Confession Cowardice- A Visit to St. Olaf Catholic Church

I am a practicing Catholic, and, as such, I find going to Confession a much needed part of my faith life. A lot of people might find this odd. Confessing your sins to a priest probably does not seem to be the most fun pastime. However, I find it really relieving and cathartic. The only hitch for me is that I genuinely loathe going to Confession with a priest that I know.

The Catholic Campus Ministry here at William and Mary has its own chaplain; however, he is also a priest at the larger St. Bede Parish on Ironbound Road. I know our chaplain well because I am on the executive board for CCM, so I dislike going to the Confession services held at our campus chapel. So I had been going to St. Bede’s Confession time instead of the campus one for awhile. Except now our campus chaplain helps at those Confessions as well. There are two rooms and you do not know if you will get him or the other priest at St. Bede. A few months ago I had the unpleasant experience of getting the room with the priest I knew. Even with the screen blocking my face, I knew he would recognize my voice, so I made my voice lower and more hoarse to disguise it.

So where am I going with this generally silly anecdote about my irrational Confession fears? Well, I decided that I needed to find somewhere else to say my Confession. So I looked up the nearest Catholic Church besides St. Bede in the Williamsburg area. It is called St. Olaf and is technically in Norge, but it is just up Richmond Road a couple miles past Williamsburg Pottery, so it still seems like Williamsburg to me.

I decided that going to Confession at St. Olaf on Saturday would be my experience of a “new place” in Williamsburg. I pulled out my IPhone and mapped how to get there. It was very simple. The church is exactly eight miles down Richmond Road from campus. So I got in my car and started driving. I had never been that far down Richmond Road to begin with, so I started getting a little nervous because I began to not recognize things. But once I saw the sign for the church I calmed down and knew it would be fine. To get to St. Olaf you turn right off Richmond Road and turn right again down a little side street. There is a Farm Fresh and a Starbucks and some houses in the immediate vicinity of the church. It is not in a “sketchy” part of town or anything, so I felt completely safe. It looked like any small church that you would find near a shopping center anywhere in the United States. Thus, its generic-ness was actually comforting.

Confessions are held at St. Olaf from 4:30 to 5:15 PM on Saturday afternoons- right before their Saturday evening mass at 5:30. I got to the church at around 4:45 PM, so those few people that like to get to mass super early were already arriving. This made me a little nervous. I had been hoping there would not be many people around. The church is really small, so I would probably stand out as someone that did not usually go there. Going to mass on campus is really comfortable because most of the people that go to those masses at our small chapel are also students. And even when I had to go to St. Bede on Ironbound Road over the summer, I blended in with the other college students who had stayed in Williamsburg over the summer and were going their for mass as well. St. Olaf does not draw the William and Mary crowd, however. It is out of the way and not connected to William and Mary’s Catholic Campus Ministry. So I immediately thought that I must stick out like a sore thumb in this community.

Luckily, though, my experience at St. Olaf was incredibly pleasant. I walked in the side doors of the church and clearly looked a little confused, so an older lady approached me and asked if I needed anything. I asked where confessions were being heard. The church is so small that she pointed across the small welcoming area to a bench that I could sit on while I waited. There was only one person ahead of me in line. At St. Bede, there would normally be at least 10-15 people ahead of me in both lines that they have there. Needless to say I was pretty surprised at how quick this was probably going to be.

I went to sit down on the bench with the older gentleman that was also in line. After he went in, I just awkwardly sat on the bench in the middle of the welcoming hall as more people started coming in for mass. I have to say, this set-up really is not the best. At least at St. Bede, you are far away from the entrance area when you are waiting to go to Confession, so no one can see you and say in their head, “Oh, that girl has something to confess.” Okay, people probably do not actually think that, but I just imagine they do.

Because I was the only person sitting on the waiting bench after the older gentleman went into the Confession room, and probably because I looked new and out of place, an older woman came and sat down next to me and introduced herself. She asked if I was there for mass and I just said that I was only there for Confession. She said, “Oh, you are brave, I don’t like going to Confession.” Little did she know, that my driving out to St. Olaf to go to Confession was because of how much of a coward I actually am. Nevertheless, I chuckled at her comment and said something like, “I guess so.” She then went on to greet friends of hers that were walking into the church.

I am not going to tell you what I confessed, but I did really like the priest who heard my confession. After I was done, I headed out of the church and went back to campus. All in all, I liked experiencing, even if for a very brief time, another church community besides the one I am used to on campus. I felt very welcomed at St. Olaf, even if I felt a little out of place. It is nice to know that even in a different part of town I can find a church that is welcoming and makes me feel comfortable.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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