Sister Madam

I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through college. Except for my brother, I did not know of anyone who admitted to being abused by a priest or a seminarian. But, one of the seminarians that we knew in our neighborhood…that we played basketball with and felt safe around….is on the list of priests found guilty of the sex abuse of a minor. The same goes for the vice-principal of our high school. And the priest who tried to ply my brother with alcohol when he was a teenager, directed our high school play in my sophomore year.

How did all of this Catholic education influence me? I remember thinking that there was an invisible being who was always watching me and who knew what I was going to do before I did it. I remember liking most of the nuns who taught us but wondered why the mean ones were allowed to be nuns. Didn’t anyone else know they were mean? I also remember a sense of fear when it came to stepping out of the box. My mom handed me a book when it came to sex education. It was a Catholic book. Everything was a sin. Everything. I didn’t even know what “everything” was. Sticking to the rules suited me fine in grade school, but when it came to navigating through my teens, I had no idea what I was doing. Perhaps everyone feels that way.

In high school, it seemed as if there was a major decline in an attempt at teaching morals and guidelines. We had rules, of course, but gone were the lectures and trips to mass during Lent, First Friday and Holy Days. Gone too was the direct connection between the school and rectory and nun’s housing. The nuns taught their subject and the priests were mainly in the front office and on the sidelines for counselling.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, or it wouldn’t have been a bad thing, had there been a sense of community or caring in the high school. There weren’t as many nuns teaching at the high school comparatively as we had in grade school. The ones we did have were for the most part, pretty old. The only guidance we got was basically on our dress code. I got called out for wearing a light blue button up blouse instead of a regulation white button up blouse. Picky stuff like that.

I already mentioned that our vice principal is on the list of accused priests and that our play director gave my underage brother alcohol and tried to molest him.

I believe I also have mentioned the priest who was the school counselor and how he told my parents that my boyfriend had attacked me outside of school because I had led him on and it was basically my fault.

But I haven’t mentioned our guidance counselor, a little dark skinned priest with a thick accent. Everyone had to see him at least once so that he could guide us on the path to our careers. He was a nice man. I have no complaints about him as far as that goes. However, back in the day, woman’s lib was just getting its start. The choice for women as far as looking for a lifetime occupation generally consisted of: nurse, teacher, secretary….or for the very gifted among us….model, singer or actress.

Most of my friends became nurses and teachers. I became a secretary. But this day, as I sat with Father, wondering what he would pull out of his hat for my future….he said to me, “You are a kind and sensitive person. You should become a nun.” Okay, nun was on the list of occupations as well.

Being a nun was never in my plans. Never. Even when I was a kid playing dress up pretending to be a nun, I knew I didn’t want to really be a nun. I leaned more towards princess or actress, but never a nun.

I don’t think I laughed in his face or spit out my gum, but even back then, I thought that it was pretty poor counselling. Today I’m hoping that someone would have talked to me more about college and going into social work or psychology. That is what I wanted to do for awhile when I was a teenager, but I don’t know if men even thought of that as an option for young woman at that time.

So looking back, it doesn’t appear that going to Catholic high school did much for my life or career….except maybe…

It was January 1970 something. My friend, Helen and I entered the auditorium together. Mini week choices were now open to our grade after being picked over by the older kids in higher classes. Whatever we did, she and I were going to do our week together. Mini week was a week off from school where we would be scheduled to do a week of something other than school…usually an activity led by one or more teachers.

Helen found an activity that involved two teachers…doing community service at a new center in a nearby city. The person who ran the place was a friend of one of the teachers, and two teachers were going to be there all week to chaperone. Okay, so we signed up.

When we showed up for work, we found out that no teachers were going to be there. It was just me and Helen and three other girls. The place was run by a nun and a big hefty man by the name of Kenny. The place was located in the downtown section of town, near some businesses and low rent apartment buildings. They were just getting on their feet, hoping to help the less fortunate members of the community. They divided us up into two or three groups and sent us out into the apartments to knock on doors and tell people about their center. I believe we were about 15 years old at the time. We had no chaperones or anybody who really knew where we were or how to get a hold of us. But it was fine because our Catholic school had sent us there to work with a nun to help others.

At some point in time that week, we got to know, Kenny, the man who helped Sister run the place. Kenny knew the neighborhood and the people and had most likely started out with good intentions of helping those in need.

But somewhere along the way, things took a weird turn. Kenny said he needed someone to go with him to pick up some donations or something. Helen and I agreed to go with him, so we got into his van. He had some weird things in his van. Things I had never seen before. I asked what these things were on his dashboard. Turns out they were some kind of sex toys.

When we stopped at a red light, there were a couple of gentlemen standing there who seemed to know Kenny. They yelled something to him. I just remember Kenny yelling back….”No I’m not going to fuck these two”.

I don’t really remember much about the rest of the trip. When we got back to the center, I remember one of the girls needed to use the bathroom. Kenny asked if he could go into the bathroom with her and take some pictures. Then he said…

“Naw, I’m just kidding. But you know, girls….I used to be a pimp. That’s why those guys were yelling at us today. They wanted to know if you were my girls. But I’m not a pimp anymore.” He then handed us his business card. “But you know, if you ever need anything…I mean if you need a place to stay, or if you need money….you call Kenny. You never have to go hungry. You’re walking around with a free meal between your legs.”

Of course, we never said anything to anyone. We never told anyone either that the two teachers never showed up to chaperone the week. Basically took the week off and left us on our own.

I guess I forgot to mention the other career option open to women back then. The oldest profession. It’s one that Father failed to mention that the school would send me away to train for free of charge.

Or……I could be a nun.

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