Bible History 101

Article excerpt

Bible history class was but one of many September grammar school start-up rituals of my childhood. From fourth through eighth grade, the students of St. Cajetan Grammar School on the far Southwest Side of Chicago were brought to the church every Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. for Bible history.

Several hundred students, all warned to be on their best behavior for the pastor, were ushered into the pews by the many sisters and one lay teacher who staffed the school. The pastor, Father John Sharp, would make his appearance only after all the classes were in their assigned pews. He always had a well-worn book in hand and usually walked up and down the church's main aisle as he read to us and offered his own extensive commentary on many things.

The book in Father Sharp's hands, Bible History by Bishop Richard Gilmour (no known relation to me), was the pastor's road map for these weekly classes. Far slimmer than the Bible, written in 1869 and published by the venerable Catholic publishing house, Benziger Brothers, Bible History is an artifact from another century but was still considered useful in the Catholic world of the early 1950s.

Father Sharp was a strong believer in the absolute historicity of the Bible. He was convinced that Noah's ark would one day be found by archaeologists. It was the godless Communists who were preventing this discovery, since Noah's boat no doubt rested on a mountaintop somewhere in the Soviet Union.

His "historical" tour de force was a yellowed newspaper clipping he kept in his Bible History, which he would brandish every year when we got to the story of Jonah and the whale. …