I have attended Catholic schools since the age of 2 ½. At 22, I have just graduated from a Jesuit institution and beginning in August, I will be pursuing a master’s degree at a different Jesuit University. My parents were the more ‘unconventional’ ones throughout my pre-college career – they were not practicing Catholics, Church was not a Sunday – or even a holiday – ritual, and I myself was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. Still, I have always known that by sending me to Catholic School, my parents hoped they could provide me with the tools necessary to make my own decision about my religious beliefs in later years. Catholic education would give me what my parents could not: something to believe in beyond the realities of the world.
Before the second grade, I was perfectly content participating in my daily, forty minute religion classes which usually required me to construct a drawing depicting the Stations of the Cross or the Immaculate Conception or to fill in short answer questions in my workbook. Once my friends began making their First Communions however, I grew curious. Why could I not do the same? After all, what seven-year-old girl does not want to wear a crisp white dress at a party thrown in her honor? Still, I was relatively unfazed by the disparity that now existed between my classmates and myself.
By eighth grade this changed completely. Now my friends were all being confirmed and at the age of 14, I was definitely acutely aware of the fact that in a class of 90, I was one of about 10 not being confirmed that spring. This is when I determined that I would convert to Catholicism once I turned 18. And then came high school…
At the time, my years at my all-girls Catholic high school was one of my most cherished experiences and one of the most defining. This changed drastically in college but nevertheless, I think that my school did something for me that it may not have intended to – it made me seriously question the values of the Catholic Church. As I became more politically aware and more socially concerned, I knew that the social values typically associated with my political party conflicted irrevocably with many of the teachings of the Church (I think my party affiliation is obvious). I now realized that the colorful Bible stories of my youth were just that – stories. They were meant to help the younger generation understand the basic nature of good and evil from a religious standpoint. Beneath this façade existed the Church as an institution and the institution is precisely what shook my faith.
The Church does not believe in pro-choice rights, gay marriage, or female priests. I am proud to say that I am in favor of all three. Of course the first two are social issues and if you want to argue that and tell me that I am entitled to my own opinions, fine. That is your opinion. In my eyes, I am no longer able to find comfort in a religion that not only dislikes but also outright condemns what I believe. Religion is supposed to be a personal experience yet it seems that our personal experience must occur only within the specific guidelines outlined by the Church. Help the poor and provide them with that which they cannot obtain for themselves but make sure that does not include free-clinic care or God forbid abortions. Treat everyone equally – except the gay community because apparently, they are not worthy of obtaining a marriage license. If this is what the Church is asking of me, I refuse to participate in it.
Over the course of my college career, I slowly decided that Catholicism no longer appealed to me. I value my Catholic School education immensely, don’t get me wrong. I still believe in God and am a strong advocate of the Jesuit University experience but I am not sure if I can any longer identify with a specific branch of Christianity. My beliefs are my beliefs and unless the Catholic Church tells me that it is acceptable to support gay marriage or a woman’s right to choose, I can no longer support the Church. Actually, maybe two decades of Catholic education did have the effect it was supposed to. It gave me a strong moral character, self-discipline, and most importantly, a belief in God. Those are the things that the Church should focus on and these are the things that we should take away from a Catholic School education rather than a narrow-minded view of a socially diverse world.