about 90 images, all processed in Adobe RAW converter, then moved them into Photoshop to create the spiral sequence, which she designed after the Fibonacci spiral.

View From a French Hillside

view from a french hillside

It struck me as I clicked away…

View original post 331 more words

High School (1) – Off to St Mary’s College

October 5, 2015 at 12:30 am | Posted in Australia, Catholic Education, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir | 18 Comments
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When the summer holidays of (December-January) 1960-61 ended, I began my first year of high school. I was all on my own. Peter had completed his Intermediate Certificate at Dapto High at the end of the previous year and was working in the office at Garnock Engineering in Port Kembla. Pauline was repeating second year at Dapto High, although, when she turned fourteen that March, Mum and Dad got special permission from the Education Department for her to leave school early. She was needed to help the family finances as Dad was having trouble getting work, due to the building industry recession at the time. As soon as she left school, Pauline started work at Crystal’s Clothing Factory in Marshall St Dapto.

Peter had started at the Christian Brothers’ College in Wollongong but had hated it and ran away in first year. He then went to Dapto High. Pauline had stayed an extra year at St Paul’s before going into second year at Dapto High. I was thirteen years old and heading off to St Mary’s College in Wollongong, a Catholic girls’ day and boarding school; I was a day student. Having done so well at St Paul’s, and my parents wanting all of us to go to Catholic schools if possible, I was sent there instead of to Dapto High, even though it was farther away.

Crown St, Wollongong, about 1962

Crown St, Wollongong, 1964. Photographer Noel Murray.

I travelled by train to Wollongong, then walked all the way down Crown Street to the school down near the beach. My parents scrounged to get my uniforms. In summer it was a beige uniform dress, belted, with collar and short sleeves. In winter the uniform was a royal blue box-pleated serge tunic with a beige shirt, royal blue jumper/ blazer, beret, gloves. The younger girls wore white socks, but the older girls wore beige stockings. We had to wear our white gloves and royal blue school beret at all times when we were outside the school grounds. We were also not allowed to speak to any boy whilst we were in school uniform. One girl in my class, Lynette, was expelled for doing that. I never did – I didn’t know any boys anyway.

 Part of St Mary’s College in 1960s

Part of St Mary’s College in 1960s

It was difficult to keep clothes clean on the train. They were steam engines then, and the carriages were generally sooty. On a hot day windows were open, resulting in cinders in the eyes and soot on clothing and body. However I loved the sway of the train as it travelled with its rhymic clicketty-clack along the rails. I loved the varnished wood finish of the carriage interiors, especially of those that had compartments. They had sliding doors with half-windows, and four people could sit on each of the two seats that faced each other. Best of all were the black and white photos mounted behind glass with wooden frames above the seats. They depicted well-known landmarks and tourist places, most of which I had never seen. There was Katoomba and the Three Sisters; the Jenolan Caves; Sydney Harbour Bridge; Sydney beaches and other places around the state.

I don’t remember any particular nuns; of course there were no lay teachers at that time. The nuns were of the Good Samaritan order and wore black habits with a white cover on the top of the bodice, unlike the all-brown habits the Sister of St Joseph wore at St Paul’s school. They were strict, I do remember that, but there must have been some fun there too I think. We went to Mass, Benediction and Exposition at the Cathedral, which was just across the street. I often saw Bishop McCabe there, who had confirmed me when I was at St Paul’s.

A Good Samaritan sister in the classroom

A Good Samaritan sister in the classroom

We didn’t have a playground in the school; there was no space for that. There was just a courtyard within the school buildings. For Physical Education and Sport, we were taken out to the lawns that stretched between the back wall of the school and the street to the east, all the way along the block. Across the street was Wollongong beach, with the Surf Club building that also housed a small kiosk.

I mostly enjoyed my school work. There were new subjects (I even had elocution lessons!) and new ways of behaving; new expectations; new teachers, and a whole new set of classmates. I was in the “A” class, but as a new kid, and to me the older girls seemed very mature. There were no boys, but I soon got used to that. My new subjects included Science, Latin and French, as well as new areas of history that I had never studied before. I loved pre-history – the cave men and their weapons and way of life, and learning about the Australian Aborigines. I had never seen an Aborigine and what I was taught at the school reinforced my ideas that they were a primitive people who still lived in that way – if there were any of them left.

Wollongong Childrens’ Library was on Crown Street, and I used to pass it every day on my way to and from the train. One day, I went in and applied to join. From then on, it was a regular stop on my way home. If I called in, I would catch the later train home, getting into Albion Park Rail at five o’clock instead of half past four. I loved the series of books I found there about the adventures of a boy named Teddy Lester. He went to a boys’ boarding school in England and was a good cricketer, often saving the match at great odds. I was in the library one afternoon when a reporter from the Illawarra Daily Mercury newspaper came in to do a story on the library. I ended up with my photo in the paper as a result.

Clipping of me at the library, from The Illawarra daily Mercury 1961

Clipping of me at the library, from The Illawarra daily Mercury 1961

There were three 15 or 16-week terms then; it was some years later that the four-term year was brought in. We had Term Tests, and our results had to show we were learning and behaving, or our parents would be informed. I have my first term’s report card that shows I was above – in some cases well above – the grade average in seven of the nine subjects I studied. However, Sister Coleman’s comments were only: “Linda is making satisfactory progress. She has attained 19th place in class.” Makes you wonder what you have to do to believe you’re getting somewhere!

That October, when David, then Dad, then Pauline came down with polio, the rest of us were all put in quarantine at home. We couldn’t go to work or to school for at least two weeks after each diagnosis. As they were two weeks apart, we were isolated for six weeks. That took us to the end of the school year, so Sheelagh and I didn’t return at all that year. The following year, with Dad unable to work and money in short supply, I left St Marys and went off to be enrolled at Dapto High School. I can’t say I was happy about the situation.

(c) Linda Visman


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