Bridget Wilson was reminiscing about growing up in the North Bronx – the excitement of Friday night dances at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church; the stern nuns in her all-girls Catholic school; and high school friends that she has stayed in touch with.
There was one weekly event, she said, that she, her parents, and her four siblings would never fail to attend: Sunday Mass at their local church. Wilson grew up in a devoutly Catholic household where skipping Mass was never an option. “My parents were from Ireland”, she said, throwing up her hands as if that were explanation enough.
It was also a time when religion was more intricately woven into the societal fabric. Apart from Parish dances, there were other social events hosted by the church and priests often made “home visits”, Wilson said.
By contrast, Wilson’s four children, three of whom are now in college, do not always go to church willingly. At Rockaway Township’s Sacred Heart Church where she teaches Confirmation, she knows that the children who attend are often there because “their parents make them go”.
Wilson lives in Rockaway, in the house that has been her family’s home for 18 years, with her husband and a son, the youngest of her children. A registered nurse by training, she is the nurse at Saint Cecilia school, a Catholic elementary school in town.
Her faith may be unshakeable but she tempers it with her own brand of practicality and humor.
She relates with relish the story of how she and her husband, Tom, who grew up Lutheran, decided to raise their own children in the Roman Catholic tradition. When they were expecting their first child, her husband, who was only a lukewarm practitioner of his faith, felt that it was important to him to have the child follow his religion. His wife quietly acquiesced but on a Sunday following the baby’s arrival, when she woke him up insisting that he start attending church regularly, Tom Wilson groaned and rolled over in bed. “Oh, fine”, he said, “Let’s just raise our kids Catholic”.
During Lent, the forty day period preceding Easter Sunday, Catholics strive to give up something as a way of acknowledging Christ’s suffering before his resurrection. The sacrifice usually takes a dietary form with many people renouncing meat for all or some of the Lenten days. It’s a custom that has less significance for the youth of today, Wilson said. “They don’t take it as seriously”.
Though it is traditionally viewed as a time of prayer and penance, it’s not always necessary to give up something during Lent, Wilson said, adding that just doing “good deeds” during this period demonstrates that a person has spent some time on much-needed introspection.
The Roman Catholic Church has been criticized for what is sometimes perceived as a rigid doctrine. A staunch follower of its teachings, Wilson nevertheless acknowledges the shortcomings of a few of its dictates.
Birth control, she said, was necessary in a modern world where it’s not always economically practical to have a large family. Though the Church currently prohibits women from being ordained as priests, Wilson believes that this will change as its position on the roles that women can play evolves. “The church has opened up so much”, she said, referring to the current opportunities for women within its fold. “My daughter was altar server [at our church]; this was unthinkable before”.
The multiple cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests that had surfaced in recent times were “really, really sad”, Wilson said, but she dismissed the notion that the misdeeds were triggered by the constraints of priesthood. “It has nothing to do with priests taking a vow of celibacy”, she said. “It [pedophilia] is a sickness and I’m talking medically here”.
Whether the topic of debate is abortion or teen sexuality, Wilson definitely has a viewpoint but she expresses it gently, if firmly, and without taking the moral high road. There are compelling medical reasons, she said, for teenagers not to become sexually active. Abstinence is best, she said, in an environment where there are at least thirty different types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) out there.
“Once you have it, it doesn’t go away”, she said. “It’s not curable, only treatable”. She has participated in a campaign called “True Love Waits” organized by a group of women in her parish where she presented the medical case for teenagers to postpone sexual involvement.
Now, in the week before Easter, with basketball season behind her, Wilson, whose son plays varsity basketball for his high school, had a little more latitude in her schedule, allowing her to gear up for the holiday weekend and the arrival of her three older children as well as some other family members. With another daughter attending college on a full basketball scholarship, it’s no surprise that the sport has special status in the Wilson household.
When Easter Sunday rolled around, nobody in the Wilson household complained about having to attend Morning Mass and certainly nobody could find anything to gripe about in the Easter meal that Wilson had prepared, a spread that she characterized as being “the biggest feast for Catholics”. On this day, it included ham, beef tenderloin, macaroni and potato salad, and stuffed mushrooms. Not lamb, for though Wilson believed that that was the traditional dish for Easter, “my children just won’t eat lamb”, she said.