Saturday, December 05, 2009

Central Catholic

I've got a tip for the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security --if you want to track somebody wherever they go, employ a company that works for colleges and high schools, tracking their graduates so fundraising appeals can reach them wherever they are. Truly, no one has been able to follow me from place to place over the years like Knox College and Greensburg Central Catholic High School.

So even now I get "The Centurion" newsletter, which tells me that Central Catholic celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Which means that it's been 49 years since I started there, thanks so much for reminding me.

I was in the second graduating class. The school started with just one class, and added a new freshman class each year, so it wasn't until I was a junior that the building had its full complement. However, my eighth grade was held in a couple of rooms that weren't being used by the high school, way down at the end of a first floor corridor.

Yes, the school left me with a lifetime of memories, though not all of them the kind that alumni funds would wish. Some of those memories include nightmares, though after four decades, they aren't quite so sharp or scary as they once were. As to their nature, see the collected works of Christopher Durang for a few hints.

But in this newsletter I was struck by a quote from the Bishop at the time of the school's founding, Bishop Lamb (no, I'm not making that up), who apparently said the intention of Central was to be "a shrine of religion and a nursery of patriotism." This actually sounds about right. Back in those days, there was little overt clash between religion class and civics. (Though let's face it, every class was religion class to some greater rather than lesser degree.) I may have been a little more enthusiastic than I was expected to be over Thomas Jefferson and Freedom of Speech, etc. but there was a pretty healthy respect for democracy (though not in the Church, and certainly not in school), due process and political rights.

Some of the nuns were more enthusiastic than others about the New Deal when that bit of fairly recent history came up, or the contemporary beginnings of Civil Rights, though the fact that the President was a Catholic did go a long way. Also, many of us were third or even second generation children of immigrants, and from ethnicities--Italian, Irish and Polish or Slovak--that were then heavily Democratic and felt a great debt to FDR. Not every teacher was all that enthusiastic about the liberal Pope John XXIII and the Vatican Council either, but all they could do was mutter and punish people for no good reason.

But there was a coexistence, a separation of Church and state, and a sense that freedom of religion protected Catholics, and that the primacy of conscience really needed Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms to operate in a normal life. Similarly, the feeling about Darwinian evolution was that it generally did not contradict the doctrine of God as the Creator. It was accepted that the Bible was at times metaphorical, so the "days" of Genesis weren't to be taken literally. (Then again, the Bible was secondary in Catholicism to the teachings of the Church.)

Of course, abortion wasn't an issue then. Abortion was illegal, and it was not even to be spoken of, especially as it apparently had something to do with sex, which as a general topic was not to be spoken of, except when necessary in confession. It, like a lot of other stuff, was a Sin. Period.

So we didn't have that issue blurring the lines. Yet when I see Catholic clergy denying sacraments to elected officials because of their political positions, I do wonder what happened to the Church where the Constitution and conscience were respected even if certain positions or laws were deemed immoral according to Church doctrine, which has changed significantly on issues over the many years.

But the Catholic Church is no longer my concern. I see in the Central newsletter many familiar surnames of students who are probably the grandchildren or grand-whatevers of students I knew in my time there. I don't envy them the battles I had within myself and with the nuns and priests. ( as to their nature, see James Joyce The Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man for some hints-- a book I first read, incidentally, after one of the nuns at Central Catholic slipped it to me covertly.) But I hope enough lip service and especially access is given to the foundation documents of the U.S., and the "profiles in courage" of those who fought for and defended our rights, and at least the ideals of our government. There was a lot of toxicity at Central Catholic in my day, but at least there was some recognition that religion and patriotism aren't identical concepts.

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