I Wonder What God Might Think | JIM FURLONG

Religion when I was growing up in Newfoundland is certainly not part of the much talked about ‘good old days’. So much of our history was a divide along religious lines. Many won’t want to remember this because it isn’t comfortable, but I can tell you some horror stories. Religion was part of sports. It was part of education. It was part of everything.

When I think back now, I am reminded that in this poverty-stricken province, in education, we struggled with various religions running their own school systems. What a dumb idea. My God the money wasted in various cities and towns constructing denominational schools. At the time it never occurred to me that there might be something wrong with that plan of battle for education. Catholic schools and Protestant schools. Schools of different religions constructed on the same street. It is the way things were. Tiny communities with several schools. Even things like the Rhodes Scholarship was awarded along religious lines. One year a Catholic was named. The next year it would be a Protestant. That is insane. After Confederation a similar formula existed for Lieutenant Governor with the post of Queen’s representative alternating between Catholic and Protestant governors. That practice has mercifully ceased.

In health, consider this. On LeMarchant Road in St. John’s was the Grace Hospital. The Salvation Army ran it. A lovely spot. My three children were born there. Two hundred yards down the same road was St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was Roman Catholic. I was born and baptized there.

This wasn’t just something imposed by government. It reflected deep divisions in our society. When I was younger, I remember in our family an approach had to be made to Catholic Archbishop P.J. Skinner for permission for two of our family members to go to a wedding at Wesley United Church on Patrick Street. It was about 100 yards up the road from St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. Permission from Bishop Skinner was given to our family to darken the doors of Wesley.

Now we all know there was a religious division over Confederation. St. John’s and environs “tended” to be Catholic. The outports tended to be Protestant. History records the great racket over the pro-Responsible Government crowd and the decision of Catholic Bishop Fleming that allowed nuns to vote for the first time in the Confederation referendum and the response of the Protestants with the famous “Orange letter”. It sealed the Confederate and anti-Confederate lines of battle. Younger readers, I know, are scratching their heads in disbelief over these words, but it is all true. We were a nation divided in many ways and a lot of it defined by how we worshiped the same God.

Did you know a Catholic needed special permission from the Vatican in Rome to marry a non-Catholic in those days. Part of the deal was that children in the marriage had to be raised in the Catholic tradition. It won’t surprise you to know that my mother didn’t want me dating Protestant girls. This wasn’t just a bias from the Catholic side. I remember well the mother of a Salvation Army girl I was seeing, if that is the word. The mother called me “a greasy papist” and screamed at me that we (Catholics) prayed to statues. To be fair there were other issues on the table that weren’t just religious.

These things happened a long time ago. Even as I write it there is a sense that it is somehow not real, but it is. We tend to forget things we don’t want to remember. It makes our past easier to live with and makes the road we travelled seem a lot smoother than it was. They were NOT the good old days.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]