We recently returned from the Jersey Shore where we annually visit the nuns who are in residence at their retreat house at Nun’s Beach. The retreat house is run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata, Pa. This location is also the site of the east coast’s most famous surf contest run by the nuns. We always pick up the latest T-Shirt and hats to support the cause and it always takes me back to my days in the Catholic education system.
First of all I want to preface this by saying that the best teacher I ever had was Sister Judith of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity who taught me phonics in the first grade. Her work with me made me appreciate the English language by enhancing my reading skills. However, the descriptor of the Sisters of Charity was a bit lost on me at times when I had to stand in the wastebasket and face the corner because I was talking in class. The standard line in St. Sebastian Grade School was, ” Who is that talking?” And when we moved anywhere it was always single file. My dad provided brass rulers to the nuns that were a gift from my grandfather who was in the novelty business. They were used on my knuckles many times and if I “juked” it meant another rap on the knuckles. The Sisters of Charity was a bit of a misnomer.
Moving forward to the second grade, I made my first confession. I was a bit intimidated by the whole process and when the sliding door came open as I was greeted in the confessional by our new pastor, Father Getty, I peed my pants. It was a bit uncomfortable most of the day but it was not an unusual thing in Catholic grade school. We had a girl who sat right in front of me who peed at the same time every day about 3:00 P.M. and the floor was slanted. I yelled out, ” Here comes Bernadette again” We all raised out feet and I was back in the wastebasket.
The crowning achievement of my confession days was in the 8th grade when Father Fay jokingly asked if ” this was Patrick McCloskey” in the confessional. I was telling him that I committed a sacrilege and he asked if it was me. Of course I lied and said “no” and we both laughed and he gave me my penance and told me to get lost.
As my memory drifted forward at the beach, I thought about my days at North Catholic High School on Troy Hill in Pittsburgh. We were taught in an all boys environment by the Brothers of the Society of Mary.
Now coming from a suburban atmosphere to meeting kids from the inner city, my first day was a bit traumatic when a freshman with a 5 o’clock shadow told me he wanted to hang my flag bell bottoms up on the pole in front of the school. Fortunately I had some upper classmen friends who came to my aid and told the man/child to back off. Disputes were an interesting thing at North when the rumors spread like wildfire that there was going to be a fight after school. We all missed our bus and congregated at Cowley or Gardner Field to watch the melee which often resulted in some serious carnage. One guy took a chunk out of another guys ear and out came the brothers to the field. They had no issues rapping us on the head and telling us to get back to the building. One of our knuckleheads says to one of the brothers that he would sue him. The brother said, ” Go ahead.I took a vow of poverty” and rapped the kid in the head again.
Our vice principal was an ex- Golden Gloves boxer who routinely offered to put the gloves on to any senior willing to take him on in a dispute. Not many takers in those days in light of the reputation of Brother Ray. This guy must have had a clone because every time we got in trouble in the class, we saw Brother Ray outside the window beckoning us to come out with his finger. He would twist our sideburns and admonish us and wipe his hands on our shirt, rap us in the head, and tell us to behave in class.
Sitting on the beach, I had my final vision of graduation, spring-1972. We all were on the stage to receive our diplomas and my dad remarked to me later that it was amazing to see the amount of cigarette smoke drifting up towards the rafters on that stage. Guys smoking during the mass and the ceremony was the final insult to the Marian community but not without penalty.
Discipline was first and foremost the hallmark of Catholic education in those days and a lot of the tactics used by the nuns and the brothers could not be employed today. Parents are very protective of their little Beaufords and Sallys and would never tolerate the capital punishment of the Sisters of Charity or the Marianist Brothers. However, our parents were from a different era and what we got in school often time was doubled at home. But if you took a survey today of those of us who were educated in the Catholic system, you would find that we are no worse for the wear and that the discipline served us well. Sister Judith’s phonics still is in use today and my last typing class at North (taught by the infamous Brother Ray) still is a most valuable tool- some 44 years later.
Laughing in my chair after visiting Nun’s Beach, my afternoon was amusing. My wife asked me what I was laughing about and I remarked ” a future blog post.” “Single File Mr. McCloskey” Thanks for reading.