My friend from up the street, who shall remain nameless--so I
won’t get her in trouble for telling you this--(but her
name is Linda Paglione) just moved up into this area full time after
growing up in Brooklyn, NY. She started her little boy in the local
Catholic school, 1st grade I think it was. She wanted a firm hand
with this little hellion. Bear in mind, this is the kid who nicked
me for like, 75 cents out of my change dish one day when they were
visiting; when she confronted him, he lied through his baby teeth
and refused to give it back.
Anyway, with what seemed like perfect
logic to me, she shipped him off to the Nuns. Having been sentenced
to 12 years of Catholic school myself in my younger days, I was well
aware of what lay ahead for the poor kid. But hey, it was for his
own good. A yard stick across the back never hurt anyone; well, it
hurt me, but that’s beside the point. So imagine my surprise
when I saw her not long ago and she told me the kid was back in public
school. I asked her why.
“ Listen to this," she said,
the disbelief still in her voice. “They called me up one day
and said that he had hit another little kid and that he needed discipline."
So I said, 'so discipline him! You’re the Nuns, hit him
with a yardstick or something.’ They said they don’t do
that anymore. Why should I pay all that money if they won’t
even punish the kid when he does something wrong? So I put him back
into public school."
Well, I just couldn’t believe
it. So I went straight away to Our Lady of the Church 2 Streets Up
On The Left to find out what was going on. The school still looked
the same; it was like someone had taken Joliet Penitentiary and plugged
it into the side of a church. There was an older Nun standing on the
side steps. As I walked up to her she saw me and dropped something
on the step and ground it out with her heel. A thin wisp of smoke
drifted from the corner of her mouth and she swallowed hard. Tears
came into her eyes.
“Good Morning Sister Mary Ellen,"
I said, my voice rising and falling in that same sing-song cadence
that little kids use when a teacher walks into the room. It had been
a lot of years, but I still knew that face: Sister Mary Ellen, my
third grade teacher. I was sure she couldn’t forget me. How
well I could recall all those happy days we spent together in class
3-D, practicing penmanship and getting whacked every time I came up
with a wrong math answer. But she was a demon on the kickball court...good
legs and that billowing habit made it impossible to tell which direction
the ball was going to go. I still carry a shin scar from getting a
bit too close to her in the heat of a game.
She looked at me blankly. “Do
I know you?" she asked, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Sure!" I said brightly.
“Don’t you remember your favorite student?"
She eyed me balefully. “My favorite student was Marcia Fieldham.
She was wonderful...quiet, intelligent, courteous. That is, until
she graduated from Notre Dame and went into the adult video business.
But never mind, who are you?"
I told her my name, then said: “I
guess it’s hard for you to remember everyone who went through
your classes. You’ve been doing this a long time."
“No," she replied. “I
pretty much remember all my students, except the really colorless
ones. I’m sorry, I’m sure you’ll come back to me."
“Yes, well, at any rate, I was
hoping you’d answer a few questions for me about the way discipline
is administered these days in Catholic Schools."
She immediately became suspicious. “What
do you mean, answer questions? Who sent you? Is this about Father
Mc Mann and the little league team again? Talk to his lawyer if you
“No, no," I said. This was
getting weird. “I just was wondering if Nuns still hit kids
with rulers and yardsticks and stuff anymore."
She calmed down a bit. “Lord,
no," she replied. “We never lay a finger on the little
uh, darlings anymore. Those days are long over." This last was
said with a trace of wistfulness, I thought.
“But why not?" I asked,
astounded. “That’s what you guys do. It’s what you’re
famous for. Not hitting kids would be like Dick Cheney selling all
his Haliburton shares and opening up a chain of abortion clinics.
It just doesn’t go. It’s stupid."
“Don’t call the Catholic
Church stupid, sonny."
I took a discreet step back out of
kicking range. She went on. “And anyway, it wasn’t our
decision. There are laws about this these days."
“But how do you keep order? I
mean, the thing that cured my attention deficit disorder was the knowledge
that you were standing just behind me with three foot piece of wood."
She smiled. “Me personally? I
just invite 'em to play kickball with me. That usually calms
them down. But the other Nuns have to call their parents and try to
work it out with them."
“And that works?"
“Well, it saves on yardsticks
and rulers, but I think the old ways are best. We got into trouble
when we stopped saying the Mass in Latin, I always thought. Damn Vatican
I nodded sympathetically. “That’s
what did me in. “It gives away too much in English. I mean,
we might as well be Protestant."
“God forbid," she replied,
sniffing. “But now that you mention it, we do have more discipline
problems these days...truancy, fighting, cursing, the occasional Grand
Theft Auto, that sort of thing. It wasn’t like that in the old
days. If a student didn’t do what you wanted, it was off to
the Cooler...uh, Principle’s Office. Yes, the children knew
what that meant and they respected it." She stared at me a long
moment. “Did I ever send you to the Principle? You sort of have
“Once or twice," I murmured
uncomfortably. “But now that I’m older, I recognize the
value of that kind of discipline. In fact, I’m grateful for
She smiled again, a shark-like grin
really. “Damn straight. Have you ever spent time in a maximum
I shook my head no.
“Then there you go. It worked.
Parents don’t understand that it’s the domino effect;
a bit of backtalk today turns into assault with a weapon of mass destruction
tomorrow." Her voice started to rise. “We Nuns are the
front line. We’ve got to take back the schools! We’ve
got to nip this in the bud! And if the parents don’t like it,
then we’ve got to...." She was nearly yelling by this
point and I started to get nervous. She must have seen the look on
my face because she took a deep breath and calmed down a bit. “At
any rate, something has to be done. I pray about it all the time,
even now, here with you."
“You’re praying now?"
I asked, amazed at her capacity for multi tasking.
“Yep," she answered proudly.
“You get used to it after 40 years of being a Nun."
“Wow." I was impressed.
She glanced at her watch. “Well,
my child, I have a recess to monitor. It’s been lovely to see
you again." She paused. “You realize, this is all on background
don’t you? I don’t want to see this in print anywhere."
“Sorry, Sister," I answered
smugly. “You should have told me that before. It’s public