Memories of my Catholic youth

It was sad to read this week news of the death of Sr Janet Mead. Her version of “The Lords Prayer” (which was an international hit record) came out around the time of my First Holy Communion. There are so many things I remember about that time of my life, and the song is one of them. I remember it as a time of my life when I became quite deeply religious.

I think there was a bit of interest in me from the priests and nuns, and not in the way that’s sadly become all too familiar. I was a smart working-class kid, quite good at public speaking, and I think they thought I could be a future Priest or Brother. Who knows? By now I could be living in Rome!

I used to regularly play an album called “Hymns Of Praise” – or named something like that from K-Tel – (which featured Sister Janet’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer”) and even had an “altar” of sorts in my bedroom, displaying lots of religious artefacts. Unlike many parents who might otherwise encourage an interest in religion, mum was deeply concerned about this.

We were Catholics, but not CATHOLICS! Mum would say The Rosary every night before bed, but none of us ever went to a Catholic school, and we didn’t attend church. Instead, I went with my cousins to Sunday school at the Presbyterian Church. Mum ordered me to dismantle the “altar”.

First Holy Communion at the Catholic Church at North Lismore (The church is no longer there) in 1973 or 1974 (I can’t quite remember).

After that, I never considered a religious vocation ever again.

But I continued to be fascinated by the nuns, in particular. I know many nuns have done terrible things, but the ones I had contact with as a young person always seem like such good-hearted souls.

My “favourite” nun in Lismore was Sister Elaine. I THINK she might still be alive, though probably very, very old. I remember reading a few years ago that she had gone to live and work at a leper colony in Peru, though I can’t be sure that’s true.

It’s not often that I mention my work here, but thought I’d share a piece I did for my radio show which tells the story of Sister Janet, and how her international pop song fitted within the context of the Catholic Church at the time, and her own religious vocation.

Keen to find out more about her work, and how a “pop song” fitted in with her vocation as a Catholic nun, I spoke to Noel Debien from ABC Religion & Ethics.

“It was a very big deal. She would get 2,000 people to the cathedral in Adelaide to these “rock masses” for this type of music that she was composing and recording and performing and it was unexpected. A lot of what her parents would have learnt at school would have been Gregorian chants. It was only three years beforehand that the mass had gone into English officially. There just wasn’t much music around in English for Catholics to sing, so she was in part filling a void.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/editorschoice/janet-mead/13732262

The entire piece goes for about 25 minutes, but well worth a listen.

7 thoughts on “Memories of my Catholic youth

  1. Childish religiosity can seem very quaint in retrospect. At about the age you write of, I had a burst, focussed around burying dead animals (mostly birds, I think) but also for some reason on the cellar which my father had dug out beneath our house, which I thought of as a kind of crypt. I wrote a little hymn. My father even made and painted a wooden cross for burial ceremonies. These took place in the garden. The craze soon passed.

    1. I remember our family cat died in the week’s before my dad’s death from cancer. I remember being quite upset about this, and thought years later the ritual we went through then was a a way of helping me as a child better understand what was about to happen.

  2. I had a catholic phase too while at high school. Wanted to be a nun when a very little girl but grew out of that to wanting to be an air hostess. We had a trendy priest up here who played guitar and attracted lots of young people to Catholic Youth Group. I now consider myself non-denominational believer and follower of Jesus. Love Jesus. Love Others and Love Yourself. = JOY in life’s experiences. God is great and God is good!

  3. I am what? Ten years older than you and brought up in a divided area of Catholics and Protestants in my young years. At a young age I knew I was against Catholics, because I had heard remarks made by parents and those in authority, reinforced by what most schoolmates said. Protestants and Catholics students met at the local swimming pool. What was said and chanted wasn’t nice.

    Back then the same could be applied to Jews, Eyeties, all foreigners, boongs, unmarried pregnant women and poofters.

    Ah, the good old days.

    But while vaguely possible, Sister Margaret should not have told my Catholic friend Ann that she could become pregnant if she spoke to boys through a Cyclone wire fence. Any action separated by a Cyclone wire fence would have been challenging.

    Yeah, the good old days.

    1. I know the chants you’re talking about Andrew, as I’ve heard about them, but I don’t remember them. I do remember, however, a feeling that Catholics were in some way “inferior” to Protestants in my early days of school, esp as a small group in a public school. While every other religious group had a classroom for “Scripture”, we had our classes in the school’s “sound shell”. Maybe we were outside, communing with nature and God or something like that? I don’t know.

  4. POST SCRIPT: The other thing I forgot to mention was that Sr Janet’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is the CATHOLIC version, which doesn’t include “For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever”. So many friends who were raised Catholic, but who went to public schools have commented bout going to school and hearing that bit for the first time. As a child I remember this vividly, and friends have often spoken about the suprise when they heard it for the first time. WTF is everyone saying?? :)

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