I grew up Catholic and went to a Catholic school for 7 years. (I could write a whole post on growing up Catholic but today we are going to talk about the nuns I have known!)
My first recollection of seeing a nun was when I was very young and was sitting outside of my grandparents home and two nuns walked by. I thought they were witches.
The nuns that lived on our tiny community were of the Order of St. Benedict. They wore long black dresses, white neck coverings that flared out at the bottom and long black headcoverings and black stockings and black shoes and to a small child who had watched,”The Wizard of Oz”, they looked pretty much like the Wicked Witch of the West san the green face.
My school was very small and so there were two grades in one room and one nun to teach. Sister Benedict was my 1/2 grade teacher and she was a no nonsense nun. It was a great privilege to be asked to clap the chalkboard erasers and to wash the chalkboards after school. It was early in the school year when I was given that coveted honor. I clapped those erasers until nary a poof of white dust was to be seen. This was such a high honor that I wanted to make sure I did it well (and Sr. Benedict scared the crap out of me). Next came the washing of the chalk boards. Such a thrill to see the days lessons being wiped clean and a fresh slate being readied for the next day’s writings. All was going well until…I stepped into the bucket. This is where the memory stops so I cannot tell you what exactly happened but I do know that that was the one and only time that I was asked to clap the erasers and wash the board.
The nuns lived in a house right across from the school. It was the only house in a two-block area of “sheep sheds” which is what our homes were called back then. Nowadays they would be called “town homes”. There were various numbers of attached units from two to seven all connected by an oval alley. The nun’s home was situated on a small section of this configuration all by itself…it was “holy” ground.
There must have been just five nuns living there; Sr. Benedict~who taught 1-2, Sr. Julie~3-4 (my favorite teacher), Sr. Raphael~7-8, Sr. Luaune~the principal, and the sweetest, roundest and the oldest nun who was the cook~Sr. Matilda. I was only in the house once and just in the foyer so I cannot describe what the inside looked like but I do remember that right inside was a small prayer room (because you know the nuns are allowed only to teach school and pray!)
Every so often a rumor would go around the playground about the nuns. Once someone had heard that the nuns ROLLERSKATED inside the school. Rollerskated! How shocking. How blasphemous. We could all just imagine them skating around with their habits flying behind them (a habit is what their vestments were called). It was wickedly delicious to visualize what they must look like!
The nuns did not go by their birth names but took names of saints so when we found out what Sr. Julie’s real name was were we were shocked. We were also in a frenzy when we spied a wisp of her hair poking out of her headcovering….SHE HAS HAIR!!
As good Catholic children we just assumed that the nuns we not like regular people. They didn’t eat (Sr. Matilda was just there to make cookies that she would sometimes hand out to neighborhood children), they didn’t go anywhere, they never existed before they were nuns, they never went to the bathroom, they slept in their habits, they never got dirty so they never needed to bathe, and because they were nuns they never had any fun!
The nuns believed in being strict. You NEVER talked back to a nun lest you were sent to an especially firery place in Hell or to Sr. Luaune’s office. Many a child was given a whack with the “pointer”, a long dowel-like piece of wood with a pointed black rubber tip that was used to “point” out things on the board. Some of nuns carried their wooden rules to slap the hands of those who did not follow the rule of “Keep Your Hands To Yourself”.
Each nun had a “pitch pipe” and when we had music, she would blow the correct key to get us to begin all on the same pitch. Seems like every nun could carry a tune!
In case you are wondering why there was no nun mentioned for grades 5-6 it’s because we always had a “lay” teacher. A regular female teacher. I have no idea why but I went to that school from the second year it was open to the close of it and there was never a nun who taught those grades that I can remember. And there was no Kindergarten. We had to go over to Morgan Park school which back in the 60’s was K-12.
In 1967 the school closed and the nuns left for other places and their home was put up for sale and it was decades before I saw one of those nuns again.
It was in the early 90’s when one of the nuns that taught at St. Margaret Mary’s had some sort of “Jubilee” and a neighbor had a party for her. By this time the nuns were out of their habits (both literally and figuratively) and to see her there in denim shorts and a t-shirt, no headcovering and holding a Miller Lite was to say the least, a HUGE shock to me! HUGE SHOCK! I’m sure The Lord was using her in her vocation equally as mightily as when she was in her habit but to a Catholic school child, seeing her as a “human being” was quite unnerving eventho I was an adult and I had known that the nuns of this and many other Orders had dropped thier “archaic” garb. There are just some things that you learn as a child that stay with you into adulthood and nuns in shorts holding a can of beer was just so “wrong”!
Those of you who went to Catholic schools back in the 50’s and 60’s can relate to this, I’m sure. Got any tales of nuns you care to share?
I respect the calling of all who serve The Lord and hope that this little post has not offended anyone as that is not my purpose. It matters not how one is garbed, what matters most is the spirit in one’s heart and the work they do for others!
Your Queen, a Catholic school survivor!