April 12, 2011

Part 2: "What do you remember about your religious education growing up in Levittown?"

Vermont resident Roberta Landry still has her first communion veil

By Frank Barning
It has been enlightening to receive replies to our "religious education" question. Mostly, it has been memories of interesting times rather than serious theological discourse, with a lively mix of good spirit and humor.

I remember a Levittown boy asking me why the Catholic church that many of our friends attended was named after a breed of dog. I explained patiently that "The church and the dog were named after a saint named Bernard." A Google search of St. Bernard yielded far more items about the dog breed than St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Jim Anton, class of 1961, and Jay Citrin '60 were neighbors and best friends. Jim, a Catholic, helped Jay prepare for his bar mitzvah. Over lunch a few months ago, Jim told me about his working with his buddy. Here we were about 55 years later and Jim proudly rattled off in Hebrew the Bible passages (haftorah) that he coached.

According to Jim, "I got to tell Jay after many years that the greatest gift he gave me, besides our friendship, was the sharing of our faiths. I will always remember the last day of Chanukah and his family around the table including me for a special celebration. On Christmas day there was always a present under our tree for Jay.

"For many years my wife and I both taught religious instruction and I was teaching Catholic faith from a Jewish perspective. I always professed if your going to be an educated Catholic then you need to also be educated in the Jewish faith and tradition. As a now departed Jewish friend use to remind me, 'Jesus was one ours before he was one of yours'."

Here is what some early Division Avenue High School students remember:

Robert Cotter, class of 1966
I dropped out of the Sunday School program at Levittown Community Church. In my class was Paul Adrian, who was also in my class at Division. It was, I think, grade seven. He passed this bit of info on to me at school: the Sunday School teacher, after telling the class that I would no longer be with them added that my leaving was a shame because "Robert needs it more than all of us". I rather liked that.

My friends represented a cross section of the religious spectrum so I went to midnight mass at Christmas, celebrated Chanukah, Easter and Passover, and my parents made sure that I had an understanding of what these holidays all meant.

Dewain Lanfear, class of 1960
I remember that we were dismissed from our last class of the day for religious instructions. Eventually, periods 1, 2 3,7, 8 were rotated to that "last" slot so that we didn't miss the same class all the time. Sometimes we didn't get to the church at all after we left school. The mix of religions in Levittown schools has been a source of tolerance throughout my life. It was something our parents who came from a more "ghetto-ized" city didn't experience.

Linc Binninger, class of 1963
I remember that my mother, my sisters (Carol - DAHS '64 and Kim - DAHS '73) and I were members of the Levittown Community Church by the Azalea Pool. My father, called "Big Bob" and dubbed "The Mayor of Quiet Lane", did not attend.

I will not go into the reasons for his failure to accompany us but I will say that by the time I was in about the seventh or eighth grade, I had begun to share his disdain for church services. So I began to plead with my mother to allow me to attend a different service from her, which request, bless her, she began to grant. I would walk in the front door of the church and out the side door, whereupon I would proceed to the North Green to enjoy a Snickers or a milkshake.

Roberta Landry Bremmer, class of 1961
I really don't remember very much about it except for getting out of school early. I do still have the veil I wore when I made my first communion as well as two pins.

Art Dorrmann, class of 1960
Even prior to moving to Levittown I had been brought up in the Episcopal Church. Other names for it are 'The Church of England' and the 'Anglican Church'. The Anglican Church was formed in 1534 by Henry VIII of England for what might be called 'social reasons'. The differences between the Catholic and Anglican churches were mostly minor - only one was Roman Catholic.

Since both of my mother's parents had been born in England it was the church she knew and to which she introduced me. We attended Holy Trinity Church in Hicksville. Mass was at 9 AM and religious instruction took place at 10:30. By the time I was 11 or 12 I was serving as an altar boy and continued throughout high school.

I attended church infrequently while in college and occasionally in the service. Since my early 20s I have been to church only for my son's Christening and for a Christmas eve mass about five years ago. I must admit part of my Paleolithic background rejects both women and homosexual priests - though I personally have no antagonism toward either group and have been known to socialize with them.

Arnie Galeota, class of 1961
I was brought up Roman Catholic but my parents weren't practicing Catholics. They however made me go to catechism, I had all the sacraments, baptism, first communion, confirmation and I was expected to attend mass every Sunday morning, but by myself. I would meet up with Jim McGrath and sometimes Jim Heyward and Ralph DelPiano who were in the same boat as I was. We would stand at the back of St. Bernard's church 10 minutes after mass began and we would leave right after the second collection plate passed, making it a total of 20 minutes listening to the priest say mass in Latin. Being in the vestibule gave us an easy escape. We would go from there to Whalen's drug store or the Diplomat Cafeteria or home.

My two closest friends were the Albaum twins, Donnie and Ronnie, who are Jewish. I spent endless hours in their home where I managed to learn bits and pieces about their faith and traditions but not in a classroom-type learning session. I felt a strong connection to that family since our heritage, mine being Italian, and family traditions and values were so similar aside from the religious aspect.

I also learned to love corned beef and pastrami and Hebrew National hot dogs, knishes and so on. Naturally they also were starved to learn about my religion so we discussed it at Caruso's regularly, where they learned about Italian food there. By the way, the money I was given for the collection plate went into the collection plate. I didn't want to go to hell before graduating high school.

1 comment:

jkinstrey said...

I was reminded by Jimmy Anton's comment about "sharing" one's faith with another how important that was to me as a, then, Catholic. So I took the Jewish holidays off too.