Why be Catholic? (conversion story, part 2 of many)

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(part one here)
I was raised in the Anglican (Episcopalian) tradition. My parents actually met in the choir at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in San Diego CA. 3 years later, they got married in that same church, where my grandmother was a parishioner and first grade teacher. I was raised to go to church every Sunday and Holy Day. Because my dad was in the Air Force, we moved a lot, but the 3 years we lived in England we went to the Church of England in our town and to the Vacation Bible School on the base. When we came back to the States, my parents sent me to live with my grandma for a year (for second grade) and I attended the Episcopal School where she taught. It felt good to have that tradition to hold onto, to be at the church where my parents met and married, to be in the school choir and sing, to be part of what I even then saw as a long tradition of Apostolic Christianity. I remember that I once had a necklace that had a mustard seed encased in glass, that I wore to remind me to have "the faith of a mustard seed."

School was wrapped around church. Every morning, after we assembled in our classrooms, we filed into the little church, row by row, class by class. Four mornings a week we said morning prayer – a general confession of our sins, readings from the Old Testament and the Epistles, a psalm that we chanted antiphonally, a canticle, and usually the Te Deum and some general intercessions. One day a week it was a longer service, as we had the parish priest present so there was a Gospel reading and a Communion service. Only those confirmed in the Episcopal church, who were fasting, went up to communion. It impressed upon us that Holy Communion was a serious event. This school also had 3 nuns, from an Anglican order. They taught the religion classes. They also led us all in the Angelus prayers every day after lunch.
The next year after my parents had found settled housing and a school for me, I returned to my family. For the next 3 school years I (and my brother and sister who were old enough) went to Holy Nativity Parish day school in Los Angeles CA. The school day there, like that at All Saints, was marked by opening with prayer, and incorporation of Christian values through out the day. I stayed in the choir, my parents were very active in Parish activities – my mom on the Altar Guild and my dad in the Stewardship committee. In the 4th Grade, I started memorizing the Anglican Catechism, and eventually was confirmed in the Anglican Communion and started taking communion on Sundays.
It was while I was in the 4th and 5th grades that I had my first real encounters with Catholicism. I was (still am) a compulsive reader. My grandmother had introduced me to the public library when I lived with her - until then I thought that books only lived at home or at school. We went to the library at least once a week and I always checked out the maximum allowed. At the age of 6 1/2 I was tested and found to be reading at a 7th grade level, so I read books both from the children's section and with my grandmother's approval, some books from the adult section. When I would get bored in church (we got there early on Sundays so we could get the good seats - in the actual church rather than the annex) I read my way through the Book of Common Prayer.
When I moved back in with my family, one of the first things I did was to go get my library card. I proceeded to try to read every book in that branch library's children's section. Two books stand out in my mind from that time of my life - one was a Louisa May Alcott book in which a rosary is mentioned (prompting me to ask my mom "what's a rosary?") and the other was a biography of Saint Domenic (I read my way through the whole row of Vision Books lives of the saints!) in which I learned the words 'heretic' and 'heresy' - and once again, that mysterious thing, a rosary.
As mentioned above, I asked my mom about rosaries. She told me that it was a way of praying. She went to her jewelry box and pulled out this set of black wooden beads with a crucifix on the end. It had been passed down to her - I don't remember exactly from whom (a grandmother of hers?). She let me hold it and told me that you said a Hail Mary on each of the little beads, an Our Father on the big beads, and the Creed on the medal. That is all that she knew about it. Then she put the rosary back. I remember that it was missing one bead in the third decade.
We lived on a street with lots of kids. About half the kids went to the local public school, most of the rest went to the local Catholic school (Visitation Parish) and a few of us went to other schools. I went to one of my friends who lived down the street and asked her about the rosary. She gave me one (plastic glow-in-the-dark beads) and invited me to come to Mass with her. This would have been 1963 or 1964 - I don't remember exactly when. My mom gave me permission to go with my friend to the early Sunday Mass so that I wouldn't miss church at our Anglican Parish.
My friend took me along with her to a Low Mass. I don't know quite what I expected - but it wasn't what happened. I think that I expected to hear a liturgy that was fairly similar to the Anglican communion service but in Latin. My friend loaned me her missal so that I could try to follow along. I think that if the Latin had been audible I would have done just fine. But I could not figure out what was happening when. I was also distracted by the rest of the congregation - many of them were praying the rosary sub-audibly and they were all at different places, some were praying other devotions, some were sitting there quietly reading. There was no music at all. It was dark in the church except for the few candles at the altar. A few people were doing the sit/stand/kneel routines but many seemed totally oblivious to what was happening on the altar. Only during the sermon (all of 5 minutes!) did most of the congregation even seem to be on the same page. I was upset and disappointed.
However, I developed an attachment to the rosary as I understood it, and tried to say at least some of it at least occasionally. (I didn't learn about the mysteries or the other prayers for several more years). I also fell into the habit of telling Mary ( as well as Jesus) about things that worried me. My Anglican parish church had a beautiful statue of Mary in a niche, and I gravitated to sitting near her if I had the opportunity.
I also continued to read my way through the Lives of the Saints - alternating them with my other favorite genre, science fiction.


I do not have any comments on the story except that it is veru interesting and I enjoy reading it. Looking forward to more.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by alicia published on February 8, 2006 6:36 AM.

a letter from a sister was the previous entry in this blog.

setbacks is the next entry in this blog.

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