I never really knew what the word Catholic meant until I went to Stanford. In my previous Catholic school life it was never a label, never anything I would be judged for. It was just what everybody was.
The “college me” came ready for changes, wanting to learn from new perspectives and walks of life. So I made tons of friends, raging with the best of them. Just in my own undercover Catholic way.
When friends shared post-hookup details that made me incredibly uncomfortable at brunch, I’d get up and get more food. When people vehemently put down religion in class, I busied myself with an important text. I toed a fine line between staying true to my personal boundaries and being like any other Stanford student. But I felt myself breaking under the pressure.
Sophomore year I jumped into Catholic community involvement. I wanted to reground myself, maybe even find some friends like me who liked to have fun but had certain limits. But quite honestly, Catholic community life felt like my other life in reverse. I was only showing one side of myself. The other hid quietly in a shadowed corner in the back of my mind, waiting until it was safe to reveal itself again.
I couldn’t see my Catholic friends ever understanding my non-Catholic friends and vice versa, and I was terrified of being judged by either. Maybe that makes me a coward.
But all I knew was that I needed both. I needed an outlet for my religion. I needed drinking and going-out buddies. And most of all, I needed good friends who would listen to me and be there for me in their own ways. So I fought to keep both the only way I knew how.
Senior year something snapped.
It was approximately 5 p.m. in an English section when I found myself wanting to smack the smiles off of two kids sitting across a table from me.
“It’s really not that hard to see,” one of them began, “In The Faerie Queene, all of the villains can be traced back to evils in the Catholic Church.”
Don’t take it personally, Courtney, I said to myself, preemptively quieting a defensive reaction. He’s right. It’s just a book.
“Greed, breaches of power, this bulls#*t of papal infallibility. When you think of just how much money and power that Church has…”
All right, you’ve made your point. We get it.
And then one guy proceeded to cross the line with a joke about pedophilia.
Everyone around him laughed. I stayed quiet. Wanting to hit him. At the same time wanting to cry.
Tuning him out, I opened a new Word doc. Started typing furiously. Didn’t stop until I finally noticed people around me starting to get up and leave.
Navigating to the Stanford Daily News homepage, I copied and pasted the email address of the Opinions Editor.
Ready. Send. Go.
I woke up the next morning with lead weights in my stomach. Rolling out of bed at 6:30 after a fruitless night’s sleep, I brewed my morning hazelnut coffee, trying desperately to think about anything else.
An hour later I was still scared to death to turn on my computer. Finally taking the deepest of all deep breaths, I fell into my zebra chair and opened a new Safari tab, navigating to the Daily News website.
Well, there it was. Op-Ed: Silently Catholic, Pro-Life, and a Stanford Outcast, by Courtney Crisp. I felt my heart stop in my chest. Reread all of my words.
I reread how I often felt alone in my faith:
It is at times like the Roe v. Wade memorial when I feel the deepest sense of isolation. I am not fiery enough to stand out there on the White Plaza grass on the pro-life side. I don’t like creating conflict or focusing on doctrine when it comes to religion; that’s just not what it means to me. For me, religion was always more about love and bringing people together than it was about driving them apart.
How I revealed my double life:
I ended up choosing to exist in two worlds. In one world, I had wonderful friends and sorority sisters who weren’t Catholic and didn’t really understand how key it was in my life, while in the other I went to church every Sunday by myself. In one world, I was an incredibly active Stanford student; in the other, I felt lonely and misunderstood.
I couldn’t believe I had put myself in such a ridiculously vulnerable position. I felt my entire body grow rigid as I noticed the 20+ reader responses growing by the minute in my inbox.
There was definitely some negative feedback. But that much I had expected.
They ultimately faded into the background, ceasing to matter. They weren’t the people I was writing for anyway.
I hope you remember me from that class we took last quarter. This morning I read your editorial in the Daily, and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.
Tears started brewing behind my exhausted eyes.
I hope that you find encouragement having faith in a very secular place, but I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone.
I finished the last of the emails with tears streaming down my face. So I wasn’t alone. There were so many others like me. Hiding in the shadows, keeping their religion to themselves.
The truth was out and I had survived. Both sides now knew how I was feeling, of hidden dilemmas I had struggled with for four years. I felt a huge weight lift knowing that I could focus a whole lot less on pretending to be someone I wasn’t and more on working on the person I was, cherishing the friendships I had made along the way.