Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nun today, Nun tomorrow?

    My parents thought it was important to have a Catholic school education, so they sacrificed to send all 12 of us to St. Mary's School in Canandaigua.  You hear this a lot, but it was truly a simpler time back then.  At that time we had something that the school doesn't have now, teaching nuns, and a friend from that time asked me to write about one in particular. I would have struggled with that so I made this blog more general and included my thoughts on several of them. 

     If you never had a nun teach you, then you'll want to know the difference, right up front. Misbehave with a teacher and you get sent to the Principal's office, misbehave with a nun, and you get sent to Hell.  That's it in a nutshell.  Even when a nun turns away from the class and all you can see is the back of her habit, she's still got God looking out for her, so you tend to behave better with a nun teaching you.  I can't remember each of my elementary school teachers anymore, but I know that I had at least 6 nuns teach me back then, Sr Mary Alma, Sr Theresa, Sr Patricia, Sr Diane, Sr Deanna, and Sr Benedicta and of those, I have lasting memories of 5. 

     Sr. Mary Alma was the principal of the school when I started and the kids all called her "Bubbles".  I didn't make the nickname up, and I don't recall any of the kids using it in front of her, but I can see where it was likely derived from.  She had cherub-like cheeks that were perpetually puffed out, as if she were blowing a
bubble, so I think that nickname stuck for that reason.  I didn't get sent to her office very often but when I did it was usually for doing something exceptional like winning a spelling bee or something like that.  I have no stories of being corporally punished by the nuns, not because I behaved all the time, but because I didn't get caught often, and besides, like most kids those days, you had more to fear at home than from the nice nuns.  I think she was there for a while, and she was replaced by Sr Diane around 1973.  That school year we had a fire in the school and we spent the winter of 1974 in make-shift classrooms thrown up with drywall sheets in the school gym.  That's a tough way to take over a school, with a fire the first year that you run the place, but Sr. Diane managed it well, and I suspect had learned a little from Sr. Bubbles. 

     I'm going to batch the next 2 nuns together as I remember less about each of them.  I think Sr Theresa was really pretty for a woman, much less a nun, but I can't really picture her, except for remembering that she was exceptionally pretty.  When I was in school, I often thought of her as a candidate for giving up the
habit, but as far as I know, she remained a nun.  Sr. Patricia, on the other hand,  did not.  I'm pretty sure she taught me in 2nd grade, and after I left St. Mary's I didn't see her very often except for the occasional sighting at church.  Years later, however, I ordered lunch at a drive thru at a Wendy's restaurant in Rochester and when I pulled around to pick it up, it was the nun formerly known as Sr. Patricia, that handed me my order.  It flustered me a bit and later, on my drive home, I thought of 2 things.  1. Did that make my 2nd grade education invalid (Back then it was probably finger painting, not Algebra like today)?  2.  How do you give up being married to God, to being married to a deep fryer? I don't mean to make light of what was likely an agonizing decision, but I was young and it was something I hadn't seen before, heck, I didn't know any divorced parents at that 
point, so why would I even think of that possibility? As I had said earlier, it was a different time, to illustrate that, I'll post a picture next of a tool that my nuns used to teach me, and I'll bet the younger folks in the blog  

audience can't even fathom what it would be used for.  Bring back any memories?  A lot of folks seem to remember having their knuckles rapped with rulers for writing poorly, but if that happened to me, I can't recall it now.  I do picture the nuns walking with a stick in their hands, but if I had to place it, I'd say it was a single chalk holder.  My handwriting is atrocious, so if anyone deserved to have their hands slapped it was me.  I have heard that a lot of Catholic kids were forced to write with their right hands even if they had left hand tendencies, and I've heard of some anecdotal stories of it causing stuttering, which I find more interesting than abusive. Keeping it in context, women didn't wear pants then, and we sprayed DDT around anywhere we wanted, so we live and learn. 

     The last nun that I remember was my favorite and probably the one that most kids at St. Mary's think of when you think of nuns, Sr. Benedicta Redmond.  I'm pretty sure she was there when the school opened in 1849 and she was one of 2 nuns remaining in 1996 when the sisters stopped teaching at the school (I should have paid more attention in math class).  Actually, I'm pretty sure that she taught 50 plus years and she
passed on at 92 years of age.  She probably originated the "carrot and stick" method of teaching, because if you didn't try hard or do well, you were a "Dumb Bunny" or told to "Mortify Yourself", but a little extra effort would find her hand reaching into a drawer in her desk where she kept a candy stash.  Teachers stride around their classrooms, but I remember Sr Benedicta kind of "floating" or silently shuffling around hers. If you were doing something you weren't supposed to, you can be sure that when you turned your head, she would be beside your desk, she had that nun, sixth-sense to appear at that exact moment.  I'm not sure if everyone will share my impression of her, and I do invite you to share yours, but mine was a a quiet, reverent presence, not of a strict disciplinarian.  My last pictures here are of my report card from the year that Sr. Benedicta, taught me.  You'll see I was a B+ student, with poor handwriting, but Sr. Benedicta still calls me a "Good Boy" and not a Dumb Bunny.  Is it any wonder that she was my favorite? 


Anonymous said...

Sister B had a remarkable memory for names and never forgot her students even years after they left school - and she could always tell which twin was which among the identical twins in school

MamaLoca said...

I regret that I never had Sr. Benadicta for a teacher. I did know what that contraption was the second I saw it. My most memorable teachers at St Mary's were Mrs. Wallace and Mr LeDuc. I had both of them twice.