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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Me and My Big Mouth

When I was little girl going to Catholic school, as well as when I began my teaching career, there were 60 children in each of two grade levels. Sometimes a few more. Six rows of children sat ten deep. We put the tall kids in the back, but sometimes we rotated the entire row from one side of the room to the other so that each child sometimes got to sit next to the clanking radiator heaters during the winter where they would alternately boil and freeze.

Sixty children X 2=120 children in each grade level. 120 X 9 (grade levels because we even had two full kindergarten classes) =1080 per year, give or take a kid or two or 12. One Catholic school for one year. In my home town there were 6 Catholic schools. There were actually five, but by the early sixties, we had to add an entire school in the suburbs. All six schools weren't quite the same size, but for the sake of arguement, let's not even add in our suburban school and say we taught over 5000 children per year.

In one town. A small town at that.

Year after year, kid after kid. The dim bulbs and the smart alecks, the wall flowers and the show boaters, skinny and fat, cute and homely, little saints in knee socks, little devils with torn shirts.

We dealt with blood, upchuck, tears, bullies, laughter, gigglers, upchuck sawdust, missing janitors, windows that couldn't be opened, windows that couldn't be closed, chalk dust, pointer sword fights, months of indoor recess during the winter, beautiful First Communions, proud Confirmations and prepubescent young people.

Folks often ask me if I have hair. I do. But I don't know how I hung onto it.

Nuns were at the helm of these huddled masses yearning for no home work for the over 100 years. No more. If you can walk into a Catholic school today and find a nun, you are a lucky person. If you walked into my school and tried to find me you'd have trouble. I'm in the basement, sorting things. I'm a floater. You might run into me while I'm floating if you happen to be walking in the same hall at the same time as I.

I can tell there are no nuns anywhere else because of this note in my blog mailbox, during our discussion of Harry Potter:

from "s":
"The Devil doesn't exist either...right?

You don't have the patience for the whole argument regarding Harry Potter...that's because you don't care. You don't care! Maybe if you had children, whose souls were given specifically to your charge, you would care, but you don't. You were kind to bring some soup to sick kids...how about a little soup for the soul?

Well you know what...I'm sick and tired of "so-called" religious spouting off about something they have no clue about. You haven't read a word of Potter, so keep your mouth shut before you give advice that could be detrimental to the soul. That's right , the soul. The soul, the soul, the soul. Sorry for my disrespect to your position of authority, but please quit misusing it."

Clearly this person has never had a nun for a teacher.

I think I crossed the paths of roughly 10,000 children during my career. I was indeed responsible for their souls, their education, and the education of their souls. That's my whole job. The souls of your children. And second grade math.

The Devil does exist, but unlike God, he is not everywhere all the time. And God is much stronger than the devil.

Here's my advice: Be on guard against the devil, because he is really, really trying to get your soul as soon as you are over age seven. Before that you don't have to worry about it. Your mom, your nun, your big brother, your God Parents will worry about that for you. Once you're over age seven, look out.

But don't spend all your time looking.

Spend your time looking for angels. You don't have to look far.

I'm sorry I can't keep my mouth shut. It's MY JOB not to keep my mouth shut.

But don't worry. Because the clergy is indeed responsible for your soul, they get punished the very worst in Purgatory for their failures, if they make it that far. I'm sure this also extends to 'so called clegy". And I've always believed that nuns who fall short are on stools at their feet in the fiery pits. That should put your mind at ease.

Unless you're a parent. You'll be on the next rung up.


Anonymous said...

hey sister, from a girl who spent some time in catholic school in the 70's, taught by a nun always dressed in her full black habit, thank you. from the bottom of my heart, thank you. i probably am still catholic because of the prayers of those nuns!!!!

Anonymous said...


I am a convert and not that familiar with nuns in general, but if I had had one like you ... I wish I had.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Harry Potter is a bit like the zoo. There's always going to be somebody who decides the lions would be more exciting up close.

Anonymous said...

Now you know one of the reasons that I don't blog, though I really like to read them--too many people ready to send me to my eternal damnation because they don't agree with my opinion. Anonymity is too freeing for some folks. But, I kind of wondered what you were up to commenting on such a volatile subject without reading the books first. You were bound to upset someone. My inlaws think the book is the devil (they are fallen-away Catholics) but my sister (a lifetime member of the Club) loves them and reads them with her kids. I haven't read them yet, so I am keeping my mouth shut. But I'm going to keep reading your blog. I like it very much!

God Bless,

Anonymous said...


Dear Sister,

I am so sorry, heartily sorry you were subjected to that tirade. I, for one, am lamenting the lack of nuns in our Catholic schools. People who haven't been there do not know what has been lost! I thank God everyday for my beloved nuns. I was a Catholic school student in the early sixties. If it weren't for my wonderful, dedicated, holy teachers, I know I wouldn't read or write as well as I do. It is because of my nuns that I love to read and love to learn.

I want you to know how much I appreciate you and what you do for our children. I pray for vocations to all orders, especially teaching orders.

I don't care what anyone says about their Catholic education experiences. I loved my school and my teachers. I loved the smell of the cloak rooms. I loved using the big pole to open and close the windows. I loved the smell of the wet mittens drying on the radiators. I loved walking single file down the hallway with our right hands holding our left elbows behind our backs. I loved the cake walk at the May Fair. I loved that my teachers set high expectations for us and put up with no shenanigans. I loved everything about my Catholic education. Mostly, I loved my nuns. I will never forget any of them.

God bless you! God bless all of our nuns and sisters! I owe my education to all of you! You are always in my prayers.

T with Honey said...

I had plenty of nuns that were responsible for my education and I am grateful for almost every one of them. The one thing they all had in common though is that they worried about our souls more than our penmanship.

Anonymous said...

jmj said it so well...I thank and love all those wonderful Sisters who taught me so much more then
Reading, Writing and Arthimetic. God Bless them all...

Anonymous said...

My oldest son was in the 7th grade before he encountered teaching nuns. He came home one day shaking his head, and said, "I learned something today. Sister asked me to do something, and I didn't want to do it, but before I knew what was happening I was already doing it. You can't say 'no' to a nun!"

He was only at that school for two years, but I think he learned more there about friendship, self-discipline, respect for authority and respect for others than at any public school he ever attended. Thank you, Sisters everywhere! Now that we're back in a town with Catholic schools, our other children are signed up--no nuns, but we'll do our best!

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday my husband and I were lamenting the loss of nuns in the schools. I can't even remember the last time I saw a nun - well, perhaps sans habit but then I wouldn't know she was a nun, right? I regret that my children have never had the opportunity to know a teaching sister like you and won't have those memories of: "remember when Sr. Esther .....". A lot of good memories, some bad (yes, bad) but mostly good. God bless.

Anonymous said...

"Sister," I think your blog is great. I also think a sister (no quotation marks) would not mistake herself for one of the clergy. Just to keep up the willing suspension of disbelief...

Anonymous said...

the closest thing we had to a Catholic school was the Dutch Reform school, and there were no nuns in the town where I grew up. Sad, but now we have some lovely nuns in crisp, white habits from some obscure order in Spain who show up at our parish, as well as some nuns in black in our choir. I've never got close enough to ask them what order they are though. It's a pleasure to see them, and know the are around praying for the likes of me.

Christine said...

Sister, I'm sure the clergy comment was just a slip up. Surely you meant consecrated instead. I had both Dominicans and IHM sisters growing up, and loved having nuns in the schools, and they were wonderful.
Thank you for your post. As a parent and catechist I'm just as worried about millstones as you are.

Sister Mary Martha said...

Thanks for pointing out my error. Just another reason for me to spend some quality time in Purgatory. Although I've been congratulated for remaining calm, clearly I was not so relaxed.

I have edited my remarks to reflect my true meaning.

Christine said...

Dear Sister,
I ha questioned at one time if the Harry Potter books were an issue for the souls of my children. I talked to my priest about them and he directed me to a book called Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger and published by Zossima press. Mr. Granger was stringently anti Harry until a family friend gave his children the first book which he confiscated to read so he could tell his children why they were not allowed to read it. After reading it, however, Mr. Granger assigned the books to his children because he discovered they were chock full of Christian themes and symbolism. I would recommend this book to anyone who is wondering if Harry Potter is "evil."

Alas, the only memeory I have of nuns in school was in public school. Our Junior high vice principal was an SSJ. She did not wear a habit. She was very strict.

My daughter attended a "Catholic" school for several years. The best teachers she had were sisters of the presentation of Mary. There were 2 sisters teaching and one was the librarian. There is now only one sister left at that school. I call the school "Catholic" in quotation marks because the curriculum was secular. The only difference between this school and public school was the religion classes daily instead of weekly CCD.

Unknown said...

Sister, if it weren't for you nuns, the RCC wouldn't have very much to show for itself from the last 1000 years. Sorry if that tweaks some of the readers, but the RCC is not in a good place at the moment. I admit I have been pushed away from organized religion as whole due to the way it is so horribly misused by its practitioners, but nuns?

No, they are in a class of their own.

Sure, they had bad days. I know there were some bad orders/houses. No doubt some of the bad behavior attested to nuns arose from having a house not well run, a bad Superior, or their being given too much with too little training. Heck, without being strict its awfully hard to think you are going to control a classroom of 60 kids and have them learn.

But for all the bad stories, I think of all the impoverished older people, the difficult extra children, the terminally ill unable to afford hospice, the mentally ill who would have been out in the streets if weren't for nuns. (Episcopalian as well as Roman Catholic.) Nuns were always picking up the slack. And with the way things are going, I don't know how the less privileged in our society are going to end their lives with dignity without as many nuns.

I know if I were in hospice I would want it to have nuns running it. Nuns in the habit too. I don't want them to be terribly uncomfortable, but there is something about them in that habit that is more comforting for me to be around.

It shouldn't just be about the contemplative side that it seems to have become. Christ went out among the people. Nuns need to be allowed to do what they before too. I think if they do, you will see we have a lot more nuns again.

They can teach by leading and doing, not always on their knees.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the dose of reality regarding the devil. Some folks give him so much credit, you'd think he was as powerful as God...but that belief is a clearly established heresy. Keep preachin' the good word, sister!

Unknown said...

I must respectfully and disagree with eine... The RCC is an exciting, invigorating place to be right now!!! There will always be scandals and such. The Church, after all, is made up of humans! But I see more and more orthodox books, teachings, apologists, priests (yes, GOOD priests!), new orders, lay movements, etc. that our Church is recovering from that infamous "spirit" of Vatican II. Homeschooling Catholic moms, Catholic blogs, and last but not least, our beloved Pope! I am, and have always been, proud, happy, and blessed to be a Roman Catholic!

Anonymous said...

Now I know why I was always bringing up the rear every morning when we processed to mass...I was a 5'9" eighth grader...and our procession looked very very nice!
Love you blog!

RobKPhD said...

I thank God above for the nuns that taught me. I am so sorry that my children do not have that gift. I pray that my children and others of their generation will restore that treasure that we have lost over the past 30 years.

As to the silly Potter discussion, I have only this thought. If more adults had the sense that you do, Sister, the world would be a much better place.

Anonymous said...

Regarding suspension of disbelief, it's hard to imagine a person who works in a school and has the care of children's souls and has not read Harry Potter.

Sister Mary Martha said...

lisa, perhaps if you'd like to drop by and look after Sister Mary Fiacre and dodge bees for about a month, I might have the time between our spiritual and corporal works of mercy, my school schedule, pew dusting, adoration, contemplation, watching CNN to see what to pray about next to read a chapter of one of those Harry Potter tomes. It's definitely not on my to-do list as of yet. The children and I have plenty of other things to discuss.

Anonymous said...

I would like to look after Sister Mary Fiacre and dodge bees for a month. Thank you for assisting my poor imagination.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for teaching in Catholic schools and praying for all those children. I know the nuns at St Anthony were greatly responsible for my faith, salvation, and just about everything else. Thank God for them! I also love Sr Ann Mercedes who taught me to play the organ so I can play at Mass. She got me started before I was old enough to worry about what people thought about my playing. Great idea. I also think she had God send me St Joe's to play for them as I returned to the church. Where would we be if our good sisters weren't in heaven praying for us? Thank God for nuns everywhere!