My Childhood Catholic Church

I don’t remember my age when I first attended the Catholic church. My mother was a Protestant and had no interest in it. My father seldom went but there was trouble if I failed to go.

Fathers Mills and O’Neil were the ministers of ‘Our Lady of Good Counsel’ church, and both as miserable as a cold, wet day. Solemn? Even Jesus would have balked at spending time in that place. I wonder why the organization chose to give their ministers the title of “Father” when Jesus said we must not call any man “father” apart from our Father who is in heaven. He was referring to spiritual leaders, of course, but I’m told it’s a mark of respect toward the priest. Really? How about some respect for Jesus and doing as he says?

I was baptized in this church, received First Communion and Confirmation, all of which I had no idea what it was about but it pleased the people, so it seems. Later, due to extreme boredom, I became an altar boy and learned the Latin mass. Boredom? Yes, when a child has to stand among the adults for an hour, and do everything they do, like stand, sit or kneel at the appropriate times, it’s boring! Then for one quarter of that hour, the priest stands at the altar rail and preaches something that goes right over my head. Whenever a baby cried, Mills would stand there and glare at the person until they got up and removed the offending child.

Tuesday evenings brought more misery when Miss O’Reilly came to my home to walk me to the church about a mile away. In the winter time it was bitterly cold. Little or no heat was on in the church, and I’d sit there and shiver, while one solitary fluorscent light glowed over O’Reilly, me and about six other children.All around us in the semi-darkness, were statues which took on a scary appearance. I was always in trouble because I could never remember the Catechism. I had no idea what it was about, anyway!

In the summer time I’d have to be in that God-forsaken building when my friends were out playing in the street. And still O’Reilly would be on my case for not learning the Catechism! Is this any way to teach children to know God?

My time as an altar boy brough some relief from the boredom but as I went through the text of the Latin mass while serving at the altar, I still had no idea what I was saying. And even preparation for service had their down times. The head altar server was an adult by the name of Tuckett. He didn’t wear black cassocks and plain white cotters as we did. No, he had a purple cassock and a lace-trimmed cotter. He was bald with hair on the sides of his head, and he had a beaky nose which seemed to be permanently stuck in the air. High and mighty? You bet! And he had a son, my age, who was following in his dear daddy’s footsteps, with the same “my poop doesn’t stink” attitude.

One Sunday evening there was a special service which I was required to attend to serve the mass. While waiting in the sacristy I found a small stack of Catholic newspapers and draped them across my arm, pretending to be a newsboy. Other altar boys got a kick out of it but the priest – O’Neil – took a dim view of it and told me off. He made me go and kneel at the back of the church and ask God’s forgiveness. It was embarrassing as the church was filling with people.

Let’s see, what else can I complain about? Ah, yes… those dreadful Stations of the Cross every Sunday afternoon during the Lenten season. Another hour of boredom that followed my one-mile walk to the church for mass, my one-mile walk back home, my one-mile walk back to the church for this awful ritual, which would also be followed by another one-mile walk back home. For six weeks, my Sundays would be shot while other kids played in the streets.

My final dealing with the Catholic church took place as we prepared to move from the city of London to a city on the East Coast of England. It was midday on Friday and O’Neil came to see us off. He gave me a missal and a cheap rosary, then asked my father for our address so he could stay in touch. At least, that’s what he said he wanted it for but I soon found out his ulterior motive. We arrived at the coast at 8.30 p.m. that night. At 8 a.m. the next morning, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a priest standing there and welcoming us to the neighborhood. He told me where the local church was and asked me to attend. So on the Sunday morning, I went. It was during that mass that I became very angry at O’Neil’s duplicity. He made quite sure the church would keep it’s nasty, evil hands on me, but I had other ideas. It was that day that I became an atheist, and remained that way for the next twenty years. I decided that if this organization represented God and was a glimpse of what to expect in heaven, I’d rather go to hell. I was approaching fifteen years old at this time.

One incident that had me concerned about the London church was a time I wandered into a dark corridor that was not used by the members, and in an alcove to one side was a set of tom tom drums but they were skulls. I stood and stared at them, wonding what the priests used them for. In thinking back about all the horrible feelings I had in that church, I wouldn’t be surprised if those priests were indulging in some kind of Satanic ritual. It happens!

Below is a recent photo of that church that was located on Bouverie Road, Stoke Newington.The low garden wall and the shrubs have replaced a tall brick wall which partially hid the building.

I am so glad to be away from it and away from the Catholic religion because of its many conflicts with bible teachings. As much as I hated that church and the priests, I now regard the experience as valuable because I minister to people who have gone through similar bad experiences and turned their backs on God. And where Mills and O’Neil are today, only God and they know that, but I doubt heaven knows it.

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