When I tell people I went to Catholic school for 13 years, I tend to get one of two reactions. The person will either solemnly tell me how many years they spent in Catholic school, much as I suspect veterans tell each other how long they were in the military, or they get wide-eyed and then ask if the nuns ever hit us with rulers. (For the record: There weren’t that many nuns around, and the ones there were, were awesome. Especially Sister Edward Mary, who knew the names of every single one of her students and could spot a uniform infraction from a mile away.)

Or they ask about the uniforms. Yes, I did spend 13 years wearing a plaid skirt five days a week. And because my elementary school uniform involved a yellow shirt, and I have yellow undertones to my skin, I looked like I had a mild case of jaundice up through eighth grade. It’s still weird to walk into a classroom and not see a crucifix over the door.

The funny thing is, my family isn’t even Catholic. We’re Episcopalian, which is like diet Catholic – we’ve got all the incense and stained-glass windows, but we let women be priests and we’re chill with gay people. My parents didn’t send me to St. Patrick’s School (now condominiums, RIP) for the religion; they sent me because it was the only school in the area with all-day kindergarten. And I just kept going.

I did receive a top-notch education. (If any of my former teachers are reading this: Thank you, you did your best, I’m sorry I was so bad at math.) But looking back, what really ended up sinking in was the principle of serving others. And we weren’t lectured or tested on this – we were taught by example.

We were constantly doing fundraisers and charity projects – when Hurricane Katrina hit, we packed up a van with supplies; we wrote letters to troops stationed overseas; we put together Christmas packages for families in need. Once my eighth-grade teacher caught two boys eating pickles pilfered from a food drive and chewed them out so hard that they probably haven’t eaten pickles since. Catherine McAuley High School (I refuse to call it the Maine Girls’ Academy, I’m sorry) required seniors to do a week of volunteer service before graduating (Senior Service Week!).

I don’t agree with Catholic theology on pretty much everything related to gender and sexuality, but I truly love and admire most other Catholic values – stewardship of the environment, a belief that every human life has intrinsic worth, a focus on helping the poor. So I wasn’t particularly surprised when the congressional chaplain, the Rev. Patrick Conroy, offered a prayer before the House started debating the tax bill in which he expressed hopes that the bill would “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”


Now, I was surprised to find out the House of Representatives has an official chaplain – that seems to go against the whole “separation of church and state” thing. And I was surprised that anyone could find that particular prayer political. It seems more like compassionate common sense to me. But according to the Rev. Conroy, House Speaker Paul Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” The Rev. Conroy, though, is a Catholic priest. Taking care of the poor and standing against injustice are part of his sacred creed. If that means wading into politics, so be it. So he was asked to resign – only to withdraw his resignation Thursday, prompting the speaker to back down and agree to keep the priest on as chaplain.

The tax bill passed. I receive an extra $10 in my paycheck every week. It’s nice, but I could easily get by without it. Others, who are far richer than I will ever be, will be getting thousands of dollars back every week, perhaps millions. They could get by without that money as well. Instead, it will pad their bank accounts, while millions of their fellow Americans suffer from hunger and homelessness and are crushed under piles of medical debt, and while children learn in overcrowded, underfunded schools. I’m not sure how millionaires and billionaires can live with that on their conscience. I don’t think I could, and for that, I can thank Catholic school.

I don’t think Congress needs a chaplain. I think it needs someone – and I’ll do it if necessary – to look into the eyes of each and every representative and tell them this: You cannot serve both God and money. And I didn’t come up with that. Jesus said it. Book of Luke, Chapter 16, Verse 13.

You cannot serve both God and money. I know which one the Rev. Patrick Conroy serves.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial

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