I grew up Catholic. My parents were Catholic too, as were their parents before them. As far as I know, my ancestors were Catholic all the way back to France and were kicked out of Nova Scotia in 1755 at least partially due to their Catholicism.
I was baptized in a Catholic church by a Catholic priest when I was a few days old. I went to a Catholic school for prekindergarten and admired the older girls in kindergarten and first grade who wore pleated plaid skirts and white shirts with buttons. Preschoolers were too young for uniforms; we wore civilian clothes to class, but I hoped someday I could wear a cute school uniform too. Alas, my family moved, and I got the rest of my mandatory education in public schools.
In first grade, my religious indoctrination began in earnest. Every week of the school year, I attended what my parents called “catechism” and the church referred to as “religious instruction.” Each week, the teacher (always a woman) taught us what we needed to know in order to grow up to be good Catholics.
In the town where I went to elementary and middle school, kids made their confirmation in tenth grade. Confirmation is the Catholic sacrament of choosing to be Catholic. Up until Confirmation, a kid’s parents and godparents make religious choices for him or her, but at Confirmation, the young person chooses to continue life as a Catholic. After accepting Catholicism and being confirmed, a person is seen as an adult in the eyes of the Church. It seems ridiculous to me that a 15-year-old could be capable of making an informed choice about something as important as religion, but that’s the way it worked in our community.
My family moved a few weeks into my tenth grade year. Somehow in the hubbub of my dad starting a new job and my mom getting me and my sibling enrolled in our new schools, our parents didn’t enroll us in religious training. Maybe they looked into it, and the new church didn’t want us starting late. Maybe money was tight and my parents couldn’t afford tuition. In any case, we sat out catechism that year.
Our family still went to mass, but it wasn’t the big deal it had been before we moved. In our old community, my dad sang in the church choir; later, my parents sometimes read the Liturgy of the Word at mass. Even though my parents weren’t huge movers and shakers in the group, our family was part of the community. In the new, much larger parish, no one seemed to care if we attended mass.
I don’t know how we got the information, but we learned that in our new parish, kids made their confirmation and became adults in eighth grade instead of tenth. I was not only missing out on preparation for my confirmation, I was already behind.
I suppose the next school year, 16-year-old me could have joined the 12 and 13-year-olds in confirmation preparation, but my parents never pushed the issue. Perhaps because it was a sacrament of choosing, my parents were waiting for me to take the initiative and ask them to help me get confirmed. Perhaps their own doubts about our religion had crept in far enough to make them hesitant to insist I get with the Catholic program.
I had my own doubts about the Catholic Church. I wasn’t keen on the way men got to be movers and shakers (priests), while women were stuck in helper roles (nuns). No one had been able to give me a good reason why women couldn’t be priests too. At that point, I hadn’t decided to quit being Catholic, but I knew I didn’t want to make the adult decision of being all in.
In any case, I wasn’t confirmed that year; I wasn’t confirmed the next year; I wasn’t confirmed ever.
Our whole family attended mass less and less frequently. No one saw to it that I went to confession (or “the sacrament of reconciliation” as the Church had started calling it by the time I came along). My sibling and I were busy with school activities, and my parents’ marriage was crumbling. Maybe my parents felt getting everyone to church was no longer worth their energy. (I remember once dragging my feet as the family was getting ready to go to the new church, and my mother said, Fine! Stay home if you don’t want to go! Would I actually be allowed to skip church and stay home alone? I didn’t find out because I was scared of the passive-aggressive repercussions I might face if I took my mother up on her offer. )
I don’t remember the last time my family attended mass together. Somehow my life as a Catholic ended with a fizzle instead of a bang.