I went to Catholic School AND I Liked It

St. Pancras, my elementary school
St. Pancras, my elementary school | Source
First grade...nice uniform and bowtie
First grade...nice uniform and bowtie | Source

Back in the Day

Yes, I can say back in the day. At my age, I can pretty much say anything I want. So, back in the day I went to Catholic School. There were three schools in my neighborhood in Queens, Catholic School, Public School or Lutheran School. Actually there was a Jewish School but that was only conducted on Saturdays. I know because we used to go and hang out in the bathroom while our friends attended school. Not everyone has fond memories of Catholic School but I do.


Anyway, I started school in first grade. I believe kindergarten was eliminated the year I should have gone because of a move from the old school to the new school. Obviously I had no clue about that course of events at the time. All I knew was I got to skip kindergarten and go right to first grade! I started school when I was 5, although I turned 6 the same December. I really wanted to go to school, I couldn't wait. It didn't even bother me that I had to wear a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, navy blue pleated skirt, and a bow around my neck the size of a coffee pot! I must admit I wasn't too thrilled with the bow my mother put in my hair but I suffered through just to go to school. As I said earlier I lived in Queens so we got to walk to school. It was only four blocks and everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood so there were no worries about children being abducted or misbehaving without the all seeing eyes knowing. We also got to go home for lunch. The crossing guards at several street corners kept a close watch on all of us, not only while crossing the street but while walking along. They reported anything out of the ordinary to our mothers. That included crossing without listening to the crossing guard, fighting or dawdling!

We were taught by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, and at the time most of the nuns were in their late teens. My first day of school was a true experience both for me and for Sr. Marie Germain. We were all assigned seats in alphabetical order. As luck would have it I was near the blackboard, not the window. Early in the morning on this first day, I heard sirens outside. I wanted to see what was going on so I just got up, went to the window, and looked for the fire trucks. I was rushed back to my seat and reprimanded for leaving my seat without asking permission, oops. Strike two came when I took out my snack. My mother had packed a lovely snack for me but no one told her there are no snacks in first grade. Strike three can be blamed on my social nature. I wanted to get to know everyone and proceeded to talk to different classmates. Sister informed me talking was not allowed. You can only speak when spoken to or when answering a question. This was a rule I had difficulty with through my entire eight years of elementary school. Oh yes, and whenever you want to answer a question or have to use the lavatory (that's the bathroom to the Catholic school novice) you must raise your hand and wait for sister to answer you, even if your hand is in the air for 15 minutes.


My first grade class...LOTS of kids.
My first grade class...LOTS of kids. | Source
The Sisters of St. Dominic
The Sisters of St. Dominic | Source
Attending Mass together (I believe this was Confirmation)...notice this is the boys' side
Attending Mass together (I believe this was Confirmation)...notice this is the boys' side | Source

What else went on

Going home for lunch was a treat because the pretzel lady was always waiting on the corner, both before and after lunch so you could get a pretzel on the way home or the way back to school. The pretzels were kept warm in her cart and the price of five cents made it a special treat. The fish store was another treat. Not only could you buy freshly cooked breaded fish, but you could get fresh, hot french fries in a cup shaped in a cylinder like the one used in the candy story for drinks. I think the french fries were so good because they were cooked in the same oil as the fish. This was our version of fast food. Eating fish or french fries before going home for lunch was not a good idea. Mothers frowned upon children who didn't want to eat their lunch. Remember, it was the odd mother who worked in those days so they were always there and always all knowing. Then there was the candy store. In addition to the candy you could get an egg cream or a cherry coke to go with your bagel. Not to worry, if you ate too much or drank too many egg creams Jack the owner, would tell your mother.

Catholic school in the '50's had many quirks as most people know or have heard about. Punishment was an every day discipline. For example, we had a spanking machine in our school. It was located in the principal's office. It was actually a safe but we had no clue of that. Whenever students got beyond their nun's command or were really disrupting things, they were sent to the principal's office for a visit to the spanking machine. We never thought it was odd that even in eight years no one every saw the inside of the spanking machine!

Then there was the dreaded phone call to your parents. You knew life was ending when the principal said, "I'm calling your mother!" Now you were not only in hot water in school but you were going to get it when you got home. You could hear kids pleading, please don't call my mother. This phone call extended to your father when he got home. It was a vicious punishment.

My favorite punishment was being made to stand behind the door. You have to realize when you and another student were talking to each other (I told you this was a problem for me) you would both be told to stand behind the door. I remember in one class, I think it was third grade, I was behind the door with four boys. We had some neat discussions back there while all the other kids had to sit in their seats and pay attention. Somehow, the nuns never caught on to that one.

This is where we walked to school...the school is located on the right
This is where we walked to school...the school is located on the right | Source

Other rules and things we did

In addition to the three r's we were taught about social behavior, particularly how boys and girls should behave. For example, Catholic school girls should never wear patent leather shoes because someone could look into your shoes and see up your skirt! I still have difficulty imagining someone staring into my shoes to see my underpants, but remember, this is back in the day. A lady never crosses her legs or whistles...very important facts to learn.

Whenever we left the classroom we marched two by two in height order. Though this wasn't the army, it had many similarities - the uniforms, the marching... However, we were supposed to hold hands so our partner wouldn't get lost. It is hard to imagine our partner getting lost on the way to church - across the street. We did have field trips, even then. I remember twice in my eight years we went to the movies (field trips), almost eight blocks away. We marched, two by two, in height order, holding hands, all the way to the movie and all the way back. No talking while walking, we had to set a good example.

Music and Art were cursory subjects. We drew pictures and sang songs, that was it. Nothing too complicated or time consuming as we had other more important things to learn, like religion and spelling. I can still recite the first ten questions from my first grade religion book, know the Ten Commandments, and I happen to be a very good speller.

There was an elevator in our building but nobody knew it. I found out in fifth grade when one of our classmates broke his leg. For some strange reason I was asked to accompany the Sister with the key and the boy with broken leg whenever they went in the elevator. I was a favored child. I didn't have a broken anything and I still got to ride in the elevator. How glorious and special.

Every Wednesday we had release time. We got out of school two hours early because the public school kids came to learn about religion. We felt sorry for those poor public school kids. They had to go to public school then every Wednesday came for religion classes in our school while we got to go home.

We always attended Mass as a group. Every morning before school we went to Church and attended Mass. You had to sit with your class and after Mass your Sister would walk you over to the school building to begin the day. On Sunday, your parents brought you to nine o'clock Mass. You lined up in the schoolyard with your classmates and Sister walked you over to Church. After Mass you could go home with your parents without any more lining up. Girls always had their heads covered in Church. If you didn't have a hat you wore a chapel veil or a mantilla. Only the big girls were allowed to wear mantillas. Dress code was your Sunday best, no uniforms. Our Pastor ended the sermon the same way every week, saying if you didn't obey the laws of God and Church you would be damned forever into the eternal fires. He was a Msgr., Msgr. Pfiefer, a very holy and generous man that everyone loved. He had a cleaning lady at the rectory who was also the parish secretary. We always thought she was Mrs. Pfiefer.

It's not possible to put 8 years of Catholic school in one short hub. I will say I don't regret the experience and proved that by attending Catholic high school and then Catholic business school. It was a different world back then. We were taught to respect our elders whether they were teachers, nuns, parents, or Jack who owned the candy store. We knew when we were wrong and we knew we would have to pay for it. The bottom line is the values we grow up with and how our parents guide us to adulthood.

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Comments 22 comments

minjin25 profile image

minjin25 5 years ago from Illinois

Great, great Hub. You must be around my age because your entire Hub sound like a replay from my Catholic school years Peter Pan collar and all. I skipped kindergarden too since the year I was ready they stopped it. We walked to school in an old Chicago neighborhood with the candy stores on the way and mass and home for lunch everyday.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York Author

Sounds like we are close in age. Chicago and NYC mirror each other in a lot of ways.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

WOW! Thank you for the wonderful walk down Memory Lane! A Catholic School student here....(or as our public school friends called us "Miss Goody Two-Shoes.") and private Catholic HS and then more years in a Catholic College.......Whoa. I will not lie and say I liked it as much as you did, however, I definitely appreciate the solid & superb education I was afforded! So much so, I even sent my two older sons...until the school closed down. Heck, Tillie, I'm surprised I didn't become a NUN....lmao. Now THAT is ridiculous. I'd have been booted out on my butt, for sure!! Loved this hub.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

FP the funny thing is the nuns always wanted me to enter the convent. The order I had in high school, Sisters of Mercy, had to make their own habit in the novitiate. Several nuns offered to make mine if I would go into the convent. Needless to say I saved them some sewing.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

OMG....you are so funny! "It's OK, ladies, don't get the sewing machine out on my account!" hahahah....


Crazy Mags profile image

Crazy Mags 4 years ago

You know what struck me was when you talked about going home for lunch. I had forgotten about that, but when I was in elementary school in the 70's, we were allowed to walk home for lunch and walk back to school. I bet no one does that now.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I'm sure your right Mags, they wouldn't dare let the kids walk home, they'd never go back ;) Things change so much that we sometimes we forget the little things.


cabmgmnt profile image

cabmgmnt 4 years ago from Northfield, MA

I went to Catholic School as well. I liked it as well but I was such a shy child that I had a hard time making friends.The friends I did make at Catholic School are still friends to this day. Thanks for this hub!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Thanks cabmgmnt. I was and still am the total opposite of shy but I've had a fun ride! I too still have friends from Catholic School, students and nuns, and I treasure every one of them. Glad you enjoyed.


Ronnie 3 years ago

Your brought back many wonderful memories Thank you


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York Author

Its all about the memories Ronnie ;)


Vellur profile image

Vellur 23 months ago from Dubai

Great days and great memories, it must have been fun even though quite strict, thank you for sharing this hub and great photos. Those were definitely the days when they taught us how to become better persons. Great hub, voted up.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 23 months ago from New York Author

So true Vellur. We learned whether we liked it or not. Funny thing is, we liked it. Thanks for the vote.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 23 months ago from Houston, Texas

I loved my Catholic school experience. My dad helped build the school in time for me to enter 3rd grade. I completed 7th grade when my parents moved from Wisconsin to Texas. We had 3 combined classes in one room the last year I attended and practically my first year in Texas was a repeat. That was such a good education! We also attended Mass each day prior to school.

Up votes and happy to share!


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 23 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi, I went to St. Edwards a lot like what you talked about in your Hub. I had the same things happen. Loved your Hub, it brought back a lot of memories.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 23 months ago from New York Author

Back in the day Peggy I think all Catholic schools were alike. It had to do with the church and nuns I think.

Ladyguitarpicker you shared our experience. We can all sit back and remember the good times we had.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 23 months ago from Shelton

im glad you liked it.. and thanks for sharing this little piece with us.. I tried Catholic school.. but the uniformity got the better of me.. maybe I was out of the box back then LOL... bless you


Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

Pamela Kinnaird W 23 months ago from Maui and Arizona

I'm so glad Peggy W shared this or I wouldn't have seen it and read it. It was lovely to read! The photo of you in your little suit and scarf (bow tie as you call it) really set the scene. It's nice to get a glimpse back in time and imagine Queens as such a friendly, homey place. I'm glad for you that your early school years were so good. Up votes.


Nurtjahja profile image

Nurtjahja 23 months ago from Malang

Good luck .Everyone has a life principle


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 23 months ago from New York Author

I can imagine you would be Frank but I always carried my own box ;)

Thank you Pamela and thank you Peggy! I really had some wonderful years in a place that was so different then.

Nurtjahja thank you for reading.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 23 months ago from Dallas, Texas

You've really captured the education of those days gone by in such a way that brings back strong memories. Even though I didn't attend Catholic school, our elementary school in Bayonne NJ was much the same with our marching two by two, duck and cover drills, the candy store, walking home for lunch - there was no cafeteria. Sometimes my Mom would walk from the project housing where we lived and join me for lunch where we would walk down the way to the diner. Ah, fond memories, except for the spanking machine. Wow, what a deterrent to bad behavior. Our principal had a Cat-o-nine tails hanging on the wall in his office as a threat. Voted up, awesome and interesting. Great reading.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 23 months ago from New York Author

So Peg, New York or New Jersey, Catholic school or public school, back in the day they were so similar. How sad those days are gone. Cat-o-nine tails you say? I think I'd rather deal with the spanking machine.

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