What was the weirdest thing you were taught at Catholic school?

I didn’t go to Catholic school, but I did attend a Catholic university for undergrad and graduate school, and taught in two different catholic schools before entering into a public school district.

Probably the weirdest thing I saw, was the anal retentiveness about boys facial hair. One school I was at would make boys shave in the mornings in the Dean’s office and give them detention for having a little bit of scruff. They would frequently go on the morning announcements and remind boys about the rules, claiming that it interfered with their education and wasn’t an indication of cleanliness. One day- and it still makes me laugh- they made the announcement, and a boy dropped to his knees in the hallway, looked up and shouted, “JESUS HAD A BEARD!”

Three teachers rushed at him to get him to knock it off, and I had to duck into my classroom because I started laughing so hard I was in tears. True. Jesus *IS* always depicted with a beard!

19 Replies to “What was the weirdest thing you were taught at Catholic school?”

  1. I went to Catholic School all my life. I can think of three things:

    1.Our high school was partially in the convent where the nuns lived. They were great. But my layperson bio teacher…I suppose it was her job to teach us sex ed? And she taught, as fact: the boys are unable to feel love for a girl until they are 18. That the hormones in their body that fluctuate during lustful feelings are so overwhelming, they cancel out other hormones and eliminate the ability to think rationally, or feel anything other than lust—even love.

    We all told her that was ridiculous. She said it was a proven scientific fact, not her opinion or experience. Boys don’t KNOW they can’t feel these things, which is why they are so convincing when they say they love you. I think her goal was to throw us off the idea of having sex, but really it was a pretty good justification for rape, if anyone actually believed it.

    2. The other odd thing did come from a nun, in about second grade. A nighttime prayer:

    There are four corners on my bed

    With four angels on them spread

    Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

    God bless this bed that I sleep on.

    Normal enough. But it was to be taken literally. And honestly, I DID find it comforting: there were four angels, invisible to me, guarding the corners of my bed. If monsters or other dangers came along, they would spread their wings, which were giant, to surround my bed. Their eyes would turn red and they would fight away the demons and keep me safe. I used to say the prayer and try super hard to keep my eyes closed so they wouldn’t disappear.

    3. In sixth grade, Sr. Jean told us that the correct way to pray was to say thanks for something, say sorry for something, ask for something, and offer something. But when asking, we should pray to Mary, and ask her —because she would intercede on our behalf and even Jesus couldn’t say no to his mother. Ha! I still pray like that whenever I do pray (not often at all).

  2. When I was a junior in high school, we had a young priest who was teaching us about sex and morality. Of course, we were all being pretty giddy and showing off and asking the most absurd questions.

    He was a real sweetheart, and this was after Vatican II, so Catholics were very open to talking about things that had never been discussed before. After almost everyone in the class got a chance to ask a question that made the priest turn red in the face, I asked Father Sherry if we could get venereal disease is by sitting on toilet seats. In a very professional manner, he cleared his throat and said that as far as he knew, you could not get a venereal disease from a toilet seat because there was no direct contact with any open body part.

    I could not let that answer stand as it was because it didn't get a laugh from all of my peers. So I said, “But what if you have a cut on your butt?”

    I got the reaction I was hoping for as my classmates burst into laughter. But poor Father Sherry turned red as a tomato, and thankfully, was saved by the bell ringing. My small Catholic school class only had 75 students in it, and even to this day, almost 50 years later, we still talk about that one class with Father Sherry. I also still wonder if you can get a venereal disease that way. Since then, I never actually sit on a toilet seat when I have to go!

  3. I went to Catholic school in the 80s and did actively play Dungeons & Dragons at the time. We tried so hard to rile up the teachers that we brought the books to school to play during recess. Much to our disappointment, the teachers said reasonable things like “For D&D to bring out inappropriate behavior in a child there would have to be other factors at play.” This reasonable statement during the height of Pat Robertson’s mania and many of my fellow players having to hide it from their parents.

    As a result I assumed that our Catholic school was very moderate and reasonable. I wasn’t practicing the religion. The public schools were just very poor and my grandmother who had grown up through The Great Depression hit money in the walls of our house so that I could attend Catholic school for a superior education.

    It wasn’t until 20 years later that someone laughed as I referred to non-Catholics as “heathens”…this being the language that I was taught in grade school. I had internalized this view for so many years that it didn’t even strike me as noticeable. I didn’t even think of the word as being derogatory, more like a neutral shorthand. Of course we also spent valuable class time cementing the idea that non-Christians were going to hell, our pet dogs were not going to heaven, and non-Catholic Christians might be going to hell, depending on which side of the fence they landed on.

    Bear in mind the Catholic religion basically says that you can essentially do whatever you want and as long as you express remorse for your actions before you die and fulfill the priest’s penance and are a devout Catholic (whatever that means), then you go to heaven. Of course, in practice being a Catholic seemed to have more to do with gossiping about the behind-closed-doors behavior of your neighboring Catholics.

  4. I went to an all boys Roman Catholic High School in the 60s. I was given the very best education from a group of Holy Ghost Fathers who founded the school. School spirit was great and, all things considered, I enjoyed my years there.

    We were taught all the usual “rules and regulations” to be a good Catholic that we were taught in grade school. I was even an “altar boy” which gave me real insight into the business of religion. But, as I grew older, I started realizing most of the rules were weird, that is, a lot of them really made no sense to me. Whenever I asked for better answers I was often told “it’s a divine mystery” or “God works in wondrous ways.” I was not happy with those answers.

    For non-Catholics, here are some of the more common things I didn’t like: no meat on Fridays; women had to cover their heads attending mass but men had to uncover their heads; Jesus was conceived by The Holy Spirit and born of a virgin – Mary; Jesus performed miracles (but, I thought, in a rather random, arbitrary manner); Jesus didn’t have a wife (unusual for that period – died at 32 without having a girlfriend or being married – although there was some gossip about him and Mary Magdalene, I think); Jesus rose from the dead, went to Heaven, and apparently – he’ll be back; Roman Catholic priests can’t have girlfriends or wives; women can’t be priests; and the list goes on and on and on. So yeah, pretty much all of it was weird – to me.

    All that being said, it was the excellent education from the priests who taught me that finally resulted in my own epiphany and I left the church. They taught me how to think for myself in an ordered, logical and critical manner. Ironic.

  5. A quick preface. I only attended a weekly Church class on wednesdays from about kindergarten to 2nd grade, so there’s not that much I remember. There is one thing that stood out though.

    Ok, this was very quickly corrected by the teachers, but I thought they were teaching that the bible stars vegetables.

    Yeah. I was a very naive child.

  6. “Tell all your Hindu, Muslim and Sikh friends that while they may believe what they want to believe, only Jesus Christ our savior can take them to heaven.”

    also,

    “The Lord our God is the only one who answers to our prayers, beware these false gods meant to corrupt man.” was a close second.

    So what you are saying is that even decent non-Christian people who have lived good lives are doomed to damnation or at best purgatory just because they were luckless enough not to be born in a place or time where Catholicism is the dominant belief system?

    So all the millions upon millions of people who were born before Year One are by default doomed?

    You know, a lot of Muslims feel the same way about Mohammed and Allah, how is their argument any less compelling than yours? The standard of evidence is the same (non-existent). Same with many Jews.

    I could not take anything being said in Catechism class seriously after that.

  7. The Catholic Church delights in instilling guilt and mortal terror in minds of all ages.

    • We little children were told that at the end of the world, every person would know every thought you ever had about them — good, bad, indifferent — even people you didn’t know, but had a thought about. And all the bad, evil thoughts would count against you at the Last Judgment. You might be sent to Hell, eternally damned for your unkind thoughts. Holy crap! What a thing to lay on a 7-yr-old! This was even before we were old enough to know about sex, lust, and masturbation.
    • Never, ever, ever set foot in a church or other house of worship of any other religion or non-Catholic denomination, not even to admire the architecture. Never, ever, ever attend or participate in a non-Catholic religious ceremony, including being part of, or guest at, a wedding. In either case one would be instantly incinerated or something.
    • Pagan babies! Annual collections in school and church. Not sure to this day where all the pagan babies were to be found. If a person (of any age) died without being baptized in the Roman Catholic Church — straight to hell, even if they had never heard of the Roman Catholic Church.
    • And the winner is: Abortion was wrong because a woman might be carrying a male fetus who could become a priest. (This one likely came much later during weekly Catholic class at the Church, mandatory because I no longer went to Catholic school.)

    I endured Catholic school from K-5, until my parents had a falling out with the head nun. I was taught by “Frankenstein” nuns — gigantic women in black with a stiff white bib and black veils atop a white cap (hence the “Frankenstein” for the appearance of very high brows and seeming to be 10 ft tall). Plus about 5 yards of rosary beads attached to a belt. Very intimidating to a small child. Something similar to this:

  8. I didn’t go to Catholic school, but my mom and aunts did. They have all told me that the nuns would tell female students that if they became nuns themselves their parents would get an automatic ticket into heaven.

    You have to combine this with Catholic education, telling you that all sorts of things could get you sent to hell. It must have been horrifying for children.

  9. Thought crime

    I received an excellent education attending Catholic grade school in the 1950’s.

    When I was in the eighth grade, I was taught in religion class that thinking about doing something wrong was the same as actually doing it. This is obviously wrong.

    Ironically, one of my reading assignments was George Orwell’s book, 1984, in which the concept of thought crime against the government is introduced and explained.

  10. I never attended any parochial schools but I once dated a girl who told me that when she was 12, her mother transferred her to Catholic School. On her first day of class, one of the nuns told the story of Mary and how she was able to bear a child while still a virgin. Upon hearing this, the innocent 12 yr old became very upset and the teacher asked her what the problem was. She replied, “If that ever happened to me, my mother would kill me.” The nun understood and assured this child that such a miraculous event could not happen today. The young woman retorted, “Why not? If it could happen to Mary, why couldn’t it happen to me too?”

    The very image of an innocent 12 yr old and a completely dumbfounded nun has provided me with many hours of amusement.

  11. If you were left-handed, you were possessed by the devil. among many, many other reasons for regular punishment by the nuns, this was one exclusively for those of us who were left-handed. This is why some of us became ambidextrous.

    Close behind, we were told that white marks on fingernails meant that we had mortal sins on our souls. We would look for white marks on each other’s nails and then try to figure out what sins we committed. Mind you, we were in second grade at the time!

  12. Not me, but my father. He was in Catholic school in Mississippi in the 1930’s. He wasn't allowed to associate with certain people —-Jews. Not his parents telling him, the priests and nuns. The reading material was censored to an approved school list, so no one in the school would get sinful ideas. He didn't go along with their ideas outside school, after they were already forcing him to write right handed when it felt wrong. Maybe not weird, but definitely misguided.

  13. Went to an all boys catholic high school, graduating in 1978. Received an excellent education and have nothing but good to say about the school. I did have a homeroom teacher who told 16 year old boys that french kissing was immoral because it was doing upstairs what you wanted to do downstairs. There was much stifled laughter.

    An aside…this teacher was a layman in the church. He was to become a priest when he met his future wife, who was on track to be a nun. Perhaps he spoke from experience.

  14. I live in Ireland where the school system is essentially the reverse of America in that most schools are catholic schools. Or “catholic” as I like to call them. Really we weren't though we had mass twice a year and under the rule of one weird principle, confession once a year.

    Most teachers I had from primary school to present either weren't religious or weren't the in your face kind of religious. That being said I remember multiple occasions were I had issues about the weird stuff coming out of my teacher’s mouth or things that happened there was weird or amusing.

    1. The time my junior infants(like 4–5 year old at time) teacher was reading us books on mythology everyday before home time. Some days Irish myths like “The Children of Lir” other days Roman myths like “Romulus and Remus”. One day out of the blue she started reading the bible. The first story she stole us was about Moses leading the Jews out of Israel. I still remember a girl telling the teacher that she didn't like that story cause it was too harsh on the Egyptians. When the teacher asked why she though that she said it wasn't the Egyptian children's fault that the Jews were slaved and destroying everything wasn't going to help the Egyptians learn. Of course she didn't use those exact words but essentially that's what she said.
    2. Skip forward a few years to my communion. All teachers were in a rush to have all 7–8year olds taking part know there prayers, know the hymns and work out who was doing readings or whatever. My teacher decided the best way to revise everything was to go to mass on Wednesdays with her and to watch the animated Dreamworks movie about Moses(Which just completely messed with our heads about which version of the story was the right one). One Wednesday we went to mass only to find a funeral taking place instead of mass. They still made us go. And no they didn't know the person who died, they were just weird.
    3. We had a religion workbook called Aliv-o when I was in primary school. One of the activities was learning the Hebrew alphabet. We had to write our names and a sentence or to two in herbrew. I put up my hand told my teacher that that wasn't how Hebrew worked. She asked what did I mean. I told her that just because you write in a different alphabet doesn't make it that language. The words would mean nothing to a native Hebrew speaker. We had no religion homework that night.
    4. Finally I just got a nun as a teacher for the first time this year. We have her for a subject called Community Care were we learn about various disabilities, how to help people with them, troubles facing minorities, and we go out once a week to volunteer for a few hours in various homes, schools and other areas. Based on that you'd think Sr.Agnes was a nice person but boy were we wrong. Last week we did a class about the traveling community and how they are treated in our country. She told me and a few other girls to stay after class to talk about our copies. I told her that I was leaving school early so I wouldn't be there when she gave the copies back next class so she let me leave. Apparently after I left she turned to my polish friend and asked for her work. The girl said she was going to be honest with her, she didn't have last nights work done but everything else was. Then Sr Agnes asked how long she'd lived in Ireland. Confused my friend said since I was about 2. Then Sr Agnes said that's like your people isn't it? Being here for years and still not having any brains. Needless to say we reported her but nothing has been done.
  15. I guess I am lucky in this regard. I wasn’t ever overtly “taught” anything weird in Catholic school, but I did have a crazy (lay) Religion teacher in the 7th grade. She had a huge mouth and would run it nearly non-stop at this high pitch, high volume and high speed. She had all sorts of theories about life and would go on diatribes about them to us as if they were fact.

    One such theory was this little beauty:

    Girls, by the time you turn 15, you will all be pregnant.

    Huh. Quite a statement to a group of pretty darned sheltered Catholic school girls, but she was CON-VINCED and there was seriously nothing anyone could say that would convince her otherwise.

    Most of us just sat at our desks with our chins in our hands in disbelief.

    As far as I know, none of us were pregnant by 15 or even by 18. Of course, that is impossible to know, but there were no overt pregnancies by any girls in our class at least through high school graduation.

    Close, Mrs. C., so close…

  16. Raised Catholic, in elementary school I was told by one nun that men have one fewer ribs than women do (from Adam giving up one for Eve). I thought, “Wow, that’s verifiable information.” (Or something along that vein probably more appropriate for the age I was.) I tried to count my own and asked a girl to count hers but neither of us could get a real count. Of course, it’s not true and is just one of the things that caused me to question all religion.

  17. The weirdest and most inappropriate thing I (we) were taught at Catholic School was all about abortion, including video of a real procedure being done using ‘internal’ camera's. This would have been about 25 years ago. This was shown to us without warning, no parental consent, nothing! This would have been in grade 8 or 9 (13 or 14 years old).

    I recently (5 years ago) saw that a school wanted to show a similar film and requested parental permission, and the parents as a group went to school and said that should not be shown to teenage children and it was banned.

    Showing this video was inappropriate and wrong!

  18. That God was ONLY present in the church building and ONLY when a specific candle was lit.

    Worst of all, I told a priest during confession that I felt very close to God when I was outside in nature, like when climbing trees. (Yes, I was THAT little girl. LOL)

    He hurried to tell me that I was feeling close, not to God, but to Satan!

    But God is the Creator, not Satan. I wasn’t being led to hurt or tempt anyone (do I really look like Eve, to tempt a man into sin? I’m 8 years old, ffs!!!).

    I lost my faith in that moment.

  19. Not me, but a friend of mine. In 1969 her Catholic school taught her that the peace symbol was meant to represent an upside-down broken cross. Obviously only Devil worshipers would oppose the Vietnam war.

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