Growing up Catholic in Montgomery

By on 14 October, 2015 in Carole King, Historic Midtown with 3 Comments

Pope Francis’ monumental visit to this country has created much interest in the Catholic religion and social justice movement. I think he has scored many new followers, Catholic and otherwise. But we Catholics always knew Pope Francis was pretty awesome and that there was just something “different” about him from the moment that colored smoke rose from the Vatican. The Catholic population of Alabama is less than 3 percent, with the majority living around Mobile. Montgomery’s Catholic legacy began in 1834 with the first mission congregation meeting in a small building on the site where St. Peter’s Church stands downtown today.

Growing up here in Montgomery, many things set us apart as different. Although I only had three siblings, many of my friends had a plethora of brothers and sisters. We didn’t walk or ride our bikes to Bellingrath, the local neighborhood elementary school, like our neighborhood friends. We rode the bus downtown to St. Mary’s of Loretto located on South Lawrence Street across from St. Peter’s Church. After Loretto closed, we traveled in carpools with other Catholic kids from the west side of town to Queen of Mercy located on Narrow Lane Road. While the neighborhood kids could stop and play basketball, jump on the trampoline, slam ping pong or do arts and crafts after school at the local community center, we Catholic kids had few options for extracurricular activity. For girls, we participated in the various levels of Girl Scouting and the boys could sign on to play baseball on the noted “Gaels” summer baseball team.

Lower grades classrooms at St. Mary’s of Loretto

Lower grades classrooms at St. Mary’s of Loretto

We wore odd uniforms of turquoise dresses or, later, a plaid skirt and white blouses while our neighborhood friends were experiencing the clothing revolution of the 1960s — blue jeans, bright jerseys, short skirts, etc. We were not allowed to wear makeup, have pierced ears, or sport jewelry. But we figured out other ways to be creative — wearing tassel loafers instead of black oxfords, carrying wild psychedelic pencil cases, lunch boxes, and/or notebooks — anything to express our individuality!

Our classroom situations were different than the public school system. We sat all day in one room per grade under the ever-watchful eye of a black-garbed nun with as many as 45 other students for all subjects. We all knew each other and basically grew up together. We would not experience the dreaded changing classes and lockers until we arrived at Montgomery Catholic High School in the 9th grade. At recess, we spent our time competing with “Chinese” jump rope or kickball. As a class we attended Mass several times a week and said morning, noon and end-of-day prayers with usually the addition of a rosary. We all participated in music and art but did not have more elaborate electives such as home economics or wood shop. We did not have an extensive library but were always regular customers at either the Downtown Main library or the Normandale branch.

Our school holidays did not coincide with the public school days off. We were out of school for the holy days of obligations but were required to go to church. Our neighborhood counterparts were out for spring holidays, then known as AEA, and even holidays for the arrival of the fall fair at Garrett Coliseum.

By the time we reached high school many of us had transferred to the public school system. Montgomery Catholic High School was located, as it still is today, out Vaughn Road. However, in the early 1970s that was the middle of nowhere with no neighborhoods or developments anywhere nearby. Today, the expanded beautiful campus is a testament to wise real estate investing by the Mobile Diocese!

Earlier photo of convent and classroom building on corner of S. Lawrence and Adams.

Earlier photo of convent and classroom building on corner of S. Lawrence and Adams.

The many generations of Catholic families have left a lasting legacy on the growth and development of Montgomery. The many who still reside here are noted businesspeople, educators and community supporters. Even today when I am introduced to someone with a certain surname, I can’t fight the urge to ask, “Are you one of those … (insert large Catholic family name)?”!

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing. This was a little bit of history I had never heard Niall my many years in Montgomery,

  2. Lorinda says:

    Thank you for that interesting article! I grew up in west county St. Louis, where nearly everyone was Catholic or Jewish! I knew few Protestants. Families with a dozen or more children were not unusual. It is so very different here in Montgomery, where we are such a minority.

  3. Tricia says:

    Went to these schools and these pictures bring back so many memories.

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