I touch the future. I teach."
~ Christa McAuliffe.
Breakfast: Special K
TODAY on TV
Everybody Loves Raymond
25 May 2004
It seems strange to call Sister Mary Bernardone "Kathleen." But that is her real name. She lives in Mississippi now and I havent seen her since I left grammar school. She taught me for 3rd and 5th grades at St. Brigids Catholic School in San Francisco. She was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the "BVMs," as we used to call them.
Im sure the nuns are much more comfortable now than they were in the days when they wore the old cumbersome habits....
...but it sure was easier to keep kids in line, I suspect, when you were dressed in a long, austere black dress, with a bizarre headpiece, and wore a heavy rosary around your waist that, rumor had it, would be used to hit obstreperous students (Im sure they never did, but you were certain that if you misbehaved, youd get bonked on the head with a heavy cross!)
Sister Mary Bernardone, or Kathleen, now works--or did several years ago, when there was a school reunion I was unable to attend-- for the State Department of Corrections, as their chaplain--and Im sure thats not too terribly unlike teaching a bunch of 5th graders to memorize answers out of the Baltimore catechism!
I recently reconnected with Sister when I was going through the big clean-out around here and came across the book that was sent out after the reunion. There were four addresses included in the book, hers among them, and I dropped her a note, along with everyone else. Only Sister and one other person responded (one guy, I learned, had died since the reunion).
It was good to connect with her again. I still, for God only knows what reason, get Christmas cards each year from Sister Mary Johnetta (who still goes by "Sister Mary Johnetta"), who taught us in 4th grade, but Mary Bernardone had dropped off the radar screen. Shes 79 now, she tells me, and sounds like shes still very active and its nice to hear from her.
(Whats especially nice is that she put me in contact with the elusive Judy Lucchesi, about whom I have written here a couple of times and we have since actually talked, voice-to-voice).
Looking at Mary Bernardones note today set me thinking to the nuns who were influential in my life over the years, from the very first, Sister Mary St. Patrice, who taught me in Kindergarten. I cant remember most of the other grammar school teachers by name, though I can picture some of them in my minds eye.
What I remember most about Sister Mary Johnetta was that she liked to collect stamps, and at that time I collected stamps as well and I stole one of her stamps. I never did get caught, and I still feel guilty about it today!
Its easier to remember the Daughters of Charity who taught me during my high school years at St. Vincents High School (now Cathedral High School) in San Francisco. The Daughters were "Gods geese," and anyone who ever watched "The Flying Nun" knows what they looked like.
Sister Anne taught me typing, Jeri (Jerilyn Anne) was named for her, and she remained my good friend until she died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma about 10 years ago. I nearly entered the convent because of Sister Anne, but she was also the person who talked me out of it.
Sister Zoe was our senior homeroom teacher. She was very stern and everyone was afraid of her, but I remember at the end of the year, when I got the news that our yearbooks were going to be late (I was the editor). We had missed all of the deadlines because I couldn't get anybody to help me with the thing and my friend Anne Micheletti and I practically put the damn thing out by ourselves. I returned from the office, having just spoken to the printer, and as I approached the hall, I could hear Sister Zoe giving the whole class a major bawling out, blaming them for the delayed yearbooks and saying that she had better never hear anybody giving me a hard time about it. I really loved her that day.
Sister Bernadine tried teaching me to sew. I did make a few things, most of which were disasters. I don't think I've touched a sewing machine since I left her class. She used to tell us that she got up each morning and checked the obituaries to see if she was still alive. I suspect she had a lot of health problems.
Then there was Sister Benedicta, who taught me Latin and tried vainly to teach me algebra. Neat little lady who was so easy to distract and set off on a tangent telling us stories that it became a game each day--to see who could ask the question that would get us out of having to work that day. She gave me private lessons in Algebra II, which was not a class that was offered at our school, so that I could apply to UC Berkeley. I hated those classes, but I guess I learned enough to at least get me into college.
Sister Colette tried to teach us biology but the dear lady was so embarrassed by the subject that she skipped anything having to do with reproduction. We learned so little in that class that they made us take the class over again in our Senior year so we could ualify for college entrance exams. One thing about religious orders is that there is that requirement of total obedience. You teach whatever they tell you to teach, whether you're qualified to teach it or not!
Sister Mary Alice was an unhappy young woman who was peppy and fun, but prone to rages. She was from Hawaii (my mother and I visited her family when we went to Oahu one year. Her whole huge family took us to an authentic Chinese restaurant and we were the only ones who spoke English). She taught us Biology and Chemistry. What I remember most from those classes is that in biology my friend Anne and I shared a paramecium which we called Marius (because we were reading Les Miserables in French class) and we slit the worm so that it ended up having two heads. Shortly after we graduated, Sister Mary Alice left the convent, and I hope that she found happiness wherever she went.
Sister Mary Williams was my English teacher and invited me to be yearbook sophomore editor and encouraged me with writing and that sort of thing all through school. I credit her with giving me confidence in writing and making me what I am today (whatever that is!). She also was the choir teacher and I sang with her for four years.
Our teachers inspire us and encourage us and set us on the path for the rest of
our lives. I loved most of my teachers and it's nice, ever now and then, to think
back on the ones who stood out from the rest.