Sit’n on the Porch to Make a Stand

The year was 1981.  The day was Friday, December 4.   I had just finished a visit with Sister Kathleen, who was the director for the religious education program that prepared 7th-grade children for their sacrament of confirmation into the Catholic religion at Mount Calvary Church and School in Forestville, MD.

The backstory goes something like this.  Our family had been actively involved members of Mt. Calvary for eight or more years.  Two of our children were attending classes at the school and we registered our eldest son, Bobby, into the program to receive his confirmation of faith in the Spring.  The program required the child-to-be-confirmed and his parents to complete homework assignments, school classes, and weekly meetings of the parents with the director.  Sister Kathleen made it very clear that if any of these elements was incomplete that the child would not be allowed to be confirmed.  As memory recalls, I believe the course of the program was 8 to 12 weeks and the required weekly meetings with parents were about to come to an end.

Well, it’s a Thursday night.  Like many nights come and gone, Bob went to his monthly meeting at the Knights of Columbus while I was home busy with our three kids, finishing up dinner dishes, helping them with homework, and getting them ready for bed.  And then it happened–Oh, No!  This was the last night for the required the parents’ meetings and both Bob and I had simply forgotten about it in the course of carrying out our busy schedules.  Feeling very ashamed and guilty, I picked up the phone and left a message for Sister Kathleen and asked her to please call me.  Come Friday afternoon, I went to visit to apologize, explain what happened, and to see what we could do to make up for the meeting we missed.

Much to my surprise and dismay, Sister Kathleen stood firm, she politely thanked me for my apology and then proceeded to tell me that my explanation was not good enough.  In fact, she went on to say that if I had told her that one of us was sick that she might have excused us.  WOW!  My rationalization of her statement:  if I had lied to say one of us was sick, all would have been forgiven.  When I realized that our discussion was at an impasse, I took my leave.

After reflecting further on our discussion and stewing about the hypocrisy of her comment, and acknowledging all the hard work Bobby had done to prepare for his confirmation, and his desire to still be confirmed, I got busy.  Over the next few hours, I frantically made phone calls to the school’s principal, who said she could not/would not interfere with Sister Kathleen’s  authority over this program.  I called a number of the other parents in the program and discovered there were at least two more families in the same situation because they had missed a meeting.  I next called the church’s pastor who talked with the sister but said he, too, would do nothing because it was an Archdiocese program.  Across the board, I asked all those I spoke with if a make-up class for all parents who missed a meeting could be arranged.  Sister Kathleen had put her foot down and made her “No!” decision final.

By this time, I was infuriated with the lack of compassion, understanding and Sister’s total rigidity on the issue.  I also felt the other families let us and their children down by not standing together on the matter.  This was one of those rare occasions where my “dander had been raised,” and at 34 years old, I felt “this mother has to do what a mother has to do,” on behalf of her children.

So, I got my purse, my pillow, and my sleeping bag, and drove to the convent where I parked my car and proceeded with my 1960’s-style peaceful sit-in on the front steps of the convent porch where Sister Kathleen lived.  I was so “hot-under-the-collar,’ that the cool temps of the December weather were not going to deter me and nothing short of an agreement on how our son could be confirmed would stop me from taking a stand on this matter.  The first night’s weather wasn’t too bad.  In the morning, Bob and our three kids came to be with me.  Bob had told my parents where I was and what I was doing.  My well-established, faith-abiding parents were more than merely mortified.  Here I was, their daughter, their eldest child, their pride and joy, and the one who had never caused them a pause, camping out on the convent steps, making a public statement about a nun, a church program, and, in fact, the church, itself!

My dad immediately got on the phone and called Father Worch, the priest who brought our family together into Mt. Calvary’s parish and had become a beloved family friend.   But, Father Worch, had been transferred to another parish in Washington, D.C. a couple of years before.  Nevertheless, Father Worch called the convent and spoke on my behalf.  Then, he asked the Sister if the telephone cord from their desk phone would stretch far enough for me to speak to him from the front porch.  Sister politely shared the phone with me.  I listened to Father Worch and what he had to say, and then I politely replied to him that “a girl has to do what a girl has to do, and I hope you will understand.”

It was now Saturday afternoon, Bob and the kids had bought supplies and the family made protest signs to further publicize the situation.  A number of people with their children had passed by and noticed us on the steps with my sleeping bag and protest signs.

The Prince George’s County Gazette Newspaper had been called and they came out to interview me.  And, I believe after their visit and impending story and its potential publicity, that it was the pastor who contacted the Washington Archdiocese who, in turn, contacted the Baltimore Archdiocese and their religious program director, agreed to come to Forestville to give all parents who had missed a meeting the opportunity to  make-up the class the following week.  And, Bobby, with all his fellow classmates, was confirmed at the Washington National Cathedral.

As for me, I continue to support my children and their aspirations.  But, my fond memories of Mt. Calvary, at least for a time, had been diminished.  This story has since given us at least a few laughs.  It has become part of our family history and put all on notice who might have once thought because I appeared weak, bashful, and demure, that I would easily throw in the towel in every situation.  I’ve learned over the years that sometimes you just have to speak up for yourself or get trampled on by those who believe their rules are the best or only rules in this life.

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