Remembering the Church of My Youth
By Giedré Maria Kumpikas, PhD
There are several reasons why I love the Catholic Church. I was raised in the faith of my parents. From early childhood, I adored mysticism, rites, sacramental vestments, statues of the Virgin Mary, Saints, and prayers in Latin, which seemed more spiritual than what we have today.
As a teenager, I believed that if I prayed very earnestly, my prayers would be answered, and some were, but I also knew that I had to do my part: “God helps those who help themselves.
My education from age 9 to 17 was by sisters. At the beginning, they are Dominicans in white clothes, then the sisters of Saint Francis and Saint Joseph. Many were charming, gentle, kind and excellent teachers. Going to a Catholic school was a great advantage because the education was first class and free.
Around this time, in the 1950s, the Brooklyn Diocese took the top two students from each parochial eighth-grade school and placed them in Catholic high schools for girls and boys. I attended Queen of All Saints in Brooklyn for two years and then Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School near Prospect Park, also in Brooklyn. Queen of All Saints was a beautiful old building which also housed a church and small chapels. Every morning, mass was celebrated, and if I came early enough, I attended.
Bishop McDonnell had an excellent academic reputation. We were known as “Bishop’s Girls” and we were well liked. Our teachers have inspired us, not just educated us. We were taught sincerity, politeness, good manners and respect for them and each other. The sisters lived in convents and wore the habits of their particular order.
Then times changed and the sisters modernized. The convents were closed. They no longer wore clothes but rather jeans and had short hair. For me, it was less spiritual, less inspiring. I could no longer distinguish them from the populace. She has lost something holy, self-sacrificing and exceptional.
One day, not so long ago, I saw an elderly sister with a companion walking towards me on a busy street near my house. She wore a black habit with a traditional head veil and had a large cross hanging from a long chain across her chest. I stopped, and almost with tears in my eyes, I managed to say, “Sister, I’m so happy to see you wearing a habit. She looked at me and said kindly, “Thank you, honey.” I told him that I had dated Bishop McDonnell. She smiled and again, in her soft old voice, she said, “Be well, my dear, and pray. Goodbye.”
Some time later, while I was waiting for my car to be fixed in an auto shop, there was another woman waiting for her as well. auto. She was wearing everyday clothes, but there was something distinctive about her, so I struck up a conversation. She said she was a sister. I realized that something about his calm demeanor was so familiar. I asked her why the sisters no longer wore the habit, and she told me that very often they were harassed and insulted. I was shocked and saddened.
The world has become so secular and derogatory towards religion, especially towards Catholicism. When Muslims or Jews are attacked in their religion, they react; we Catholics turn the other cheek. Catholicism is a very difficult religion — it teaches us to forgive our enemies and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I have watched with dismay the growing attacks on the Church.
When I was in France a few years ago and visited Le Mont Saint-Michel as well as other churches and cathedrals, I was shocked to see that these churches were, for the most part, no longer places of worship but had become tourist attractions.
The message of Christianity is good and uplifting, despite the human flaws of some of its exponents.
Many years ago I visited Lourdes in the south of France, the famous town where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl. The resplendent basilica on the hill, the grotto, the spring with its allegedly miraculous waters and the evening candlelit processions of the faithful singing “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria” were awe-inspiring. Such faith cannot be confused. If anyone has doubts about the existence of God, let him go to Lourdes. It is a place where one can feel the presence of God.
The story of Saint Bernadette is quite moving. Franz Werfel, a Czech-born Jew fleeing the Nazis, came to the cave and prayed to the Holy Mother. He swore to himself that if he escaped, he would write the history of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette. His prayers were answered and he kept his vow. His book “La Chanson de Bernadette” was published in 1941, in German, and adapted for the cinema in 1943.
Saint Bernadette was interrogated, interrogated and examined by municipal police and clergy. The town doctor admitted to seeing such miraculous healings that science could not explain, and his statement is fitting to end this article: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.
Giedré Maria Kumpikas is a professor of French, English and German at Long Island University and attends the Church of the Annunciation.