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  • Writer's pictureArchuleta A. Chisolm

What Catholic School Taught Me About Myself as a Writer

I attended St. Francis Xavier Catholic School from kindergarten through second grade. The adjoining church was shaped like a fish but you could only see it from an aerial view. We trusted that it was the truth and photos later confirmed.

Although my mother attended Catholic school as a kid, she didn’t know a lot about the Catholic faith. My parents just wanted the best possible education for me. Can’t blame them for that.

My mother bought my shoes from Steve’s and all my white, button-down shirts from Macy’s. My hair was in long pigtails that looked like Pippy Longstocking, and I wore my favorite heart-shaped silver earrings that my mother ordered from Avon.

Each class at St. Francis had scheduled prayer time each day – heads down on our desks - arms strategically wrapped around to keep our prayers quiet. But after I realized I could hear all of Molly’s prayers, I worried that somehow God would get our wires crossed. My mother assured me that would never happen.

We attended Mass on Wednesdays in our drab uniforms that were a mixture of brown, black and white plaid. My teachers were nice but the nuns made me uncomfortable. They were a mysterious anomaly I could never explain and frankly was scared to. There was a lot I didn’t understand about the Catholic faith but then again I was a kid. My life was normal.

The start of third grade was also my first year of public school. I can safely say this is where my insecurities and low self-esteem began to take shape. To say that I was in culture shock was an understatement.

I couldn’t adjust. I was teased because I was a good reader; singled out because I read on a higher grade level than the other kids in the class. I kept quiet to avoid attention; sunk into myself. My life was normal at St. Francis but not anymore.

I developed stomach problems, so my teacher allowed me to drink 7UP in class (at the insistence of my mother). This did not help increase my popularity at all.

This was the beginning of a long relationship between me and my notebook. It let me speak without judgment, understood my fears, questions, and inadequacies. It was my courage.

School and I just never got along. I never wanted to be there. I always felt like I belonged somewhere else which often took my thoughts back to St. Francis. I never felt different there.

As an adult, I’ve realized that St. Francis made me a better writer. It taught me about using my imagination, exploring, and seeing life outside the box even when you don’t quite understand what’s going on; to ask questions, pray every day and have hope; to embrace your creativity, even when you don’t quite trust it yet.

St. Francis no longer exists but I make a point to pass by there every time I go home. I visualize my mother picking me up from school – on Fridays walking down the street to Hardee’s. It was the only time I could get a Coca-Cola, instead of a “clear” soda. Maybe that’s why I love Coca-Cola so much now.

I wonder what became of the mysterious nuns, my nice teachers, and the confused kids that lined up for Wednesday Mass. We’ve each had a life to live for sure.

I have an empathetic heart for writers. We are weirdos in the best of ways; creating unapologetically. This requires going deep into the crevices of the soul and pulling from places like third grade when you had stomach problems or leaving your comfort zone. It requires a lean-in that no one else quite understands but wants to know more about. Writers rarely choose to be writers. Somehow, those that writing chooses do so freely.

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