Growing up in a Roman Catholic home, and going to both Catholic elementary & high school, I was pretty well immersed in the religion during the early part of my life.
I was also an altar boy at Regina Pacis in Brooklyn (as well as the mother church, St. Rosalia), serving as Treasurer & President.
I was also Sergeant-at-Arms.
Why an altar boy society would even have, or need, a Sergeant-at-Arms is beyond me, especially since I was probably the biggest troublemaker of them all.
(Hmmm, maybe that was why…)
Before joining the altar boys (I believe, in the 4th grade), I’d always accompany my Dad to 9:00 Mass on Sundays. And as long as I can remember, my Dad’s Sunday morning routine consisted of Mass, buying the Daily News (we always fought over the comics!) & picking up rolls & a loaf of seeded Italian bread from Mike’s Bakery.
Cute story about going to Mass with Dad…
As a pre-schooler, I attended the annual bazaar at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish with my family on a Saturday evening. And as a special treat, I was fortunate enough to receive an autographed photo of Officer Joe Bolton.
He was the personality that hosted “The Three Stooges” show.
BTW, if you have that “huh?” look on your face, that’s why they invented Google.
(And it had better be to find out more about Officer Joe! If you’re not familiar with the famous “Three Stooges”, I’m afraid that we can’t be friends anymore.
Sorry, but you’ll hafta leave now!)
Anyway, when I attended Mass the following morning, you can bet that I had that treasured photo in my grasp.
There wasn’t a force on Earth, or anywhere else, for that matter (note: This was the early-60s so Neil Armstrong had yet to land on the moon), that could possibly wrest that photo away from me.
Or anyone stupid enough to even try!
Mid-Mass, along come the ushers down the aisles with their collection baskets attached to long poles.
They would reach across everyone in the pew, shamin, er, encouraging us to make a donation to the church. My Dad was a strong proponent of using the weekly collection envelopes so there was always a track record of his donations. One never knows when this fact could come into play.
He would always hand me the envelope so I could place it into the basket & feel important, like I was doing my part & representing the family.
Same routine this post-bazaar Sunday…except for the fact that I put the autographed Officer Joe photo in the basket & not the envelope!!! 😱😱😱
When I finally realized my faux pas, the usher was already a row or 2 behind us.
Then, all Hell broke loose…”DAAAAAD, HE’S GOT MY OFFICER JOE!!!” in the most blood-curdling scream ever heard by mankind!
When he realized what I had done, he motioned for the usher to return the photo in exchange for our weekly envelope.
Back to my religious upbringing…
I’m forever grateful that I was raised in the manner in which I was…strong discipline, religious structure, parochial schools, closely involved with the parish, loving family, strong values.
And growing up in Brooklyn, NY added some special elements to my character for which I’m forever grateful.
Street smart, thick skin, quick thinker, speak my mind, X-ray vision (as I can see right through bullshit from a mile away).
And smell it, too!
I also try not to take any shit from anyone. If you’re talking nonsense or just blatantly making up stuff, I’m gonna call ya out on it. (I’ve done it with bosses, senior leaders, HR, coaches/managers, etc. with a clear conscience. Not everyone accepted it well, but that’s their issue, not mine…though a few were downright retaliatory toward me!)
Oh, and pls don’t misinterpret my brash approach to being disrespectful in any way, shape or form.
It’s just that some people, especially when they’re in a position that “demands” that you kiss their ring & be grateful just to be in their presence, much less actually touch their royal robes, don’t really wanna hear any feedback whatsoever, despite their pleadings to the contrary.
“Off on a tangent again, heh, Mike?”
Growing up in & around the Catholic Church, I came into contact with a whole lotta nuns (throughout my grade school years), brothers (at Xaverian HS) & priests.
(Note: Brothers are kinda like semi-priests. They’ve dedicated their lives to Christ, the Church & a religious order…live & work amongst regular people…and often have taken vows of poverty, chastity & obedience.)
Many times, the “expectations” one has of those in a religious order are greater than those of a “lay person”.
“Well, since they’ve dedicated their lives to Christ, then they must be Christ-like & not display the behaviors, tendencies & weaknesses of a non-religious, lay person.”
And while, for the most part, I’ve found this to be true in my experiences & interactions with them, there were always a few exceptions!
I had some nuns who had absolutely-terrible tempers & caustic personalities (whenever anything wasn’t 100% perfect).
But, c’mon now, you’re dealing with kids!
And some of their disciplinarian methods were pretty barbaric, even for “those days” & even considering that I always thought my Mom moonlighted as a professional wrestler!
For example, Sister Mary Virginia…she hadda be a relative of either Attila the Hun or Hannibal (the conqueror with the elephants who attacked Rome or Hannibal Lecter, the psychotic killer from “Silence of the Lambs”)…would often discipline us with whacks across our hands from an 18-inch wooden ruler or her beloved wooden pointer.
When she was in a particularly playful mood, she would have us turn our hands over so she could crush the crap outta our knuckles!
(Uh, I have signed & sworn affidavits from many of my classmates who witnessed these atrocities, several of whom were also victims themselves.
A few are still undergoing counseling & therapy.
And reconstruction surgery.)
There was one time when the good Sister actually broke her sacred pointer over my hands.
She had this look of pure terror immediately come over her!
I broke her favorite toy.
Of course, it was all my fault. I really thought she was gonna punch me in the face or kick me in the family jewels.
I was more afraid that I would somehow instinctively react than I was from receiving any physical torture.
She thought better of it & just shooed me back to my seat instead of committing 2nd degree manslaughter.
Besides, there were plenty of witnesses and it would be too obvious if we all just happened to turn up missing.
There were other occasions when she used the blackboard as a type of battering ram.
Since it was an unmovable object (firmly attached to the wall), she would have us stand in front of it, facing her, then push our heads back into it.
But one time, she must have read up on the Spanish Inquisition & brushed up on her torture techniques. She had me face the blackboard this time, then proceeded to push my head into it, thereby smashing my face several times.
And I never dared say a word to my parents for fear of getting another smacking from my Mom.
“What did you do to that poor Sister?”
“Just how bad were you?”
“Why are you always getting into trouble at school?”
There were times when I hadda tell my Dad that he had to go to the convent to speak with Sister…but I’d never mention the beatings & the conversation would often took place just as he was heading out the door to go bowling.
That would drive him crazy! Especially since he would often proactively “make a special donation to the church” to head off any possible expulsion.
Thank God I was an excellent student…not behavior-wise, but with my subjects. I always got straight As or high 90s, but sometimes, a li’l different mark in “Conduct”.
And all my experiences with the priests & Brothers, especially since I was an altar boy, were excellent! And that includes my record-breaking visits to “jug” (detention in HS as I was constantly late for my first class in the morning).
But years later…
I found out from my friend & classmate that Brother Michael (who was later ordained as a priest to become Father Michael) got into some pretty serious trouble with the law at his parish in Greenwich, CT.
The Feds investigated him & charged him with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his parishioners/parish to purchase several luxury items, e.g., speedboat, sports car, etc.. In addition, he maintained a condo in Manhattan with his boyfriend.
My God, he coordinated our teenager retreats & other activities and later on, actually baptized our daughter, Heather!
*Hmmm, since he baptized our Heather back in ’84, does that “still count” as he was later “defrocked” (kicked out of the priesthood)? 🤔*
He served time in the federal penitentiary for his crimes.
But as bad as that was, it doesn’t compare to the exploits of Father Vincent Sforza!
He preceded Brother Mike at Regina Pacis as the “priest for the young people” & ran the Altar Boy Society.
He spent many a “meatless Friday evening” at our home when I was Treasurer & my Dad, a veteran Citibanker of 35+ years, handled the account at the branch on 86th St & 4th Ave…gobbling down my Mom’s eggplant parmigiana, peppers/potatoes & egg omelets, linguine w/ white clam sauce or English Muffins pizzas.
He eventually left the priesthood to marry a woman with 3 children.
(I learned that there was another priest @ Regina that also had dipped into that “forbidden pool” while still wearing the collar.)
A few years ago, I discovered that he was on the run from the law…for child molestation with a young boy while he was still a priest!
No, it wasn’t me, silly!
And while he was a big man & probably could have overpowered me (had that situation ever arisen, he also knew that I would have no problem telling my Dad…who had the largest hands in the history of body parts!)
He was on the run from the law according to reports I’ve seen in Google. (He eventually died in 2012.)
I really don’t have any issues whatsoever with people leaving a religious order to return to “civilian life”…I find it hard to understand how people live that clergy life anyway…but abusing the power should never be viewed as acceptable nor tolerated.
Under any circumstances.
When it comes to obeying the law & treating people properly, everyone must be held to high standards.
“Being in charge” or “being right” is NEVER as excuse nor good reason for poor behavior.
Except mine, of course, since I really wasn’t “bad”. According to my Mom, I was just “mischievous…
…had too much energy…
…always finished his work early, then get into trouble for talking!”
I’m stickin’ to that story!
As always, thank you so very much for listening!