While growing up in a Catholic School, I met all kinds of nuns. Some I liked more than others. I was kind of like the class clown, or a class-clown wannabe, and got called out by many of the good teachers wearing the black coverings with the bullet-proof white vests covering their chests. I went to Saint Ludwig’s, a church school in what was then a predominantly German neighborhood of North Philadelphia called “Brewerytown.”
I never did like Sister Saint Clare, but I did like Sister St. Leonard, even though she had made my brother repeat first grade and was forever marked in God’s permanent record as one of those “left-behind.”
Sister Saint Clare bullied me when she learned I had played hooky. She tried to get me to “squeal” on who I had stayed out of school with. But I never snitched on him, even after she forced me to the brink of the top of the second floor school stairway and over the steps for a tumble I will never forget. See: Sister Saint Clare knocks me for a loop.
Sister Josephine Frances was my all-time favorite, even though she smacked me once when I thought it wasn’t right. She had left the classroom and told us not to talk. It was something that hardly anyone followed. At least I didn’t even though I noticed that most kids read their books.
When she returned she asked which one of us had talked. I was unafraid. Like I said, I really liked her. She made me proud of my Greek heritage when she taught us in her fourth grade class about the ancient Greeks, and how much our western world owed to those great men and women from thousands of years ago. I saw myself as one of those who, incidentally, would never tell a lie.
I was one of only a handful — all boys, I seem to recall — who raised our hands in answer to the good sister’s questions. Well, without further ado, she marched up to each and everyone one of us sitting in one of those wooden chairs with those little wooden desks with an empty hole across the desk-top that once held an ink bottle, and smacked us.
I mean “smacked” us. It was loud. And, It hurt! But not as much as what happened next.
Pure unadulterated shame and embarrassment came over me. For the first time in my life, I felt my face turning red. You see, I had sinned and the Angel of the Lord descended upon me and struck me with the wrath of God.
It was devastating. Yet, some 50-odd years later, I still hold that holy nun in the highest regard, and I’ve never been afraid of admitting my mistakes. I could have gone the other way. I could have become someone who would lie by simply saying nothing, which I believe many others might have done. And some still do . . .
Truth is the truth no matter what age you’re confronted with it, I learned back then. I feel Sister Josephine Frances helped me to see that and pass a test of a lifetime.