Catharsis Castle

Scene: Villanova College, Coorparoo, 1958

Issue: it is time for the Sub Juniors (14 year olds in the main) to present themselves for the monthly sacrament of confession.

(Environment and circumstances: The Catholic College was run by the Augustinian Fathers having transferred from a site at Whinstanes on the north side of Brisbane to Coorparoo in 1953/4. {They were an impressive learned body of men, mainly Irish, with a selflessness and dedication to be admired, especially in a novel environment for some of them as teachers, as well as for us as students.}

As our teachers, they had the sensitivity that they should not hear the confessions of their daily class students. Therefore other priests resident at the college were detailed to render this service.)

The confessions took place at the college chapel. A small but sturdy edifice which housed the daily saying of mass by the many priests serving at the college. (There were, to me, a myriad of small altars within the chapel.)

Anyway the main altar was accommodated by two sacristies, one at each end, and it was here the confessions were heard. That meant of course there were two priests who had the task of hearing the confessions. This was a matter of great concern to each boy. Who was to hear me? But why were we concerned?

The salient matter was to identify which priest was in which sacristy as one housed a “normal” Irish priest, whilst the other had in residence a jovial Spanish Augustinian non-teaching priest whose English was, to say the least, less than adequate.  He was therefore very popular as it was a point of discussion amongst students that it was a chance to “clean the slate “of “sins of the flesh” rather painlessly.

It was not difficult to determine who was in which sacristy; the class before us usually had not finished when we arrived and one was able to discern a long queue for one (our Spanish priest) with the other having significantly fewer students. It seems other classes had similar views on preference.

The Spanish father was of the practice of saying, after hearing a litany of sins (no matter what!) “Very good, very good, three Hail Marys” (for penance.)

Exaggerated folklore has it that one could have confessed “Father I have just fatally poisoned my grandmother and put her in the fridge with my grandfather whom I dismembered last month.” and the outcome would have been the same: “Very good, very good, three Hail Marys!”

Of course, it can be said with confidence that no such sins were ever confessed, but the consensus amongst the boys was that at our age there really was only one type of sin (that involving the sixth commandment!) which needed to be the focus and addressed, and as indicated here was a chance to clean the slate painlessly.

There would be those who have the view that we were but fooling ourselves and that is difficult to argue against, but in those our formative years, and pre-Vatican 2, it is suggested that such was the mind set of some, and I suspect, many 14/15year old youths.

(I cannot recall any staff member ever addressing the question of the disparity of patronage between each priest. Maybe we were left to our own devices in the chapel.)