This morning I was deeply saddened by a poorly written article I read on my newsfeed regarding my alma mater, Notre Dame Belmont High School (not Notre Dame Namur despite what it says), and a particularly inspiring guest speaker, Gregg Cassin (I refuse to write the publication or author, who obviously wasn’t man enough to leave his name in the byline, as they deserve no such recognition whatsoever). As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schooling until I left Villanova University after my freshman year of college, and still identify, somewhat as a Catholic. However, personally, my idea of being Catholic probably varies from others’. I do not believe in the Catholic Church as an institution and hierarchy, but I do believe in Catholicism as a spirituality. DISCLAIMER: ITS ABOUT TO GET PREACH-Y UP IN HERE.
My high school years at Notre Dame Belmont were integral to my understanding of myself and the world around me (probably more so than my college years, I must say). Spending four years in an all girls, Catholic environment can either ground you incredibly, turn you crazy, or both (the latter happened to me, obviously). What made Notre Dame Belmont unique is that their understanding of Catholicism was a lot more lax than many other Catholic institutions. Sure, we had nuns all over campus, had to attend religious classes, celebrated St. Julie Day (not to be confused with a hippie festival as sunflowers were everywhere), and went to Mass on occasions, however the religious culture was much more holistic versus rigid.
Granted, an environment of all-girls in their late teens likely would foster hyper-sexuality, especially when our “brother” all-boys school across town had alumnae names like Barry Bonds and Tom Brady (read: jock school). Notre Dame took note and whipped out sex education like it was nobody’s parochial business. And we were all better for it. They were sure to teach “abstinence plus,” which included cringe-worthy handouts like 101 Things To Do Besides Having Sex (“cut each others’ toenails”, “take a nap” and “surf the Internet” are of the winners), accompanied by equally cringe-worthy female anatomy and reproductive lessons. But like I said, we were all better for it.
Also contrary to Catholic teachings, Notre Dame also raised awareness about the LGBT community. In fact, every year Gregg Cassin (who was discussed in aforementioned article) would come in and talk to the girls about accepting and loving yourself as you are. These talks and retreats with Cassin were spectacularly insightful, heartwarming and integral to the development of everyone of my peers’ identities. Underlying Cassin’s talks was the message that we all were beautiful, no matter what (this, is, however a message forced upon you as soon as you enter NDB, because it’s true, and because that’s the kind of environment Notre Dame fosters, and who is to complain really). Gregg Cassin is an absolute visionary, HIV survivor and LGBT activist, and as a community we were extremely lucky to have his continued presence year after year, but also blessed that NDB fostered such a fantastic relationship with him. Notre Dame was a place where self-confidence thrived and blossomed (yeah, I just used blossomed… sue me). Every girl can attribute a fraction, if not a majority of their confidence and charisma to NDB, I’m sure.
When I was a sophomore in college, I received an email from my sister asking me to review and edit her college essays (she’s two years younger than me, thus, was in her senior year at NDB). Why Alex would want me to read her college essays was unbeknownst to me. First reason being my parents had hired a college admissions counselor for her, so why she would want her typo-ridden sister to read, let alone EDIT her essay was mind-boggling. Secondly, Alex was the perfect college candidate: Her SAT/ACT scores alone could get her in anywhere. Add in her extracurriculars (basically every high school sport offered), class president, and her role in ASB during her senior year, she was the ideal college candidate… and the golden child. I, on the other hand, had less impressive credentials in high school (and probably in life in general)… but that’s besides the fact.
The reason why Alex wanted me to read her essays before she let my parents read and edit them was because
she had written about what it was like to be gay and Catholic, and her journey to self-acceptance.
This was how Alex had come out to me and my parents. I was overjoyed and so proud of her for being able to share this with me. However, I also realized how her Catholic identity came into stark contrast with who she innately was. For Christssakes, Alex was a Catholic nerd: for a quiz group/Academic Decathalon she specialized in the Gospel of St. Mark, and in middle school she regularly read books about various saints… again, my Catholic credentials were not as impressive. To know my sisters’ commitment to being Catholic and understand her inner conflict with who she was made me realize that it was difficult for her to accept herself as is, especially when the Catholic Church broadcasts the message that being gay is not widely accepted within the Church.
“I would say that a big obstacle to my own coming out was being Catholic and knowing that in the Church’s eyes, I was somehow less than ideal. But on the other hand, going to NDB taught me that there are some things that transcend the doctrine of the Church, like being reasonable human beings and putting love and acceptance first. Notre Dame played a huge role in helping me accept myself, and reconcile being gay and Catholic. There’s still a lot that I don’t agree with regarding the Church; but I do know that if more Catholics learned to think and accept as NDB taught us to, we’d all be better off”
– Alex Tabing
I’ve been extremely grateful for the nurturing, accepting and all-inclusive environment that I found at Notre Dame. Not only because it has shaped me into the woman I am, but also because it has allowed others, especially my sister, to love themselves and accept the person they are, period. Even faculty, staff and teachers liberally believed the Church was behind on the times in terms of acceptance. It deeply saddens me when right-wing Catholics cannot see that the doctrine does not make up the Church; rather, that the diverse peoples ARE the Church.
The aforementioned article calls upon people to contact NDB, archdiocese, and local Catholic elementary school faculty because they “may be unaware of the catastrophic state of religious education in Archdiocesan high schools, and they are the persons with the greatest ability to effect change, by their willingness to steer students towards or away from prospective high schools”.
What is sickening is that the only “catastrophic state of religious education” is the fact that some believe an outdated doctrine holds more importance and comes before acceptance, respect and love. It’s as simple as that. As times are changing and communities are becoming less homogenized and more diverse, so too must institutions like the Catholic Church change in order to remain relevant in peoples’ daily lives. Notre Dame clearly understands how to negotiate dated beliefs with this need to modernize the Church, and for that we are thankful.