Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Nuns

When I was in kindergarten, my parents introduced me to Catholic school education.  I hated kindergarten because I was very attached to my mother, and I wanted to be with her during the day.  However, kindergarten was overall a pleasant experience.  Then, I began first grade at another Catholic school. The clientele was different, to say the least. These students came from a much more upper middle class background. They reeked privilege and were rotten, spoiled brats.  The "religious" who populated the school were no better--well, most were not. These nuns were from Ireland and were used to disciplining children in a much more stringent manner.  Well, I'm not against discipline, but the "discipline and justice" doled out by these women was only "injustice" and "cruelty." They used corporal punishment--which then was legal. However, they meted out their "discipline" to only the less affluent children.  My father was not the doctor or lawyer as were some fathers.  He trained race horses and owned a bar.  We had working class roots, and ironically, were of Irish descent.  One Irish nun in particular tortured those of us who had less than the more well-off spoiled brats.  I was quiet, but any mistake I made met with this one woman's ire.  She humiliated me and others more quiet or less aggressive.  I couldn't stand her. I left that school thinking religion was invalid and the domain of rich men.  This woman had come from a poor background herself, yet she hated those of us less prissy and those who came from less important families.  Some of the lay teachers were kinder, and I left with a terrible image of religious people.

My mother still insisted I attend Catholic high school.  She thought that was my ticket to some mythical top she hoped our family would reach.  Well, it was no Mecca, but I did meet one woman--again a nun, who changed my perspective on religion and on teaching. Sr. Martha Maguire was also an Irishwoman, but unlike her mercenary and unjust countrywoman, Sr. Martha loved her students--all of us. She didn't reject us because we were less wealthy than some. In fact, she decried injustice of any kind and advocated equal rights for all races. She identified with African-Americans because she knew how the Irish had suffered under British injustice and decried the lack of Black students in our school.  When one girl had a baby out of wedlock and then saw it die at birth, Sr. Martha was the only teacher to pray for her.  The others--religious and lay alike--were silent in their righteousness.

I became a teacher because of women like Sr. Martha--not because of those like that other cruel woman, and I prayed that I would be able to inspire my students as she did me. i think I've reached most of them.  They tell me things like, "I loved your class. We cold tell you cared about us." Others say, "You were tough, but you taught me to write." Others say, "I still hear your voice when I think of Macbeth."

Thank you, Sr. Martha.  And to that other woman who shall not be named--I'm quoting Shakespeare, "Leave her to Heaven."

1 comment:

  1. How nice to hear a real life 'happy ending' ! Congratulations for coping with your early school years !