This week, we have a warm and witty extract from Openhearted, a memoir by Ann Ingle.
These days, couples live together without marrying and think nothing of it.[restrict]
I have a daughter like that. In my day it was only bohemians, actresses and the arty crowd who dared to ‘live in sin’. Back in 1961, as a fallen woman, I had little choice. I had to get married. Everyone said so. I didn’t care where we married, the venue wasn’t important to me.
Paddy insisted that we should marry in a Catholic Church. I had never known him to show any interest in religious observance. I was confused. It appeared that you could take the man out of Catholic Ireland but the indoctrination lived on. The nearest Catholic Church was St Joseph’s in Leytonstone. I telephoned to fix a date for the wedding, but the priest said we had to go in person to make the arrangements.
‘Formalities must be observed,’ he said. When we arrived at the church, the priest brought us into a large room. It was sparsely furnished, cold and uninviting. I could see my face in the polished mahogany table where we were told to sit. Peter and I sat on one side, the priest on the other. The room was clinically clean but there was a strange smell in the air. It reminded me of my mother’s potpourri that she kept on her dressing table. I was nervous, naturally enough, having never been interviewed by a Catholic priest before, coupled with the fact that I had a secret. Well, I thought it was a secret but I am sure the priest must have known my dilemma.
We were in a hurry. He had seen it all before. Paddy had sent home for his baptismal certificate and he handed it over with confidence. When the priest asked for mine, I handed over my birth certificate and told him I was christened in the Church of England. ‘This complicates matters,’ he said, ‘you will have to obtain the permission of the bishop before the marriage can take place.’ The bishop, I thought, what business is it of his?
The priest said, as if he were doing us a great favour, that he would approach this bishop and get back to us as soon as he could. As we got up to leave, he asked me if I realised that if we had children they would have to be brought up as Catholics. Furthermore, he told me, the ceremony could not take place before the main altar because I was not a Catholic. So what, I thought, any altar will do. I wasn’t thinking too deeply about bringing up my children with any religion at all. I couldn’t imagine that a church would have the right to tell me that my children had to be Catholics.
The priest’s words of warning fell on my ignorant ears. I knew nothing about Catholicism. I had gone to the local Church of England Sunday school as a child. In my early teens, I was fascinated by the idea of religion, always searching for something to belong to. Valerie, one of my friends at school attended the local Baptist Church. When Billy Graham, an evangelist from America, held a crusade in Harringay Arena she brought me along. There were thousands in attendance that night and Billy Graham was a charismatic and persuasive speaker.
I was spellbound, mesmerised. I wanted to give my life to Christ and I very nearly followed the crowds walking up to the stage, as he beckoned them forward. Something held me back, probably the fact that I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure there even was a God. But how that man could talk, what a salesman. This priest wasn’t trying to sell me anything. He didn’t have the time nor inclination to convert me. I was ignorant and unwittingly marrying into a church that did not condone divorce, contraception, homosexuality and barely tolerated mixed marriages.
I recently came across an article written in 1906 in the British Weekly about the Irish, where the editor wrote: The priests control not only the worship but the life of the people. If the Irish peasant desires freedom he emigrates to America. I am told that not only peasants but even priests frequently cross the Atlantic, not for economic or worldly reasons at all, but to escape from the rigid and perfected system of the Roman obedience, which is, as Catholics think, the supreme blessing, and, as Protestants think, the most crushing bane of that lovely and melancholy land.
Openhearted by Ann Ingle
is available now,
published by Sandycove.