In the summer 1960 we converted from being non-denominational to Roman Catholicism. We took our instruction at St. Jude in South Holland. St. Jude had a young priest for the youth and an older priest, Father Naughton who was the lead pastor. I was taught about the church by Father Naughton a very down to earth priest. He taught me so well and had such an influence on me that he was the reason for my leaving the church in 1970. I really liked the Catholic Church of the early 1960s. It still had the Latin mass, The Pope was still infallible and people believed it. The Church condemned movies and books that were deemed as not appropriate for Christians. There was holiness about the way the mass was celebrated especially on high holy days. The three hour fast for food and the one hour fast for water before communion made communion even to a young man holy and meaningful. There was a morality and hope that appealed to me as a young man who was struggling with all those wonderful things teenage boys struggle with becoming men. The church was a rock something stable and unchanging in my life.
Father Naughton taught me that the church was traditional and historic. It could trace its lineage back to Peter the apostle who Roman Catholics revere as the first Pope. He taught me that the Catholic Church was the true church because it was the same yesterday as it is today and that God and His Church are unchangeable. Right is always right and wrong is always wrong. I was enthralled with something holy that could trace its origins all the way back to Jesus. At the time it seemed very logical that the Roman Church was the true church. Being a lover of history the Church’s celebrating the mass the same way for over a thousand years was very special to me. I was taking part in history and in something holy. I was taught that as long as I went to confession and communion my sins would be forgiven after proper heart felt penance. It gave me a sense of hope that after being cleansed in purgatory I’d make it to heaven as would all baptized Catholics.
Those of us who attended public school had to attend High School of Religion at Saint Jude. High School of Religion taught about the inner workings of the Roman Catholic Church, the saints, what the mass really meant and well everything we would need to know to be good Catholics. We were taught that confession, a good act of contrition and penance followed by communion gave us a clean slate. The idea came to us that we could date on Friday night then go to confession on Saturday night do an act of contrition and penance then take communion on Sunday. Too our way of thinking what happened on Friday night could be confessed on Saturday and then on Sunday after communion we were good to go again until Friday night. The idea that all we had to do was confess, do penance and our sins were forgiven was to us the neatest thing. Every week we would have a clean slate!
It’s not that I dated much at all but I did have a couple of dates and boys will be boys. When we dated we were after a “home run”. We as I’m sure most teenage boys do use baseball as a way of bragging about how far we got on a date. Most of us never hit a home run and getting to second or third was in our dreams only. Yet, if we even got to second we knew it was a sin so all we had to do was confess it and move on and hope next week the confession would be better. As far as I was concerned church was a matter of faith and mechanics. Sin then go to confession, perform penance, go to communion and have a clean slate, rinse and repeat. Perfect for a guy like me trying to get away with sinning and yet get to heaven.
I was still having problems in school but not nearly as much as in grade and junior high. I even had the courage to fight a couple of times I lost one and almost one, one. My self-image was improving but I was still lacked confidence but I was slowing changing. Bullies mostly were in gym class and sometimes in the hallway and in study hall. Much of it could be avoided by being alert. In many ways being bullied and having to be on alert all the time in school saved me in Vietnam where being aware and on alert could mean life or death.
I even stood up to some of the bullies once and even backed them down. I was always taught that girls and woman were to be respected. There was one girl who was being picked on they were calling her names and being very cruel to her. It was a beautiful spring day and we were eating our lunch in the courtyard between buildings. They started to pick on her calling her Cheetah, they made her cry. I don’t know why but I found myself telling them to leave her alone. It must have been the way I said it because they did. I may have paid for that later in gym class I don’t remember but looking back I think it was the confidence and knowing that I was more than willing to fight for her that moved them away. Sometimes it is not our ability but the confidence we show in it that really matters.
I as I mentioned before I was not the best student especially when it came to math and algebra both were required for graduation. I was so bad that I had to attend summer school twice. I failed because I just didn’t like to study mathematics or algebra. Being a little slow I didn’t learn the secret of doing what you don’t like first to be done with it. So for two summers I had to ride my bike to Thornton about ten miles away for summer school. Dad and mom wanted to make a point, “You failed now you have to go to summer school and I’m not taking you. Ride your bike or walk but you get there and you better pass.” I remember they took some heat from some in the family, “You’re being too hard on him.” they said but I thank God that I had parents who loved me enough to make me uncomfortable. It was hard to ride my bike or find my own way to summer school but in the end it taught me a valuable lesson. I didn't learn the lesson quickly, (having to go to summer school twice) but I learned, there are consequences to failure, so don’t fail.
Looking back my high school experiences, being in a small business making and selling bikes, cutting grass and washing cars, snow shoveling driveways and sidewalks taught me the value of working hard. Having to get myself to summer school taught me that poor decisions have a price and I am responsible for my poor decisions. These were the seeds of my later political beliefs.