Thursday, February 11, 2016

Growing Up Catholic: Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade Class Photo of September 21, 1959
Girls wore drab Navy blue uniform dresses with white blousesthat had a Peter Pan Collar.
Both were made of a fabric guaranteed to last forever, and to never wrinkle.
There was a school "logo" on the left of the jumper.

Boys wore dark pants with a white or blue shirt and tie.

Once I spied a spider crawling along the classroom floor while we were reciting the rosary during the month of October. In my mind's eye I see a tarantula; but in fact, it was most likely a little, run-of-the-mill spider like you would find in your attic or basement.

I was terrified of spiders, regardless of size, so I prayed that it wouldn't come near me. However, it did. In a fit of terror I jumped from my seat and exited the room. Sister Frances Clare, my teacher, having observed what was going on, pursued me. Finding me sitting right outside the classroom door, she asked me what was going on. She said she had noticed the look on my face before I ran out. I felt too embarrassed to tell the truth, and I was not a good liar, so I said nothing. She didn't like that and ordered me to return to my seat. I did, and that was that.

The desks in our classroom were arranged so that two rows of desks were side-by-side with no aisle in between. This arrangement was conducive to surreptitious communications between us students. I sat next to Ellen Fitzmaurice. The two of us exchanged notes constantly throughout the day. We commented on everything that was happening. Maybe today we would call that "Twittering." We managed to have lots of fun in a very quiet way!

Close up of my friend, Ellen, from above photo.

Close up of me from above photo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Growing Up Catholic: Seventh Grade

My seventh grade teacher was Sister Mary Dorotheus. I was very disappointed to have her for my teacher. This was because my closest friends were in Sister Innocent's room next door. I felt so left out. I was angry! Bear in mind that back then, unlike today, we had self-contained classrooms where one teacher taught the same students for the whole day. So, there were no opportunities to be with my friends except before and after school, at recess, and at choir practice. I looked forward to those times each day, but the rest of the time I felt miserable. I grumbled about everything! I blamed Sister Mary Dorotheus for the fact that I was separated from my friends.

I eagerly awaited dismissal so I could walk home with Frances, Johnabeth and Kathy. During our walks we discussed the events of the school day. It was a good way to get things off our chests. It was a fun time of friendship.

As time went on I began to appreciate some things about Sister Mary Dorotheus. She was a very good arithmetic teacher. (Yes, we called the subject arithmetic, not math or mathematics.) This was my weakest area academically, but with Sister's instruction, I was improving and actually enjoying some arithmetic success!

Sister gave lots of board work, where students stood at the chalkboard and wrote the problems dictated by Sister and then raced to solve them. When someone erred, Sister explained it rather than belittle the person for making a mistake.

In English class Sister also taught us to parse sentences. Parsing meant naming the parts of speech of each word and explaining their relationships to one another. A word might, for example, be a noun, but we had to tell how this noun was being used in the sentence. Was it a subject, object, or complement of a verb or a preposition? Parsing was even harder than diagramming sentences in my opinion, but such analysis helped me understand sentence structure and provided a good foundation for studying foreign languages in high school.

One time Sister D. announced there would be an art contest open only to the older students. The theme was the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Art was one of my talents, and I had lots of experience drawing the Sacred Heart on my Lenten booklet covers each year. I figured I could do well at this, so I decided to enter.

I spent hours drawing a traditional rendering of the Sacred Heart. It was a full-length picture of Jesus with his heart in the middle, his finger pointing to his heart, and his other hand outstretched as if beckoning us to approach. Carefully I colored it with colored pencils. When I submitted it, Sister Mary Dorotheus loved it. I took pleasure in her approval.

My major competitor in art was Gary Effort. He and I, along with Kathy O'Donnell, were the top artists in the seventh grade. Gary, however, was more creative and talented than I was. Instead of jealousy though, there was respect and appreciation between us. We used to have "art talks" on the playground. There we would find an out-of-the-way spot to chat about art. We had to "hide" because boys and girls didn't mingle at recess. Sometimes Gary would show me helpful art techniques that he had learned from his dad, a professional artist. We liked each other.

Gary won the Sacred Heart of Jesus art contest. He did an original, modern-looking picture that no one could deny was the best! Mine came in second, and I felt very good about that.

Although I never did warm up a lot to Sister Mary Dorotheus, my attitude changed years later. One day, during my senior year of high school, I was visiting my alma mater, St. Edward School. I didn't particularly want to see Sister D., but there she was. I would love to have disappeared. After all, I had probably been a thorn in her side. She invited me to visit her for awhile. Deep down I didn't want to; yet, I wanted to be polite.

It was a revealing visit. Sister spoke very kindly to me about how proud she was of all my high school accomplishments. She was able to recite all kinds of things that I had done, which I didn't even remember. I was amazed and wondered how she knew all those things. And it made me feel so good inside, because I had reason to believe, because of my former attitude, that she would not have cared anything about me.

After I left, I had feelings of guilt about the way I had behaved in seventh grade. I was also touched by Sister's kind words. It was just wonderful! I thought she must be a saint for how she put up with me years earlier.

Photo: The drawing I made for the contest. The camera really couldn't take close-ups, so it looks blurrier than it was. I took the photo in case I didn't get the picture back. Now I wish I had used color film.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #9: Helping After School

At Saint Edward School one of the traditions was, with parental permission, to stay after school and "help Sister." My friends, Frances Donnelly, Johnabeth Kolarik, Kathleen O'Donnell, and I were avid helpers. First we would ask our own teacher if she needed help. If she had no tasks for us, we visited other classrooms to see if another teacher needed our help. The kindergarten and first grade teachers in the "minum" school always appreciated when we showed up. Our tasks were cleaning or washing chalkboards, clapping dusty erasers---outside---and not against the building, aligning the rows of desks, and occasionally correcting papers.

Helping the Sisters like this was a chance to get to know them in a less formal setting. When we finished our "work" we hung around and talked until Sister had to shoo us away. At this age we were curious about the Sisters. What did they do before and after school? What did the convent, where they lived, look like? What were their former names? In those days the Sisters did not keep their given names but changed them. How old were they? Did they have hair under their veils? How did they keep their habits so white? The Dominican Sisters wore all white garb, except for their black veils. Most of the time the Sisters didn't tell us their secrets. Perhaps we were being too nosy.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #10: Sixth Grade

Sister Mary Dominica, my sixth grade teacher, was tall, young, and wore tinted glasses. Her class was very enjoyable because she smiled so much and had a good sense of humor. Everyone liked her.

Playground Mishap
On the playground one day a group of us girls asked Sister to join us in a footrace. It took some persuasion, but she finally agreed. We were lined up on our mark, and, when the signal was given, we dashed off. In seconds Sister tripped on the hem of her long, ankle-length habit and fell face down on the asphalt. My heart beat wildly at witnessing Sister laying there hurt. She picked herself up. Sister's eyeglasses were chipped and her hands were abraded. Her face was red with embarrassment, yet she laughed. That's the kind of person Sr. Mary Dominica was. Her laughter put us at ease.

Singing and Choir
Sometimes Sister had singing time in class. She was very musically talented. I loved singing, but I didn't like when Sister stood near me. I wouldn't sing solos. We were allowed to go up into the church balcony and sing morning Mass with the 7th and 8th grade girls. Sister Mary Dominica was the organist and somehow she was also able to direct us. Those choir times were some of my best times at St. Edward. Mass was in Latin, so we learned the Mass parts, like Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus Dei, in Latin. However, there were also many hymns that we sang in English, like "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," which was usually sung at the end of Benediction.

From the balcony the altar seemed tiny, like dollhouse furniture. The priest, more often than not, wore black vestments over the alb, because the Masses were usually Requiems or Masses for the repose of the souls of the dead. Seated in the pews were hundreds of children. It was easy to see who was fooling around from the aerial view. A Sister would occasionally have to get up and admonish someone.

The balcony was close to the ceiling. I like to look up at the rafters, beams, and struts that supported the roof. They looked like giant "M's," which I decided stood for Mary. How I wished I could fly from the balcony and soar through the church and perhaps land, like a bird, on a beam.

Doubts about God
As I looked at all these things I went through a period of wondering about the reality of the existence of God. Was God real or was this a hoax perpetrated on us children by adults to get us to behave and obey them? My behavior was not always exemplary. I felt guilty for having such thoughts, though. In time I resolved my doubts about the existence of God. It occurred to me that there were too many intelligent adults who, themselves, did believe in God for the whole thing to be a trick.

English Class Challenge
One day in English class, we were studying descriptive paragraphs. Our textbook, Voyages in English, had a descriptive paragraph about a school building which Sister Dominica read aloud to us. When finished she asked, "Is it a good paragraph?" I boldly responded, "No, it stinks!" To which she countered, "Then YOU will write a better one." To save face I said I could. So that was my challenge.

That evening I sat on my bed pondering what to write. I decided to describe my bedroom. I carefully observed the walls, bed, dressers, bedspreads, bookshelf, and curtains. Desperately I tried to think of word imagery that would convey a picture of my room. I stared at the plaques of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that hung on the mint green wall. I kept starting over. Nothing I wrote seemed good enough. Why had I ever opened my mouth like that? Time was ticking away and I would soon have to go to bed. I finished at last. But was it good enough? Was it better than the paragraph in the book? I had doubts.

Next day Sister called on me to read my descriptive paragraph in front of the other 55 children. I did. There was dead silence. Then everyone started clapping! Sister was smiling. Everyone thought it was good, and Sister said it was better than the one in the book! How relieved I felt. And I learned a lesson is self control as well.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #8: Fourth Grade

Sister Mary Alma, a tall, soft-spoken woman, was kind and loving. She had a gentle smile, and she would call me "honey." In my fourth grade catechism class I simply admired her. There was a regality in her bearing, which mesmerized me. I couldn't take my eyes off of her.

Also, there was something different about Sr. Mary Alma. She was a convert to the Catholic faith. This is a fact she shared with us and I was amazed that a person could change religions. I felt sorry for her that she had not been a Catholic from childhood.

She informed us of one short-coming of being Catholic. We didn't know the Bible. Sister related how, in her former religion, which I think was Lutheran, she was required to know the Bible books and the chapters and verses. To me that sounded incredibly difficult, so I was glad to be Catholic. I guess Sister was too!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #7: Third Grade

Sister Mary Noreen was my third-grade catechism teacher. She was pleasantly plump and had a sense of humor. I liked her once I got used to her.

The structure of catechism classes changed that year. With Sister Mary Luke catechism had been like a one-room schoolhouse with children from first through eighth grades together in one classroom. But with Sister Noreen we third-graders were together. What happened at the other grade levels, I don't recall. Also, by this year my brother John was going to catechism classes too. But, he was not in my class, as he would have been if the structure had not changed,.

I believe that the change happened because of the Baby Boom. My cohort was actually on the cutting edge of that group. I suspect that, as it became apparent to the school administrators that class sizes were increasing, they could no longer fit all the children of all the grade levels together.

This was the year that those of us in public school were allowed to receive our First Holy Communion. We were required to wait a whole year longer than the children who went full time to Catholic school. Then, I felt it was unfair. Now, I think it was wise. The exposure of public school children to religious instruction compared with Catholic school children is very minimal. I had the advantage of my father's interest and encouragement, which I think gave me an advantage. He had been a seminarian and knew the Catholic faith inside-out.

When it was time to prepare for the ceremony, we practiced interminably---or so it seemed to me. We went to church with the second grade Catholic school children and were seated by size from smallest to tallest; boys on one side and girls on the other. Being a year older than most, we third-graders were nearer to the back. I know I was, and I didn't like it.

We learned certain hymns. We practiced kneeling straight and walking in synchronization with partners for the entrance and exit processions. Our hands had to be folded just like one sees in pictures of "The Praying Hands."

We were allowed, on this occasion, to enter the sanctuary, a unique privilege in those pre-Vatican Council II times. There was an emphasis on form and being just perfect. It was mercilessly tedious and monotonous! In a way, though, the toughness of the preparation that we endured made the reception of the sacrament seem very, very important.

Our pastor, Msgr. Schmidt, came to one of the final practices. He asked that each of us say a "Hail Mary" for him after we received Jesus for the first time. He told us that our prayers on the occasion of our First Holy Communion would be extra special. I remembered to say that prayer for him, as well as other prayers for which we had been prepared.

I do remember the actual day of my First Holy Communion. It was important to me. I tried to remember everything we practiced. I remember the moment of walking with my partner into the sanctuary, turning, taking my place, and kneeling. I remember receiving Jesus for the first time and being very happy about it. I remember leaving the sanctuary and returning to my place, as we had practiced. I remember praying.

Sadly, I have no photos of that day. NONE! I remember that sometime afterwards my mother had the dress dry cleaned and placed in a special box. She wrapped it in blue tissue, which she said would preserve the whiteness of the dress and veil. That's my mother, the scientist! But, although I noticed the box in our basement for many years, I don't know what became of it in the long run.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #6: More Fifth Grade Memories

So many things about fifth grade appealed to me. We learned fractions. I was a whiz at fractions because I had already learned them at Palmer School. When others struggled with reducing and lowest common denominator, I could do it in my head. Sister Mary Magdala was impressed with my precociousness. I enjoyed the attention.

I loved learning American history. Geography was interesting. But the best part of fifth grade was the invariable homework assignment that Sister gave daily. We had to compose an original paragraph on an assigned topic. This was the only homework I liked. Writing seemed to flow from my pen. It was fun for me. Sister often read examples of good paragraphs from the work that we did. The paragraphs had to make good sense, but spelling and handwriting also counted. This was good discipline. I discovered I could say things in writing that I couldn't say aloud. I had an inner voice.

In our religion lessons Sister Mary Magdala taught us the structure of the Mass. Prior to these lessons the Mass seemed like a long, holy event with words I didn't understand and actions that I did just because that's what everyone did. I tried to be quiet and reverent, because I knew it was all about giving honor to God; but, I was more inclined to hope it would end soon. I prayed what prayers I knew when my mind wasn't wandering. And I looked forward to receiving Holy Communion for three reasons. At communion time I could stand up and walk. It was special to receive Jesus, and I really sensed that. And it also meant the Mass would soon end and we could leave.

Sister Mary Magdala's lessons enlightened me to the deeper meanings of the Mass. She told us that the Mass had parts and each part meant something. The first part was the Mass of the Catechumens, now called the Liturgy of the Word. The second part was the Mass of the Faithful, now known as The Liturgy of the Eucharist. On the blackboard, Sister drew a diagram that had steps, and on each step was a sub-part of the Mass. I came to know and understand words like Kyrie, Introit, Collect, and Consecration, to name just a few. After Sister's Mass lessons I was better able to be attentive at Mass, use a Missal, and have some understanding of what the priest was doing and why. This knowledge made daily Mass attendance less of an ordeal for me.