12 March 2015

#FearlessFemales - Day 10 - What role did religion play?

March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

My mother was deeply religious. The Catholic church and her faith were part of who she was. It would have been a very hard decision to give up some of the important Catholic sacraments, such as Communion and Confession when she married my Dad (who was divorced) - but she made it.

Mum was baptised in 1935 in St Benet's Catholic Church in Sunderland England. St Benet's had a school attached to it and she attended that school, starting in 1940. She also attended St Mary's, St Godric's (near where she was evacuated to during the war) and St Joseph's before heading back to St Benet's where is all began.

Despite the fact that she was unable to go to confession or take communion Mum was a regular church goer. She also raised her children Catholic. However, my sister and I only went to a Catholic school for 3 - 4 years and our brother not at all as we moved in the early 70s and the nearest Catholic school was too far away. We did, however, go to Catholic youth groups, Catholic scripture classes and also the usual Confession, 1st Holy Communion and Confirmation classes as we were growing up. I even went to a School Holiday (vacation) camp supervised by Nuns.

I remember the special family "ritual" we created at Christmas. We went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve for Carols and the service and when we got home it was Christmas Day - this meant presents! We'd open all our presents and then head to bed. After we got up we'd have breakfast together and then visit neighbours to take them their gifts and receive ours. As kids we thought we were so clever getting all our presents early while our friends had to wait until morning for theirs!

Mum's church had scripture teachers who went out once a week to the local public Primary Schools to teach Catholic children the Catechism. Mum did the course so that she could do this too - passing on her Catholic faith was also important to her.

I remember one time she had given her class a little test by asking them to write out the words to the Hail Mary prayer to see how well they were learning. Imagine her disgust when one of her students wrote "Hail Mary full of GRAPES" instead of grace!

In 1986 my father started the process to try and get his first marriage annulled. Mum and Dad were notified that there was a waiting time of over 5 years before the process could even be started and so they were asked to go and visit the head priest at the local Catholic Church to talk about their situation. The priest told them that he had been granted permission to bless their marriage in the church. This happened at a special ceremony on December 19, 1986 with my sister in attendance as a witness - and with that Mum regained her right to attend Confession and Communion.

One of Mum's friends invited her to go to a Billy Graham Video Conference Crusade and Mum asked me to go along (by that time I had converted and become a "black sheep protestant"). At the altar call Mum's friend asked Mum if she wanted to go forward - her response was "No, I know Jesus".

Mum was very conscious that most of her friends and family were not Catholic or were only nominally Catholic, so she left very specific instructions for us about her funeral (passed on during one of our regular family dinner conversations about "what to do when I die"). She wanted her funeral at the Catholic church she'd attended for over 20 years, but it wasn't to be a full Requiem Mass as it would have no meaning to most people in attendance. 

While many of our family's friends thought our "what to do when I die" dinner conversations were morbid and refused to take part in them, to our family they were just the same type of conversation as "what I did at school" or "what were we doing on the weekend". As hard as it was to have to organise Mum's funeral, we had grown up with her wishes our whole lives and all the decisions had already been made, we just had to make them work. To a person of faith like Mum, death, while not being looked forward to, was not something to be afraid of.

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