The Children Are Watching and Listening And Wondering

My grade one class at Marion School in St.Boniface, a French suburb of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I am in the second row third from the left. 

I sat in the dark panelled hallway beside a rattling radiator. I pretended to look at the Dick and Jane reader my teacher had given me. It was 1959. My family was living in an almost exclusively French neighbourhood in a large city because my father was completing his medical internship at a Catholic hospital. I was in grade one in a local public school.

In spring the priest started coming to our class once a week, to prepare my classmates for taking their First Communion at the nearby cathedral, the St. Boniface Basilica. My parents asked that I be excused from these sessions. So when the priest entered the door, all my classmates turned to look at me, as I exited the room, to sit alone, on a wooden chair, in the hall.

I was curious. I tried to peek through the window in the classroom door. I put my ear to the wall to see if I could hear what the priest was saying. What were the other kids learning that my Mennonite parents didn’t want me to know about?

Most of the school’s teachers were nuns and they taught us to say French prayers together before we ate our lunch. After a time I could rattle off those prayers along with all the other kids and make the sign of the cross when I was done. When I demonstrated my new prayer skills to my parents, they gently suggested that I not repeat my Catholic prayers in my Sunday school class at the Mennonite church we attended.

kornelson school steinbach grade three class mrs. kihn

My grade three class at the Kornelson School in Steinbach, Manitoba. I am second from the right in the second last row.

When I was eight my father joined a medical practice in a small town. We left the city for life in an almost exclusively Mennonite community. During our first months there I learned from my grade three classmates in the public school I attended, that some things my family did were a sure ticket to hell.

I had seen two movies Mary Poppins and Bambi. My grandfather served homemade wine at Christmas. I had aunties who wore lipstick. My parents had chosen to attend the one Mennonite church in town that allowed members to have a television, hence it’s nickname The TV Church.

I soon learned to be careful about describing my family’s activities or talking about events at our church, especially to certain classmates, who seemed to be authorities when it came to my less than favourable odds on making it into heaven.

I’m a grandmother now, but my childhood experiences remain vivid reminders of how the different ideas between faith communities about what is true, or good, or right, or worthy of judgment, can impact children. I try to remember that the children are always watching and listening and wondering.

Other posts…….

The Clapper

A Photograph in The Mennonite


Filed under Education, Religion

2 responses to “The Children Are Watching and Listening And Wondering

  1. Stan Schroeder

    A great story and precaution. My family is Mennonite from central Kansas, but we moved to a small rural town in Colorado when I was in first grade (I, the youngest of five). The town was overwhelmingly populated with descendants of Swedish Evangelical Free and German-Volga Lutherans with a spattering of Methodists and Baptists. In a town of 4,000 inhabitants there were 13 churches. Needless to say, we attended the quality public schools, but it felt rather parochial. Mennonite was an anomaly and we weren’t made to feel welcome. Although all five of us graduated from the same high school, over time my family turned increasingly inward as our sole spiritual support group. That’s my “relate” to your story. PS–in Kansas, my father originally worked at an appliance store so we were one of the first Mennonites to have a TV. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Living at the Hospital- 1959-1960 | What Next?

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