The Martin Sloan of Precious Blood?

tz Millions of American Catholics loved their parochial school, or remember loving it. There is a whole sub-genre of art about this theme. But why Catholics loved their school is difficult to say. Did they feel close to the Holy Spirit? Do they love its sense of community? Or are they feeling nostalgic?

James Ricci of The Los Angeles Times failed to answer these questions in his otherwise evocative story about a Catholic elementary school in Los Angeles. Ricci suggested that the school posseses some magical qualities, but he never showed readers their source.

Ricci profiled briefly one devoted alum of Precious Blood Catholic School. Bob Reed implies that his love for the school is a mixture of nostalgia and appreciation of its sense of community:

“I would give anything to get in a time machine and go back to that era and spend the rest of my life there,” Reed said while giving a visitor a tour of the school.

“The neighborhood was actually friendlier to children than many places. Families with kids could rent a place, which was not easy to do elsewhere. Yes, we were crammed into the school, but you didn’t know any better because those were such simple times. Precious Blood school is a timeless jewel in an old neighborhood. Six decades go by, and nothing has changed.”

Yet in the midst of his mini-profile of Reed, Ricci quotes a professor who attributes the school’s appeal to another source:

Paul Contino, a literature professor and associate director of Pepperdine University’s Center for Faith and Learning, said such schools have survived “because they offer something distinctively spiritual at their heart that’s very precious and that people value a great deal. There’s something about being spiritually attuned that encourages being receptive and attentive in the classroom, and even being creative.”

So which is it? Is the appeal of parochial schools “distinctively spiritual,” nostalgic, or communal?

Ricci need to answer this question. According to Catholic theology at least, pure nostalgia is heretical. It enshrines virtue and goodness in the past, not the present. In so doing, nostalgia denies the power of the Holy Spirit to shower graces upon God’s children.

By not answering this question, Ricci presented Reed as the Martin Sloan of Precious Blood. Sloan was the chief character of Rod Serling’s short story, and later Twilight Zone episode, who seeks to return to his boyhood hometown when he was a child, and does.

No doubt Reed told Ricci about his unvarnished feelings for Precious Blood. But Ricci should have asked Reed if he felt any spiritual or religious connection to the school. In the absence of this question, Reed’s love for his boyhood school seems universal rather than, well, parochial.

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  • Julia

    According to Catholic theology at least, pure nostalgia is heretical. It enshrines virtue and goodness in the past, not the present. In so doing, nostalgia denies the power of the Holy Spirit to shower graces upon God’s children.

    I read the entire entry and could find nothing saying that nostalgia was heresy. I thought perhaps you might be thinking of despair, but that entry did not match either. Despair is persistantly believing that you cannot be saved and that God has not given you the tools to be saved. That’s not the same as nostalgia for your school days.

    Getting lost in nostalgia is not good for anybody (SEE One Hundred Years of Solitude about where that will get you). But I don’t see how it is heresy to observe that times have changed and things today might not be as felicitous as they once were. There is always hope for betterment. Gracious sakes, dispossessed folks during the Depression have got to be pardoned for fondly remembering better times. Otherwise, you are saying that Catholics are required to deny what is plainly in front of their face at times.

    I attended a small Catholic school in a small parish in East St Louis, IL where there were only 21 kids in my class in the 1950s. Because of the smallness of the parish and school almost everybody could walk to school and church on Sunday. Also, because of the smallness of the parish and school, I knew the 50% of the adult residents of the parish who were Catholic. They watched out for us and encouraged us. My grade school choir sang at the adults funerals and weddings. The adults were serious Catholics and so we took First Communion and Confirmation, etc. seriously, too. At the church where I now sing for First Communion and Confirmation, many of the parents rarely go to church themselves and the kids will drop out after Confirmation.

    My classmates (now in our 60s) continue to gather from time to time for the heck of it. Our fondness for the school is due to all three qualities of school and parish life:

    spiritual, nostalgic and community-feeling

    . They are intertwined.