Through Any Given Door

1.26 Might as Well Be Hung for a Sheep

St. Patrick’s

No Sunday or Holy Day passed without Dad taking the children to Mass. Some Sundays they attended St. Anne’s in Columbia, other Sundays they went to Mass in Jamestown, sometimes they drove to Tuolumne, during summer camping trips they heard Mass sitting on the hard benches at the outdoor theatre in Pinecrest, but most often they went to St. Patrick’s in town. They traveled around because Dad passed the collection plate and served communion as there were not enough altar boys. Mom no longer attended church; forced to go as a child, she avoided it whenever she could.

The kids went to Saturday catechism and spent two weeks every summer with the nuns in summer school. At seven years old they made First Holy Communion, the age regarded by the church as the age of reason or the age at which a child can realize what things mean for themselves. Within a couple of years they made their sacrament of Confirmation. They went to confession and took communion. They did the Stations of the Cross. They lit holy candles at the foot of Mary. At dinner with folded hands they blessed their daily bread and at bedtime with bowed heads they murmured nightly prayers. In times of concern Dad gathered the girls and recited evening vespers. They’d kneel on the living room rug, repeating Our Father after Our Father and Hail Mary after Hail Mary, Dad’s smooth brown beads silently slipping through his fingers, praying mainly for Mom’s salvation. The family was sure she was going to hell. She didn’t give a hoot what they thought. She didn’t worry about breaking the rules, and if you were going to get in trouble, she felt it may as well be for something worthwhile, her favorite motto: “You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.”

St. Patrick’s altar

Despite its graceful spire soaring through ancient cypress trees, its classic beauty perched atop its lookout knoll, and its lovely altar and stained glass windows, to a child, sitting through Mass was an ordeal. Faint from kneeling until their circulation cut off, the stifling heat and pungent frankincense made the weekly ceremony torture. It was too much: the congregation sitting, standing, kneeling, up down, up down, up down—listening to Father Gilmartin’s sermons on hell and damnation or his rantings on Christmas and Easter Catholics.

The year Carleen turned ten, the heat affected her so much she’d throw up during the service. Dad learned to sit by the back door. From the time St. Patrick’s was built in 1863, I imagine that all the children who were commanded, demanded, and reprimanded to sit quietly for that hour every Sunday prayed to escape. Except Claudia. Church always had a humbling effect on her.

to be continued …

a younger Father James Gilmartin (b. Ireland 1876)

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Jim Chatfield says:

    You have a way with words, thank you for all your stories. I can imagine all their thoughts. When I was 6 thru 10 we lived next to the Catholic church and I got into mischief one day and the priest came over and talked to my mother and then took me thru a complete tour of the church and explained the window paintings, all about the services, the statues and how I should be a better person. After that I respected Father Pashon as a person. I wasn’t Catholic but that didn’t make a difference to him.

  2. Catherine, even your briefest life snippets are an absolute delight. Bravo, and thanks!

  3. Luckily, I wasn’t catholic:) Those services sounded like torture!!
    I attended the local baptist church every time the doors were open.
    It was my sanctuary–nobody was screaming at each other in there, I loved to hear music, songs about happy places, joy and peace! Thanks for taking me back to those peaceful memories!

  4. Church brings back so many emotions but mainly guilt. As a child I thought I was going to hell for even the smallest infractions. By the time I was a teenager I no longer cared. You always manage to part the curtains and bring me back to a time I thought I had forgotten.

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