Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Life > High School

What I Learned From Surviving An All Girls Catholic School

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at GWU chapter.

trigger warning: sexual abuse, homophobia

On March 13, 2020 I along with millions of high school seniors in the United States were told that our final year of compulsory (for the most part) education was going on hiatus. When the bell rang for the last time that Friday afternoon, we were to pack our bags and head out for at least two weeks. For me however, my vacation was initially set at four weeks because at Catholic school, Easter is an extra long break and those initial two weeks went right into Easter. I would conclude Lent as well as Pentecost from my home – never to return to high school. 

March 13, 2020 was my final day at Catholic school, something I had been involved in since the young age of five. Something that had shaped my very existence. This day was also my last time inside a school building until August 2021. If you could not already tell, I also experienced my freshman year of college all online. When I entered my first in person college classroom as a Sophomore, there was no uniform and no crucifix. So much was different from my prior thirteen years of education. From kindergarten till 8th grade I was at a CO-ED Catholic grammar school. High school was the same, well almost, it was still Catholic – just all girls. 

You could say I come from a long line of Catholics, Charlemagne was my 39th great-grandfather. My fathers side of the family have been Italian Catholics for generations. That started to loose its stronghold in the 60s when the priest was against my grandparents using birth control after my grandmother nearly died in labor and was given last rites in the delivery room. My mother has some Protestant ancestors, namely my great grandmother Eileen who I choose for my confirmation name, but she was brought up Catholic just as her German, French, and Irish Catholic ancestors before her. My moms parents were even CCD teachers.

So what did I learn from never going to public school?

Catholic School Creates The Most Atheists and Agnostics  

If someone were to take a survey of people who have attended Catholic school that have become atheists or agnostics, I am almost certain the results would back up my claim. Odds are if you entered Catholic school already being baptized, you most likely left fully uninterested in anything having to do with the church and hoped for excommunication. These results vary by region and decade, but I do wonder what the future of nuns and sisters will be.

God Given Free Will Can Be Nonexistent in Catholic School

When you are seven or eight you receive Reconciliation for the first time. At Reconciliation you are to confess several years of sinning to the priest who in turn tells you to say some prayers. When I think about this practice in regards to the rampant sexual abuse in the church, I linger on Reconciliation. The church had several confessional rooms, yet for Reconciliation we never ever used them. I finally came to the sudden realization a few years ago that my school had probably made the proactive choice to avoid putting us young kids in these boxes with the priests in case something bad happened behind closed doors. As I began to grow out of the church and sacraments, I started to hate when we would go to Reconciliation. Around Christmas and Easter every year we had to go. I used to be absent most of the time, because we were not given the option to choose if we wanted to go. Perhaps there was the option, but going to Catholic school really made you think you had no choice. You could still find ways to resist and I think they realized why some kids would be absent those days of Reconciliation because, eventually, they had make up days for all those playing hooky. 

In high school I still took the Eucharist until about junior year when I realized I truly did not want it. In the time prior to making this choice I used to tell myself that my teachers would reprimand me if I did not take the wafer and that some of my ancestors took part in this ritual so I should too. 

I remember the day I stopped going up to get it because I finally felt free, I had excommunicated myself: I finally had control. 

It Can Be Very Homophobic at Catholic School

In Catholic grammar school, I had a teacher who spent a lot of the classes talking about things irrelevant to the subject matter. In our religion class she dedicated a lot of time to bashing homosexuality and encouraging students to discuss it. This rubbed me the wrong way. There was a student who was gay in the grade below me and they had a sibling a few grades below them. Their fathers were heavily involved in the school and one of them was president of the PTA. I wondered if the teacher would speak this way when she had these students in her class. 

At the same time in my English class we were studying Malala and assigned to make speeches similar to “I Am Malala.” I choose to write “I Am A Supporter.” I had made it to 8th grade and watched sexual assault, bullying, verbal abuse, and an assortment of things occur at this school. Perhaps this was my boiling point, but I knew it would make a point. I was the second one to read my speech in class. The next day I saw my English teacher at her desk with my essay in hand talking to my homophobic teacher. Neither of them ever addressed me regarding the themes of my work, but my principal did ask my father if he and my mother influenced what I choose to write about. He laughed and told him no. 

I had grown tired of the behavior of the authority figures at Catholic school. 

It Can Be Very Pro-Life at Catholic School

My Catholic grammar school hung a “choose life” banner in our parking lot when I was around 9 or 10. I had no idea what it was and it was never mentioned to us during our time there. Our campus did include a Catholic church that shared the same parking lot so perhaps, the message was more for the congregation rather than us students. 

When it came to high school, the overwhelming majority of the student body was pro-choice. While local all boys Catholic schools were posting photos on Instagram captioning it along the lines of “praying for the women who choose to abort their children and that they realize their mistakes,” us girls at our Catholic institutions were openly arguing with our religion teachers. What always fascinated me was this teacher’s inability to understand the demographic of women she was instructing and their lack of interest in her personal opinions regarding the matter.  

There is a Weird Sentiment in Regards to Female Empowerment at Catholic School

My high school’s motto was literally “Empowering Young Women,” yet it never felt like that. There were a lot of instances where it seemed as if old school misogyny and lack of common sense dictated everything. The all boys Catholic schools around my high school were given the day off after the Super Bowl, something we coveted because we also watched the Super Bowl like the boys did. We asked for years and finally, in my senior year we were awarded a little taste of what the boys got – we got the Monday after the Super Bowl off. 

Uniforms are most notable with private school education and I wore them for 13 years. We had “dress down” or “tag days” in which we were allowed to wear non-uniform clothing. There was this stipulation in high school. We were not allowed to wear leggings and there was much drama regarding it. At one point only seniors were given the permission to wear leggings as long as they had a top that covered their butts. Now put this into perspective, we had a swim team, we had a volleyball team, yet we had to cover our butts with shirts when we wore leggings. It really made no sense and when we would fight against it some responses were “ it’s distracting” or “well there are male teachers.” The last comment made many of us further question why men would even want to teach at an all girls school and if there were inappropriate ulterior motives. 

Don’t worry though, every year our school put on a big celebration for International Women’s Day. 

The Consideration of Assault is Pathetic at Catholic School

Sophomore or junior year of high school, a cardinal came to visit our school. It was not his visit that caused issues, but something that occurred a few weeks later. Many know of the Catholic church’s sexual abuse and pedopholic issues. Several weeks after the his visit, a list of priests accused of sexual abuse was release in New Jersey. At the time the details regarding the cardinal’s knowledge of these claims and actions of the men within the state and other locations was not directly stated. This angered much of our student body. We were concerned that our school had welcomed a man with such authority and the fact that he had stayed silent regarding this abuse. In solidarity with the victims our school issued a declaration that we would fast from meat on Friday and the cafeteria would not serve it. Rather than openly discussing the actions of these men, my religion teacher ignored the real issue and diminished it by saying we needed to pray for the church and our community. 

Catholic school always emphasized prayer when bad things happened. 

The Students Do Really Disrespectful Things at Catholic School

While I have a general disinterest in Catholicism, I do find it important to respect certain things such as houses of worship of any faith. Within our main building was a chapel that some girls used to vape and smoke marijuana in. They could have just used the bathroom, like public school kids do, but they had to go a little over the top with it. 

There Will Always Be Fake People Everywhere

All girls Catholic school teaches you just how fake and insincere people can be. Now, I never went to public school nor did I take the PSAT alongside boys, but I am almost certain that this sentiment persisted in public schools as well. I find there being something particularly special about the fake facade at an all girls school. It can be built on so many things such as wealth, physical appearance, the car you drive, and more superficial things. There is just something about the flavor of fake people at Catholic school. 

They Will Jump on Any Bandwagon To Promote the School

I welcomed a girl who I thought was my best friend into the school my junior year who in turn spread a lot of rumors about me at school, work, and at our sport. It was ironic because she started a mental health club at the school. I told our Dean that it was comedic of her to spearhead this organization given how she would step all over other people to uplift herself. I kept much of her behavior toward me to myself and when I finally told the Dean, I thought there would be some degree of change. There never was – but it made sense because this was my thirteenth and final year in Catholic school and I knew the game. The school called her a “change-maker” and a “leading mental health advocate.” The many people she stepped upon know the irony behind her behavior and the humor in her superficial lifestyle blog. When you know so many unpublished details, the facade that they present for their followers becomes laughable. 

I will never be sure if public school was the better option.

But I guess this experience was like Lady Bird (2017).

Olivia is majoring in Anthropology and in History. She is originally from Verona, New Jersey. She is big history nerd and loves learning about local history. In her free time she likes to walk, bike, and visit cool places to eat.