Staci recounted her husband’s experience with a nun in grammar school. It was part of a Facebook discussion in Tribe Writers, a writing group we both belong to. That got me thinking about the wonderful nuns in my life. And I say that with honesty and respect.
For the first six years of grammar school, Karen, my sister, and I attended school at Ascension of Our Lord parish in Evanston, Illinois. Enrollment was meager and shrinking rapidly as the offspring of parishioners moved to more distant suburbs. Ascension announced that the school would close at the end of the 1970-71 school year. I think enrollment in that final year was 54 students. Yep, in all eight grades.
The ’70-’71 school year would have been the end of 7th grade for me. Mom and Dad decided to take us out of Ascension at the end of the 1969-70 year. They enrolled us at St. Nicholas School (now known as Pope John XXIII School), also in Evanston.
For the years I attended, Ascension had three classrooms for all eight grades. Sister Presentine taught grades 1, 2, and 3. Depending on that year’s enrollment in each class, Sister Egidia taught grades 4 and 5 or 4, 5, and 6. Sister Lourdine, the principal, would teach either 6th through 8th or 7th and 8th grades. Sister Egidia and Sister Lourdine were intimidating, imposing women.Loving, but firm. And I was often intimidated by them.
But I totally loved Sister Presentine. Sister Presentine demonstrated the love she had for all of us with one selfless, painstaking gesture. She glued together a ceramic pencil cup I smashed closing my desk lid.
Our family took a vacation to Pennsylvania. I think it was the summer before I started 3rd grade. I brought my cherished cup to school, excited to show her. I’m pretty sure it was the first week of class. The cup listed all the Presidents of the United States and the years they served. But when I brought it back to my desk and closed the desk lid, I smashed it into probably 100 or more small pieces.
Anyway, fast forward to late summer, 1970. We ventured off to a new school, St. Nicholas. It was the start of junior high school, 7th grade for me.
I discovered that the nuns and lay teachers didn’t have as much control of the classroom in this new environment. The 7th and 8th grade classes were two rooms each, I’m guessing between 25 and 30 kids per room. I also learned how to elevate my own brand of mischief. In 7th grade, then again in 8th grade, the angelic Catholic boys at St. Nick’s terrorized two poor, sweet Sisters right outta town. Back to back years. Sister Camilla and Sister Daniel.
One day, 8th grade, I got a detention for bad behavior. I needed to get my detention slip signed by a parent. Mom worked nights, so I presented the slip to Dad. Luckily, Uncle Bob (Mom’s brother, who’s really more like the big brother I never had than an uncle) was over for a visit and the three of us always had a great time together. Most times, it was sports related, either playing or watching or talking sports. I have no recollection where my sister, Karen, was on this particular night.
I also have no idea what Dad, Uncle Bob, and I had been doing that led up to this moment, but the mood was right for Dad to sign. In fact, it was so right, he didn’t just sign the slip.
He composed a poem.
“It was brought to my attention
That David has a detention.
So without further mention,
Keep him in retention.”
I will never forget Uncle Bob rolling on the floor, he was laughing so hard.
I took the note to school the next day and handed it to Sister Mary Dennis. I’m sure I had an annoying 13-year-old grin on my pudgy, bespectacled face. She looked at me, expressionless, as I ceremoniously presented the note to her.
Sister Dennis unfolded the note, read it, folded it again, and slipped it into her desk. Her expression never changed.
So did she take it back to the convent and share a laugh with the other nuns? Or did she burn it and race down to church to say a Rosary for the redemption of Dad’s and my soul?
Or did she slip out to the tavern?