In preparation for our Spring 2013 issue of “Visions,” we asked those on our email list to share their thoughts about Vatican II. Many thanks to all who responded with serious, poignant and funny memories! [Some have been edited for length and clarity.] There’s an opportunity for you to add your memory at the bottom of this page.
Pamela Croft Malak
I was born in 1952 and Vatican II was so controversial with older members of our parish wishing to retain the old traditions and younger members embracing the changes. Oakland Diocese introduced the changes gradually and with detailed explanations to the congregations.
At Notre Dame San Jose (I graduated in 1970), we loved dancing during masses and singing folk songs with guitars. I do remember when the nun’s habits changed overnight – and not all were happy about it. Sister Cyril (my latin teacher) said she thought mass shouldn’t be “throwing flowers and shooting balloons” after we released balloons for peace from the school yard.
A couple of my teachers were involved with the police by picketing at Lockheed (my father was employed there) because they believed that their ministry had changed and a rather heated discussion at my house went something like this: Mother: you will NOT jerk her out of that school. I don’t care WHAT her homeroom teacher was doing. She only has 3 months until graduation!
Going to college at Loyola-Marymount, I found the bishop of Los Angeles was much more reluctant to embrace the changes wrought by Vatican II and alienated much of the religious clergy there. As a result there was a lot of disruption in the colleges, high schools and elementary schools that were home to some of the more “liberal” religious orders. The bishop of Los Angeles would have been wiser to hearken to the North. (It was another 20 years before women were on the altars of Los Angeles – reading, sharing Eucharist or as altar servers!
A few other scattered memories – rewriting the garden of Eden story (under the watchful eye of Sister Jean Stoner) as we made it more relevant with surfer Eve and Adam being counseled to avoid the waves in a certain cove; adapting current music to religious hymns, listening to my protestant-raised father belt out Faith of our Fathers because it was now okay to sing it in mass; not having to tape a Kleenex on my head (having forgotten my hat yet again for mass) and getting to eat breakfast on Sunday.
I only wish Pope John XXIII had lived longer – perhaps our current clergy issues would have been solved with married and/or women priests and the split between the laity and clergy created by the birth control issue would not exist.
I DO remember being somewhat disturbed when we switched from Latin to English and turned the altar around to face the congregation. However as time progressed, a little light went on over my head, and I realized the most important part of the Mass was still there – the Consecration was still intact and can never change. The rest is important but more or less a form of trim & decoration as it were.
Sr. Rosalie Pizzo
I can’t think of a particular feeling other than the hope that the council gave to so many of us. What is interesting to me currently is that younger people have no idea what Vatican II is all about. For them, Sisters in habits are as unfamiliar as Latin was as the language of the church before the Council
Pope Benedict issued a letter entitled, Porta Fidei or La Puert de la Fe, (Door of Faith) to usher in a year of celebration commemorating fifty years since Vatican II commenced. Sr. Gloria Loya and myself are giving a retreat on the title of the letter and using the image of the “door” to express the dynamic of our relationship with God. As a result of Vatican II, many doors swung open and never ever closed! This resulted for most as a sign of hope that the Holy Spirit was alive and well, but for others, consternation that the “door” of the church was becoming “unhinged” and heading in the wrong direction.
I remember when we went from using Latin in the Mass to English. My mom hated it; I asked her, “Why do you hate it?” “Because it has lost the mystery and reverence I used to feel.” I said, “But now we understand what we are saying.”
Vatican II was a start for many changes that have taken place in the Catholic Church. Perhaps if they had gone farther, sooner and more completely I would still be in the Roman Catholic Church. I wouldn’t have had to leave in order to fulfill my call to ministry as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church that accepts me as a woman who is called by God to preach the good news and administer the sacraments.
My most vivid remembrance of Vatican II was: “It’s about time!” Having entered the Roman Catholic Church when I was in college I had great trouble with the Latin Mass, the priest with his back to the congregation and fasting prior to mass and on and on. I was a born and bred Episcopalian where what I listed wasn’t part of the ritual of Holy Communion. Of course, I don’t think Rome went far enough. We should have married priest, women in the office of Deacon and eventually in the priesthood. And much more.
As a young alter server, I was attracted to the beauty and reverence of celebrating the Mass in Latin. I really felt called by God to serve him in every way possible. During the 1962/1963 school year, I entered St. Anthony’s Franciscan Seminary in Santa Barbara California. While discerning the possibilities of becoming a Catholic priest that year, the changes set forth by second Vatican Council were announced. The changes included Mass facing the people and Mass said in English verses Latin. I was selfishly happy that our learning process might become easier with a switch to English, but concerned that those things that originally attracted me to the Mass may be taken away in transition.
I left the seminary, later married, raised a family and am now enjoying the life of a grandparent. There’s no doubt in my mind, as I look back over fifty years, that the second Vatican Council was a powerful move of the Holy Spirit. What I loved most as a young boy in the Catholic Church is what I still love as a sixty-six year old man worshipping in the Catholic Church today; the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Today, God is using me to build bridges between the Catholic Church and the Non-denominational mega churches in San Jose. He has given me a true spirit of Ecumenism and a passion for so much of what the second Vatican Council addressed.
Thanks for inviting us to tell our stories. ;>) Jesus was a story teller, too. This one may be too long for publication, but I enjoyed writing it. ;>)
Catherine Mae (Parrino) Jack
I had returned to my home in Los angeles in 1958, after teaching and living with the Sisters of Notre Dame for 8 years. The new changes were a God send to all the demands and rules made by humans and not God’s Laws from the Bible. I was elated when the windows in the Church opened wide to let fresh insights in and called us to interact more with the world.
Kathleen (Kay) Carmody Williams
From NDB (Class of ’60), I went to Trinity College in Washington, D.C. For the next four years, I was privileged and exhilarated to be in the premier Catholic women’s college in the country during Vatican II and for John F. Kennedy’s presidency. I saw Kennedy inaugurated and buried over the next four years – a stirring enough experience for any young, wide-eyed college student from Palo Alto. But more importantly, I experienced the effects of Vatican II in the liturgical life at Trinity, where I attended Mass every day. Often the Mass was celebrated by Rev. Gerard S. Sloyan, then head of the Religious Education department at Catholic University, which was across the street from Trinity. I just looked up his biography, so let me quote: “Catholic theological life passed from famine to feast in the conciliar years according to Sloyan. He became a recognized and respected leader in the post-conciliar Church. As he says, he was deeply engaged in ‘barnstorming the country to explain what the Council’s documents were teaching’ (Friedl, 1997, p. 49). A gifted speaker and writer, his numerous contributions shaped the post-Vatican II United States. His publications, both popular and academic, betrayed his talent for translating ‘the signs of the times’ to virtually any audience: priests, sisters, brothers, the laity, Catholics, Protestants, some Jews, even perhaps the occasional unbeliever.” Part of Fr. Sloyan’s “barnstorming” was his celebration of daily Mass at Trinity. His homilies influenced me profoundly, as they were pithy, informative, and extraordinarily mind-opening to this Catholic school girl who had been devout and obedient. He gave me permission to think for myself as a Catholic Christian.
Before Trinity I had been inspired by Sr. Francis Loretto, principal of NDB, as well as by the other teachers who guided us toward recognizing the social justice mission of the Catholic Church. Once I came into contact with the teachers at Trinity, I was beginning to think for myself as a Catholic; I emerged from Trinity into a world when Vatican II changes were just being implemented in parishes in Palo Alto. The local parish, however, was still pretty stiff, so I found myself attending daily Mass at St. Ann Chapel in Palo Alto, the Newman Center of Stanford University, where the Vatican II changes were quickly being brought to life. That community surrounded me as my four children were born, and I really saw myself as part of the “people of God”, equal to priests and nuns, carrying out my vocation as a wife and mother. I had been let out of the traditional Catholic “box” by these educators, and there was never any going back.
Fortunately, as I headed into middle/old age, I became associated with a small Catholic faith community here in Palo Alto, the Thomas Merton Center, which was founded in 1995 as an independent, non-profit, religious education membership association. All its members (about 120 registered) are, by and large, “Vatican II Catholics,” (which means we are old). We have an agreement/arrangement with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish of Palo Alto whereby the Merton Center sponsors one Sunday morning Mass a week. The liturgy of which reflects the Vatican II injunction to “full, active and conscious participation” in Catholic liturgical life. We hire our own priests to say this weekly Mass (paying them a stipend), supply it with wine and bread, manage the church environment, and try to create a warm and welcoming outreach to those who attend. In addition, the Merton Center sponsors adult education speakers who carry the progressive, open, inclusive spirit in their writings and lectures, supports its members in their social justice activities in the area, and publishes a weekly bulletin. The bulletin provides a forum for community members and publishes articles and notices about local events, as well as reprinting articles by national Catholic thinkers and commentators – without oversight from the local pastor.
My Catholic faith would not be alive today if it had not been for Vatican II. As it is, I try to keep that faith alive in the face of the disheartening evidence that our Church is severely flawed by its hierarchical structure and the current theological retrenchment away from the Vatican II teachings. The influence of the SNDs has been incalculable in supporting a vision of Church with which I can live.
I do have to dig deep into the meaning of faith and hope as I watch the attempts to shutter the open windows of Vatican II. There are many instances in Church history where persecutions and misunderstandings and fear and violence have had sway. I am surprised that I have to live through such times myself…such was the overwhelming hope that I felt as Vatican II unfolded.
I love the changes from Vatican II. I was in Saratoga, teaching at Sacred Heart School. I have a funny anecdote to share with you. Sr. Francis Weinberger was the Provincial Secretary. She was told by the Provincial (Sr. Clare Marie) to run-off the prayer for the success of Vatican II for the whole community to say after Mass each day. What arrived in the pews was Prayer for the Cusses of Vatican II. We had a laugh over that.
I do remember the changes brought on by Vatican II. Even though I realized that fresh insights were needed I really disliked the changes to mass. As I grew up, mass was for me a place for serenity, quiet and focus on my faith in God. I had always loved going to mass and felt devastated by the changes. I still miss the wonder that I felt every time I went to mass. Since Vatican II, I have continually been seeking the sense of wonder and joy that I felt by attending mass at churches that are more conservative in their approach. I guess old habits die hard.
My two-year tour on the USS Providence was up in November 1963 and I had received orders to report first to North Island for two weeks of classroom, weapons familiarization on the firing range, and a week of SERE, then flying off to Saigon for a one year tour of duty.
Landing in Saigon on Monday, February 17, 1964, my tour started with a bang, or at least a bang from the previous day. The evening before, the Viet Cong blew up the Capital Kinh-Do theater, killing three U.S. military and injuring a few dozen more. I had previously thought about Catholicism when I was on the Providence, but the ship’s chaplain (Catholic) seemed more interested in golfing than religion, so I put it off for a while. After two or three months in Saigon, I decided to contact a Catholic chaplain about instructions and converting. He was an Army chaplain and the head of all chaplains in the country, and a lifer.
He gave me what he called a conditional baptism because I had been baptized as a kid in a Baptist church in Buffalo where I spent my teen years. Later that year, in August, I was confirmed by the archbishop of Saigon, Paul Binh. All I recall about that ceremony was kneeling on a wooden kneeler for hours, exactly how many I have forgotten. Maybe that pain was part of the confirmation.
My introduction to the Mass was the old style Latin; I think the vernacular was being talked about, but not yet part of the Mass. In fact, as I recall, after I returned to the States in early 1965, some priests, particularly Cardinal McIntyre, the archbishop of Los Angeles, were openly opposed to the Vatican II reforms. By that time, I think most churches had accepted the new Mass.