Stokane National School Reunion
My First Holy
—By Thomas Kilcullen, (Past Pupil).
The year was 1928. The place Stokane National School, Co. Sligo. I claim to he the only person ever to have a First Holy Communion in this school”. I would be reaching the use of reason in April, 1928, having then attained the wonderful age of seven years, and so it was that I was included in the class being prepared by our teacher, Mrs. Rouse, to have our First Holy on Easter Sunday of that year.
After Christmas the class of eleven was lined up for preparation — first we had to know all the prayers and have the short catechism off by heart so that we knew the Commandments of God and of the Church, Fast days, the Mysteries and, above all, the Sacraments. Four hours of each week was given to this class on religious instruction, many a fine cane was broken on us by the teacher trying to hammer some information into what she called our thick block heads.
As the weeks went by it was obvious that she was bringing us to an advanced stage as we were now put through mock Confessions and receiving small bits of bread as Communion.
The mock Confession was to kneel at a chair with the teacher acting as the priest, you blessed yourself when the priest turned to you. You said the Confiteor ending with “through my most grevious fault. Then you said to the priest: “This is my first Confession”. You told the priest your sins and waited to hear your penance before you said the long Act of Contrition.
The mock receiving of Holy Communion was kneeling down and putting out your tongue as far as you could and withdrawing it slowly, many a slap was given for failing to reach the expected reverence required.
The big days were drawing near when we would go to Confession on the Saturday and receive our First Holy on the Sunday. We would be supervised by our teacher, and it would be God help he or she that stepped out of line, we were to stand in lines outside the Confessional — boys on one side and girls on the other side — any pushing or shoving would be noted. On Sunday all receiving their First Holy were to occupy the front seats in the Church — boys on the right-hand side and girls on the left-hand side facing the altar. We were not to look around but were to hold our heads slightly bowed; we were to join our hands with the tips of our fingers slightly below our chins when going towards the altar, and after receiving we were to return to our seats still holding our hands in the same position. While it was all right for the girls to hold their hands like this, any boy acting thus was called a cissy by the other boys.
On the first Monday in April, 1928, we were told that a priests’ station would be held in the school on the following Saturday, it was the station listed for Michael Boland, known locally as Michael Ownie Sean Owen. This name was given to him to identify him from the two other Boland families in the townland, his house, now in ruins, was on the verge of the bog and was bordering the towniand of Ballymoghenry. There was a very wet cart-way leading up to the house from the road and as the priest was now travelling in his motor car and was no longer using his horse and trap for getting around his parish, it would be impossible for the priest to get up to the house by car, and as well as that he was a very big and fat parish priest.
During the week I drew up my plan of action as my oldest brother would be serving the Mass at the station. I would travel with him on the Saturday, go to Confession and receive Holy Communion, and escape from all the supervision of my teacher, and I would also be finished with all the mock Confessions in the school, and I could join the big lads, and I would have pulled a quick one on the other smart boys in my class.
Saturday morning arrived and I told my brother I was travelling with him. He was delighted with the thought of having company, and set off for the school, climbing over fences and jumping bog holes on our way. We arrived at the school at 9.30 a.m. When we went into the school I noticed the big change that had taken place in the school from the day before.
A big fire was burning in the grate, the desks were pushed back and were replaced with chairs arranged in front of the fire; the table was over near the window, and it was covered with a white cloth, on top of which was placed two vases of flowers and two candle-sticks with candles, and I could see that this table was going to be used as an altar.
The Master, Denis Rouse, was very active meeting people and showing them to their seats. I knew everyone in the assembly and I took up a seat at the back of the rows of chairs. Then a whisper went around saying: “He is here”.
I heard the sound of a car outside and I knew that the priest had arrived, he was the only one in the parish that had a motor car at that time; he did not drive it himself, he paid a young man to drive it for him.
I can still see the priest, Fr. Tom Beirne, coming through the doorway on that morning. He was covered from head to toe in a loose, black robe. I could see his white collar around his neck and the soles of a beautiful pair of black boots could be seen at the bottom of the skirt of the robe he was wearing. He smiled as he entered and then he sat on a chair beside the fire.
The people, in turn, began to kneel at his side, and he heard their Confessions. I was kneeling at the back, and I soon realised that things were not as I expected. The people were so near that they could hear the penitent telling his sins. No penitent, said the Confiteor, before they told their sins. The priest did not wait until they had finished before he had his hand raised giving them absolution. Everyone was getting three Our Fathers’ penance and as well as that they were not saying the Act of Contrition clear and distinct as I had been taught.
No wonder that when it came to my turn to go to Confession, I had already decided against it, and I made up my mind to get further information. Either my teacher had it all wrong or those people were completely ignorant.
The Master came to me and asked me to go to Confession and I refused, then he went and whispered something to the priest, whereupon the priest stood up and beckoned me to come to him. I immediately got up and knelt beside his chair. He waited while I said the first part of the Confiteor, then I said, bless me, Father, for I have sinned’, and I told him my one sin. Then he said in a voice that I thought could be heard across the road. “It’s always a sin to steal. I felt stuck to the floor because all the people present knew from this remark that I was a robber or a thief. I got one Our Father for penance and I started to say my Act of Contrition, but before I got half-way through this prayer, the priest had got up and was preparing himself to say Mass. I waited on my knees and finished my prayer; then I got up and started moving back to my place. The first woman that I passed was holding her Rosary beads in her hands and her lips were moving in prayer. She looked at me from under a lowered eyebrow as much as to say keep away from me you robber or thief. Another woman looked at me in like manner.
I knelt at the back of the people feeling very sad and humiliated. Now everyone knew I was a robber or a thief, even the Master knew and what about the Garda. When he called to the school to collect the school attendance report would he be told?
Why did I not wait and go to Confession in the Church like the rest of the boys in the class, I asked myself. Then no one would know my sin except the priest and sure he would not know my name.
My brother had lighted the candles on the table and Mass had commenced. Everyone was praying as best they could, and soon the priest was giving out Communion. My brother stayed beside the priest holding what looked like a beautiful silver plate with a silver handle. He held this plate under each person’s chin as they were receiving Holy Communion. This was in case a host slipped from the priest’s fingers it would be caught on the plate. When he came to me I noticed the markings that were on the handle attached to the plate and I knew it was the work of some craftsman.
When Mass was over the priest opened up a book and started calling out the names of householders in the townland, and as each name was called someone approached the table and handed over some money. When all the names were called and all the money handed in the priest opened a bag, into which he put all the money.
While all this handing in of money was going on breakfast was being prepared in the classroom, and when the altar linen and the priest’s vestments were packed into a suitcase the priest and my brother went into the classroom for breakfast, while I sat on a chair watching the people leave, with my little legs dangling, weighed down with heavy boots. Waiting for my brother to eat his breakfast I began to ponder over the events of the morning. I had accepted that I was a robber or thief, but what about the other people that went to Confession that morning. What sins had they to tell! I could understand Tom Langan having committed sin, sure hadn’t he a dog that was always turning his cows the wrong way when he was trying to get them across the road. Mrs. Foody must call the hens bad names for laying out in the whins and the crows stealing the eggs. Mrs. Tully must say something bad the day her bike hit the loose stone on the road outside the school, cutting the tyre; then what about Mrs. Muldoon — she as a very holy woman, why had she to go to Confession, I asked myself. My brother came out of the classroom wearing a smile from ear to ear. “I had a great breakfast”, he said, lots of sweet cake, lump sugar, the lot. I said to him: “That’s not much good for me, I’m starving, I did not eat a bite since nine o’clock yesterday evening. Don’t you know that I had to be fasting from midnight order to receive Holy Communion”.
We ran all the way home and soon I was eating a big breakfast while my brother gave my mother an account of the morning’s happenings.
Later on that day I found a small dictionary and I found that robber meant the taking of something from a person by violence or threat. Well, I was not a robber. Then came the word thief — a thief is one that steals secretly or otherwise. “Yes’, I said to myself— “I am a thief’.
Many years have passed since that wonderful morning, and I never again had to confess a sin that broke the Seventh Commandment.
Down through the years I have read about the lives of all the great Saints and martyrs, as well as the Bible. In all this reading there is only one little passage, and it is in the Bible that holds dear to me. The passage is — On Good Friday when Jesus was hanging on the cross on Mount Calvary between two thieves, one of the thieves being repentant, turned to Jesus and said: “Remember me when you go to your Kingdom”, and Jesus said to him: “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise”.
But this is the only person recorded to whom Jesus said directly that he would be with him in paradise. I being a thief have asked him to remember me. Have you asked him yet?