Stepping Back in Time to Re-Visit the School and Church That Shaped My Life

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

I grew up in the All-American City, Cohoes, NY....for my first 13 years of life.  My dad came from Canadian ancestors who settled in Cohoes generations before him.  His mom died in the same building she was born in, having lived her dash (the time in between her birth and death) in 3 homes all within the same short block of Cohoes.  Imagine, 76 years living within the same 1/10th of a mile!   I find that pretty extraordinary.  I spent a lot of time with her growing up, before and after school.  I also walked to her home for lunch each day from my elementary school - St. Marie's on Vliet Boulevard, just a block from her home.  Our house was only a 1/3 of a mile from church and school but in the opposite direction. You can imagine that that short, 1/2 mile of geography holds a significant piece of my past - and my memories.

Being born into a long line of Catholics on both sides of my family, it was not surprising that my parents sent me to St. Marie's for a parochial school education.  My dad had been an altar boy at St. Agnes Church, had attended St. Agnes Elementary School and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy.

My Dad - Ron Durocher

  His cousin, Lois Durocher, joined the convent and was a Sister in the Order of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary which was founded by Blessed Marie Rose Durocher (born Eulalie Melanie Durocher) believed to be a Canadian ancestor of my family.  Sister Marie Rose was beatified in May of 1982 by Pope John Paul II.  I suspect that is why Lois may have been inspired by her when she became Sister Alice Maureen.  For a time as a young girl, fascinated by the many mysteries of a nun's life in the convent, I thought I might like to be a nun one day.   A crush on a boy in my class in 6th grade made me realize a future in the convent may not be for me.

Sister Alice Maureen

Perhaps my strong Catholic lineage can explain my vivid memories of life at St. Marie's and spurred my interest in revisiting the buildings that were the foundation of my character and the reaction I had when I did.

A few years ago, after several years of wishing I could walk the halls of St. Marie's School again, I got the chance to do just that when we attended an indoor flea market with my bestie and her husband.  Ann Marie had also attended St. Marie's.  Neither of us had been back since.  I can't find words to explain what it felt like to revisit my elementary school almost 50 years later. The memories came rushing back, many of them I've since written in my memoirs for my kids and grandkids.  Memories of hearing the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination,  Christmas programs in the cafeteria, baby chicks incubating in the basement, Kindergarten with Miss Marion....... You would think revisiting a church would be much easier since churches are open to the public, but I hadn't.  It wasn't until this past weekend when in Cohoes taking photos of ancestor's homes that I decided to step into the church where I spent so much of my early years...the church that instilled values, discipline and a good, old fashioned 'fear of God'.  The nuns of the 1960's were a stern breed and as much as I may have feared them, I thank them today for their education and strict standards they lived by and also expected of us.

St. Marie's is currently known as Church of the Holy Trinity after merging with St. Agnes and St. Patrick.  As we walked down the sidewalk to the side entrance of the church, I couldn't help at that moment but be reminded of the many days we walked from morning mass, out the side door of the parish, across the street to school.  Of course on those days, days when we had fasted to receive Communion, our school day would begin with breakfast.  For me, breakfast would be a bologna sandwich, my favorite, and a carton of chocolate milk.   Those walks back and forth from school to church were many and long ago, but on this day, I remembered them like they were yesterday.

Although I'd gotten glimpses of  the church in the past couple of years online, this was the first I'd been inside of St. Marie's (it'll always be St. Marie's to me) since Ann Marie's wedding in 1974 and before that in 1968 before we moved to Saratoga.  The first thing that struck me was the profound beauty, the gorgeous wooden beams, and the striking stained glass windows...none of which I had noticed or appreciated as a child, even though I'd spent much of my young life inside these walls.

As I sat in the pew gazing from one side to the other, I remembered special occasions taking place within these walls .....First Communion, Confirmation, first confession, May procession.  I gazed at the confessional, now wide open, remembering the heavy velvet curtains that covered the two side openings.  I can remember kneeling inside the confessional, dark and quiet, hearing the priest slide open the window to hear my confession as I nervously recited, "Bless me Father for I have sinned....." as I tried to come up with sins to confess.  As an only child in a very strict household, there wasn't much opportunity to sin, but in confession I felt compelled to 'produce' something so the priest could do his job and deliver absolution...usually 3 Hail Marys and occasionally an added Our Father.  Writing this I'm reminded that despite my fear of God and my mother, talking back was regularly on my list of sins.

While I have not chosen the Catholic church as my adult place of worship, I cannot deny the incredibly strong emotions that overcame me as I visited the church that shaped who I grew up to be.  The strict nuns, the catechism, the recited prayers, the many hours in church, the sacraments, traditions and beliefs were not wasted on me.  And while I have not been physically present in this particular house of worship in a half a century, there is no mistaking that I felt a sense of  'home' the minute I walked through its doors again.  God met me there at this visit and His presence was palpable, probably more than I'd ever felt so many years ago when my hours in this church were more of an obligation than a choice.  

The reason I chose to share my experience visiting my childhood church was to point out how we often take things in life for granted.  We navigate day-to-day going about the business of life, preoccupied with just getting by.  We often miss the small stuff and for many, not look back at where we came from.  We don't think about why we are who we are or who contributed to who we've become.  I've always had fond memories of my time at St. Marie's, both school and church, but I never realized just how deeply affected I would be when I took a moment to revisit a time gone by.  My past, that piece of it, has stayed with me all these years and more than ever, I now realize just how impactful St. Marie's was on the person I am today.  I am filled with gratitude.  I hope you'll be inspired to revisit places of your youth and to take a moment to appreciate and thank the people and places that shaped your past and consequently, your future.

Above, yours truly after the 1962 May procession. (top row) Second graders wore our First Communion outfits. 

St. Marie's School (Now Church of the Holy Trinity Parish Center)

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