Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chewing the fat with Aunt Nora

My Great Aunt Nora Corr lived in a large bungalow on the corner of Argyle and Kilbourn, fewer than three blocks from my house.  I always passed her place on my way to and from Palmer School.  If she was outside as I happened by, I'd wave and yell, "Hi, Aunt Nora!"  She invariably responded with a friendly wave and a question or comment about the family.

Aunt Nora was my Grandma Lucas' sister-in-law.  Both of them were widows.  They were also good friends.  Grandma Lucas lived upstairs from my family.  In fact, the house in which we lived belonged to Grandma.  It was not uncommon for me to walk upstairs to visit with Grandma and find her with Aunt Nora "chewing the fat," a term they commonly used to describe that they were talking at length about this 'n' that.  I would just sit quietly and listen.

Occasionally I would stop at Aunt Nora's house on my way home from school.  She welcomed me, offered a cookie and some milk, and we chewed the fat for awhile.

On the wall in her living room Aunt Nora kept a small square-framed photo of her daughter Mary, who, when just 5 years old, was hit and killed by a car.  She had chased her ball out into the street without looking.  When I stared at the sepia-colored photo, which showed just the head and shoulders of Mary, it reminded me to be careful and to look both ways before crossing the street.

Although the incident had happened decades before I was born, I asked Aunt Nora if she missed Mary, and did she feel sad.  I no longer remember exactly what she said, but I sensed that keeping that little photo in a prominent place was a comfort to her.  I also learned that people in Aunt Nora's generation had an attitude that I'll call resignation or acceptance when it came to suffering and disappointment.  They were able to tolerate life's hardships with dignity and carry on.

Maybe the way they were able to do this was by spending time "chewing the fat" with their friends and loved ones.


I found this old family photo with Aunt Nora in the center.  On the right is my Aunt Pat Lucas.  I don't recognize the woman on the left.  My best guess, judging from the cards in the background, is that this was taken at Christmas time a long time ago, probably when I was a baby or before I was born.  I think it is Aunt Nora's house, because I don't think she would be wearing an apron if she were a guest at someone else's home.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mi escuela secundaria

1961: segundo año de secundaria
Mi primera escuela secundaria era un internado Católico se llama La Academia de la Corazón Sagrada.  Esta era una escuela sólo para chicas.  Estaba en la capital estatal, Springfield, Illinois, que era aproximadamente 200 millas de mi casa en Chicago.

Esta escuela tenía tres caminos de cursos:  1) preparación para la universidad, 2) preparación para negocios, y 3) preparación para economías domesticas.  Yo era matriculada en los cursos de preparación para la universidad, porque quería ser una maestra o una médica.  Entonces, yo estudiaba cursos como Inglés, Latín, matemáticas, historia, educación cívica, ciencia, arte y teología.

Porque era una escuela católica, actividades religiosas eran una parte de nuestras vidas diarias.  Cada día comenzaba con asistir a la misa en la capilla.  Antes de y después de cada clase, las estudiantes orábamos juntas.  También, después de la cena y la hora a estudiar la tarea, nos reuníamos en la capilla para rezar el rosario.

La Academia de la Corazón Sagrada
Había muchas cosas me gustaban de mis experiencias de la escuela secundaria.  Me encantaban las Hermanas de Santo Domingo que eran santas mujeres y maestras maravillosas!  También me encantaban mis compañeras de clase, algunas de ellas aún son mis buenas amigas.  El plan de estudios era riguroso y me daba una buena base para estudios futuros.  Los ejemplos de las maestras y mis amigas me inspiraban esforzarme para la excelencia. Por fin, y mayor importante, mi fe en Dios era reforzada y era profundizaba.

Muchas cosas han cambiado desde mis días de escuela secundaria.  Por ejemplo, en esa época yo siempre usaba una máquina de escribir, pero ahora nunca usa una. Ahora uso un programa de procesador de textos.  Prefiero la nueva tecnología.


Monday, February 29, 2016

My Cousin Bill


I was closer to my Keller cousins, Ricky, Jimmy, Billy, and Maureen, than any of my other cousins just because they lived in my neighborhood near Gramma and Grampa Keller's house. It was a long walk to get to their house or a modest bike ride. So, I had many opportunities to see them outside the major family events and get-togethers. Maureen and Bill were also at St. Edward School when I began going there in 5th grade. When I was really young I remember Ricky, Jimmy and Billy coming over to our house sometimes to see Dad. All I remember is Dad showed them how to do things on our back porch. I think maybe it was relating to Boy Scouts, but I'm not sure.

I have an affinity for people who make me laugh. Bill was my funny cousin. All my Keller cousins, especially the boys, were great teasers---not mean teasing, although it could get a little out of hand sometimes. I had a great solution for that though. I'd say, "I'm gonna tell Aunt Marge on you!!" It worked. I felt sorry for Maureen being the only girl and the youngest of the four. But Bill had a way of teasing and being funny at the same time. I knew he didn't mean it and he was trying to make me laugh.

Bill taught me how to ride the elevated train from our neighborhood to downtown. When he was 13 he received a scholarship to take art lessons at the Junior School of the Art Institute. He was very artistically talented. My mother wanted me to go there too, so she enrolled me. Bill and I and one of the Gleason boys from across the street from Aunt Marge would go together to the Art Institute every Saturday morning for a year. We rode the Lawrence bus to Kimball Avenue. There we transferred to the Ravenswood "El." That was a long, slow elevated train. It took at least 45 minutes to get to Adams and Wabash. Then we walked from there to the Art Institute.

It was a lot of fun going with Bill. He had me laughing all the time. Bill's drawings were amazing. I think he and the Gleason boy were taking the figure drawing class. I was taking still life. During those Saturdays we learned so much about drawing and painting. Also, the instructors would take us to the galleries to see the art displays and to explain about the art techniques and the artists. Sometimes we went to the Museum of Natural History which was just a walk through Grant Park from one museum to the other. There we drew the animals in the dioramas.

These were fun times. No pressure. For me, art helped me express my emotions. I also had a chance to meet children from all over Chicago. These were amazingly gifted kids. I was good, but some of them were astronomically good!

Bill, if I remember correctly, didn't continue after that year. He was in high school and maybe that was enough. I did continue, though. By then I could ride there myself. But, I---and my mother---talked two of my friends into going. One, Kathy O'Donnell, was very talented. Those were fun times. We never worried about getting mugged or anything like that.

Photos: Top, right: My Keller Cousins: Ricky, Maureen, Billy, and Jimmy
Below: Billy and Jimmy
Bottom: Another cousin, Bobbie and Bill at our grandparents house









Friday, February 26, 2016

Two Grandmas a Broken Arm and Hot Fudge Sundaes

One balmy day I was practicing acrobatics on the small patch of grass we called our front yard on Kolmar Avenue in Chicago. I was "flying" around doing cartwheels when Grandma Lucas stepped onto our front porch. "Grandma," I shouted. "Watch me!" I demonstrated my acrobatic prowess. I could see Grandma was impressed.

Then I insisted she watch me do my new trick, a back bend. I raised my arms overhead and leaned backwards, but in my excitement to show Grandma what I could do, I lost my balance slightly and fell. I could hear the bones of my right arm breaking as I landed awkwardly on the ground. Screaming in fear and pain I yelled to Grandma, "I broke my arm!" Looking at it I could actually see it was severely broken. The whole shape between my wrist and elbow was misshapen and actually looked grotesque. The sight threw me into a panic and tears of hysteria.

Grandma looked at it and said it would be okay so come in the house and lie down for awhile. I wanted to believe her. I lay in my bed writhing in pain and crying nonstop. Grandma Lucas put a compress on my head. I guess she thought it would make me feel better. When dad and mother got home I was still bawling. Neither of them thought my arm was broken. Honestly, my little seven-year-old mind began to lose confidence in the common sense of grown-ups. I had heard it break. It looked broken. And the pain was unbearable! My only recourse was to keep on crying and yelling.

At last mother and dad relented and drove me to St. Anne's Hospital to have it looked at. X-rays showed each bone was broken in two places about three inches apart. Soon I was on the operating table and the doctor was telling me I would be put to sleep with ether. When he put the mask over my nose and mouth I should count to ten, and then I would be asleep. Before I could start counting he asked, do you feel sleepy? "No-oo-oo-oo..., I answered. The last thing I remember hearing were three bongs. Next time I was conscious I was in a hospital bed with a white plaster cast on my arm. The nurse said I would vomit, and sure enough I did. That was the after effects of the ether.

Eventually I went home, my right arm in a sling. The pain was gone and now I could show off my cast. My friends could sign their names to it. At school I was excused from writing 'cause it was my writing arm. I really milked this, because, in fact, I noticed that I could hold a pencil and write. At home I wasn't allowed to get the cast wet when I bathed.

In the course of the several weeks of healing I had to report to the hospital about three times so that the doctors could monitor the healing of the bones.

My other Grandma, Grandma Keller, always took me to these appointments, which were weekdays when my parents were working. We went by street car. This was exciting for me. Back then streetcars ran on rails that crisscrossed the city streets of Chicago, and they were powered by electricity from a trolley attached to a pole that touched current from wires overhead. The first step up and onto the streetcar was very tall for a little girl. Grandma stood behind me to give me a boost. It was a long ride from where we lived to the hospital, which was near the intersection of Cicero and Division Streets.

After my checkups Grandma Keller always took me for a hot fudge sundae. Each of us had this most delicious treat: a tulip-shaped glass containing several scoops of vanilla ice cream drenched in real hot fudge and topped with peanuts, whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, and three vanilla wafers. We nursed our sundaes and had delightful conversations before boarding the street car to go home. I sort of hated the end when my cast was removed and life returned to normal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How My Grandparents Survived THE Depression and the Silver Lining

The Great Depression happened when the stock market crashed in October 1929. From then until WWII the economy was depressed. There were emergencies like bank failures, heavy unemployment, business stagnation, decline in farm income, and more. My mother and her parents, that is, my grandparents, were hit hard. I heard some stories from my Gramma Lucas and my mother throughout my youth about the effects the Depression had on them. What they didn't talk about I surmised.

Gramma and Grampa Lucas owned two homes before the crash. The one on Kolmar was where they lived. They owned another home, which they rented out, in the Edison Park neighborhood. My mother, oldest of three children, would have been 11 in 1929. Uncle Ed was a year or so younger, while Uncle Jim was a little guy, maybe 3 years of age.

Life was reasonably good for Gramma and Grampa Lucas before the crash, all things considered. Neither had much formal education. Gramma, who was from a family with 11 children, went only to the 3rd grade in school. But she always told me she went to "the school of hard knocks."

I have no idea about Grampa's educational attainment. Grampa died when I was 6 months old, so I never really knew him. But I do know that he and my great Aunt Nora were sent to live in an orphanage because their parents were too poor to support them. This would have been around the turn of the century. Orphanages were not nice places to live then, and I don't know the duration of their stay. I knew Aunt Nora very well. She lived two blocks from our house and she visited Gramma Lucas frequently and vice-versa.

Gramma Lucas' parents died before all the children in the family were grown. Gramma took on the maternal role in the home, cooking, cleaning and raising her younger brothers and sisters, while the boys old enough went out to work or already had jobs to help put food on the table. To hear Gramma tell it, being the surrogate mother was hard work for her. She was at an age that she might have preferred to socialize with young people her age. Gramma was definitely a fun-loving person. One thing I noted when I was little is that Gramma was well-loved by her siblings, in particular Uncle Matt and Uncle Patty. Uncle Patty visited often. Uncle Matt actually lived upstairs with Gramma during his final years.

But despite such disadvantages Gramma and Grampa worked hard and made some sensible decisions. Grampa Lucas, according to my mother, was a mild-mannered, quiet and very kind man. I could tell she was very fond of him. He worked in construction until he developed heart problems. Then he became a bridge-tender, a less physical type of work.

Like all families my mother's family struggled when the depression hit. I don't know the exact time line for when all the following events happened. Grampa Lucas, a city worker, eventually lost his job. Unable to make the mortgage payments on both homes, they lost the one in Edison Park. Maybe it was foreclosed. Maybe they were able to sell it. I know this was a huge disappoint for them as I heard this story told many times in my childhood. They didn't want to lose the house on Kolmar. The solution seemed to be to rent out both flats and use the income to make the mortgage payments. But where would they live?

Uncle Bill Lawler came to the rescue. Who was Uncle Bill? He was the youngest of Gramma Lucas' siblings. He is an example of how family helps one another. The older siblings didn't have much education, but they pooled their resources to get Uncle Bill an education. Uncle Bill not only completed high school, he went to college with his family's support and of course with his own efforts.

Uncle Bill was a scientist and among the first chemists hired to work at The Johnson Wax facility in Racine, Wisconsin. (I think it's now called S.C. Johnson.) He developed one of the formulas for the wax. Needless to say he was doing well and apparently was not too negatively affected by the depression. Uncle Bill invited my grandparents and the whole family to come and live with him and his wife Aunt Irene and their children. By this time I believe that my mother was out of high school. So this move may have happened the summer after she graduated from Alvernia, the mid 1930s.

Through Uncle Bill's infuence my grandfather got a job working at Johnson Wax. In addition there was income from the house on Kolmar.

I know that the Racine years were, for my mother, very happy years. Mother met a lot of people whom she liked. One woman who influenced her was a professional golfer, and she taught that sport to my mother. Mother also played tennis. She made a lot of friends and did things that for her were fun.

More important Aunt Irene and Uncle Bill were very kind to my mother and took a great interest in her. Both of them recognized qualities of intelligence and interest in learning. Mother was an avid reader. So Uncle Bill encouraged mother to go to college and he helped her get in to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I think that was his alma mater. Mother did go to the University and majored in English literature and minored in chemistry. Mother worked in chemistry after college.
My mother, Mary Alice, working in a lab.

Gramma and Grampa were eventually able to return to Chicago with Uncle Ed and Jim. The house on Kolmar remained in the family. Mother bought the house from her brothers after Gramma Lucas died. She sold the house to my cousin Danny Lucas, and he lives there now.

When I think of how everything turned out well for my grandparents and mother, it inspires me to believe all will be well and that we will survive this current economic crisis in our country. It may take a long time. There may be disappointments, sacrifices, and surprises. But we will survive. And, yes, all WILL be well!!!

Photos:
Top: Our Family Home on Kolmar c. 1940s.

Middle: My Grandparents, Mary and Michael Lucas, c. mid 1940s, about a year before Grampa died.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bishop Sheen, Early Televangelist, Preacher

In my childhood our family would gather around the television to watch a popular TV program called "Life Is Worth Living" that featured Fulton J. Sheen, a Catholic preacher.   Because I was young, I didn't understand his talks at their deepest level, but it was clear to me that he was a riveting speaker.  He was a good story-teller and told amusing jokes.  Everyone I knew respected him.  Not only did I see the program at home, but we watched it at family gatherings at Grandma Keller's house.

I think Bishop Sheen could be considered the first televangelist.  The cause for his canonization is in process, and recently he was declared "venerable."

Today I came across this You Tube video of a talk, "The Devil and the Diabolical," given by Bishop Sheen.  It is in color, but the programs I remember were in black and white like the photo above, because we didn't have a color television.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Growing Up Catholic: The Playground Fight

Elba, two years ahead of me in school, picked on me mercilessly. Today we would call it bullying. She teased me, for example, about my shoes and how ugly they looked. (I wore orthopedic shoes for a few years and they were not at all stylish.) This was embarrassing, and I wished my cousin, Maureen, who was in Elba's class, would stick up for me. But she didn't. I think Maureen was afraid of Elba, and I can't say I'd blame her.

Elba always crossed over the 6th grade girls' playground when she arrived at school after lunch. One day we were playing softball behind the convent. I was at bat. Elba walked right up to me, stood toe-to-toe with me and began harassing me. She went so far as to shove me. I stepped back. She repeatedly shoved me and I repeatedly stepped back. My friends yelled at her to leave me alone. I was not looking behind me and didn't notice that she was backing me up to a short retaining wall at the edge of the playground. I tripped backwards and fell against a chain link fence. The fence caused me to spring forward. It gave me the impetus to go on the attack. With all my might I clobbered Elba with my fists and kicked her, too!

Sister Mary Innocent saw us. She was angry! She approached and grabbed both of us by our collars and marched us to the principal's office. Sister said it was shameful for two girls to be fighting like that. I dreaded what would happen in the office. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my heart beat wildly.

Sister Mary Ruth, the principal took over. She was angry after Sr. M. Innocent explained what had transpired. First she dealt with Elba and scolded her because she was the older one and should have set a better example. She also told Elba that her mother, who was a veteran school volunteer, would be so ashamed of her.

As I listened, I expected and feared to get a worse scolding, because my mother, who worked, never helped at school. I was mentally asking myself, "Why can't my mother help once in a while? Then maybe I wouldn't get into so much trouble." Sister sent Elba out of the office and then she turned her attention to me. I trembled.

I cried profusely and shook for fear of what might happen next. To my surprise Sister was calm. She looked somewhat severe, but her eyes looked gentle and kind. Then she asked, "How's your Dad?" The question startled me. Then Sister told me how she had been my dad's teacher when he was a boy at St. Edward School. She said he was a wonderful altar boy and a very good student. That was it. She let me go and urged me to behave better in the future. Deep down I was glad I hit Elba. Moreover, I was grateful that Dad had been a boy that the teachers liked.

As I reflect on this incident I suspect that Sister Mary Ruth may have know that Elba was a troublemaker.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Diagramming Sentences

In the 1950s there were two academic practices which helped me develop analytical thinking skills and which enabled me to write clearly. These practices were diagramming sentences and writing paragraphs. Both were part of the English curriculum at St. Edward School, and the Dominican Sisters were committed to teaching them.

What Is Diagramming Sentences?
Every sentence has two parts, a subject and a predicate. A diagram is a graphic that shows the two parts of a sentence and the relationship of every word in the sentence to either the subject or the predicate. Because sentences vary in length and complexity, so does diagramming a sentence. Diagramming was a fun way to learn the grammatical construction of sentences. It was like solving a puzzle, and went hand in hand with instruction in grammar usage and parts of speech, like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Diagramming was taught systematically beginning by at least 5th grade and continued until 8th. It was also continued in the freshman year of high school. The textbook series that we used then was Voyages in English, published by Loyola University Press of Chicago. Below are some examples from textbooks of that era.



A Lesson on Types of Sentences: Fifth Grade Textbook



Models of Diagrammed Sentences: Eighth Grade Textbook

Believe it or not, "The Pledge of Allegiance" is one sentence. My dad once diagrammed it for me as proof positiv
e. I took his word that he had done it correctly. The example below, which I found here, shows various versions that are possible.

I have found an example of the Preamble to the Constitution here.

I think learning to diagram sentences was a valuable tool for learning to think logically and for understanding English grammar. It also helped me learn other languages, because it familiarized me with parts of speech and their relationships to subjects and predicates, even when the other languages were more inflected than English.

Here is a link with more links to websites that have information on Diagramming Sentences.

http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001595.shtml.

I'll say something about writing paragraphs in a future post.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Johnabeth Kolarik: A Story about My School Friend

In my fifth grade class photo, you can see me and some of my fifth grade friends from St. Edward School. I cropped the photo. There were 55 children in my classroom, although I don't know if all were there that day. I can name everyone, at least by their first name.

But I want to focus on Johnabeth. She's the girl with the big smile and head tilted slightly, smack dab in the center. If the picture were in color you would see her red hair. It wasn't carrot red, like some, but a darker shade. Johnabeth had a twin brother John, who does not appear in this photo because, for one reason, he was in the other 5th grade classroom.

Johnabeth, Frances Donnelly, Kathy O'Donnell, and I were the best of friends. Our closeness developed over time from 5th through 8th grades. Johnabeth was hilariously funny. Her humor was spontaneous. I remember cracking up one morning as we filed in ranks from church to our classroom. She took a deep breath and exclaimed, "Ah! The fragrance of the great outdoors --- pause --- dog crap!" Sure enough,we were walking past --- not in --- a fresh pile. We were in stitches as we tried to maintain the decorum expected by our teachers.

After graduation from 8th grade, we went our separate ways. I went to a boarding high school for girls, Sacred Heart Academy, in Springfield; Frances went to The Immaculata H.S. on Irving Park Rd. in the Uptown neighborhood; I don't recall which school Kathy attended, maybe Alvernia, which was on Ridgeway in the Old Irving Park neighborhood; I'm pretty sure Johnabeth went to Good Counsel H.S. on Peterson Ave. in the Albany Park area. Almost all the children in our school went to Catholic High Schools back then. They were much more affordable then, than now.

One day, when I was at Sacred Heart Academy, my freshman or sophomore year, I received a letter from Frances. There was very bad news about Johnabeth. She had died of septicemia or blood-poisoning, as we commonly called it back then. The letter stated that the infection over-whelmed her system and the treatments were administered too late or didn't work. By the time I received word Johnabeth's funeral and burial had already taken place. Frances suggested I send a sympathy card to her parents and twin brother.

I went to the school bookstore and asked if there were any sympathy cards. The Sister in charge wondered why I needed it and I told her. She commiserated with me and complimented me on my maturity in remembering to send a card. Without Frances I don't know if I would really have been that mature.

One day, not too long ago, I was driving; I don't remember where, and I thought of Johnabeth. For whatever reason --- out of a clear blue sky --- I burst into tears, copious tears at that! Maybe I had never properly mourned my good friend. After all, I got the news when all the rites were over. I sent the card, but there was no face-to-face contact. In this day and age I would have had the news so much sooner, and even though I was far from Chicago, it might have been feasible to go to Johnabeth's funeral. I wonder why, at that particular moment, this happened. It mystifies me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sister Mary Ruth, Catholic School Principal and Quiz Master

During most of my years at St. Edward School, Sister Mary Ruth was the principal. She was the person I most wanted to avoid. If a student were sent to the principal's office, it meant big trouble. If you saw her in the hallway or lunchroom, you wouldn't dare misbehave. If she entered the classroom, everyone rose and in unison said, "Good morning, Sister Mary Ruth." And we remained standing until she gave the cue to sit.

Sister Mary Ruth conducted a trivia quiz, called The Saints Quiz for Today, via the school intercom. Sister would give clues about a particular saint. Then she randomly picked one student from each classroom to go to the office to guess the saint's name. This was the only time anyone might not mind going to the principal's office. The students who guessed correctly won a prize! It was nothing elaborate, usually a religious object, like a little plastic statue or a rosary that glows in the dark. Once I remember a classmate winning a picture of Jesus with eyes that seemed to follow you as you moved it left or right.

Sister's method of choosing randomly was like this: She would say, "The student in row 5, seat 7, may come to the office." Every day she chose a different row and seat. I don't remember ever being in the chosen spot! However, it didn't matter too much, because I could rarely figure out which saint it was anyway. I wasn't the only one. Not very many children returned to the classroom with a prize.

Once the chosen student left the room, our teacher would tell us the correct answer. So, in the end, we did learn about many saints.

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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #5: Sister's Embarrassing Mishap

There were fifty-five children in our fifth grade class, so we could, at times, create quite a commotion. Sister Mary Magdala was trying to quiet us down one afternoon, but we weren't responding to her pleas. So, in a last ditch effort to get our attention, she took a textbook and pounded it on her desk. Unfortunately, the desk top was glass, and it shattered!

There was instant silence as Sister's face turned from red to purple with embarrassment. You could have heard a pin drop. We stared at Sister in anticipation of what was next. Simultaneously I felt so sorry for her. I was imagining that she would get in just as much trouble as I would have, had I done something like break something expensive. I also felt guilty for not having cooperated in quieting down.

But, intermingled with those sentiments was the thought that it was a comical scene. Part of me wanted to laugh, but I didn't dare. There were certain boundaries that children didn't cross, and not one of the fifty-five of us did.

Sister composed herself and carried on. We, for our part, were very attentive for the rest of the afternoon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #4: A Typical School Day at St. Edward

The daily routine at St. Edward School followed a pattern.

Morning Mass
A typical school day began with Mass in Church. After walking from home to school we gathered informally with our school friends outside church. When it was time for Mass we sat with our classmates and teacher in an assigned part of the church. We genuflected and entered the pew. Girls had to wear chapel veils in church. These were white, doily-like circles of lace that we pinned in place with a hairpin. When not in use we kept them in a plastic container that snapped closed.

All children who had received their first communion were expected to be at morning Mass. The church was full, because there were a thousand students in St. Edward at the time. So excluding the younger children, there must have been about 800 children, maybe 16 teachers, and other adult parishioners. One clear memory of mine is how much my knees and back always hurt me by the middle of Mass. It was quite a discipline for me to kneel so long and to contain my naturally active nature. Nine times out of ten the Mass was a Mass for the Dead, called a Requiem Mass. In pre-Vatican II days the priests wore black vestments for these Masses.

After Mass concluded we again genuflected as we exited the pew and walked in straight lines, called ranks, to the school building and then to our classroom. We were not to talk, but most of us did a lot of whispering.

Our School Lessons
Before our first lesson of the day, we stood for morning prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Every day we recited The Morning Offering prayer. It was customary, when finished with the prayers and pledge, to say, "Good morning, Sister Mary________," in unison. And Sister always responded, "Good morning, boys and girls. Please be seated." That was our cue that "business" had begun.

Lesson began promptly, and religion was invariably the first subject of the day. After that we had lessons in arithmetic, reading, English, spelling, history, geography, and penmanship, although not necessarily in that order. We never had a science lesson, because it was not part of our curriculum. Physical education was just once a week my first year at St. Edward, but eventually it was phased out. "Art," taught once weekly, consisted in copying a drawing, usually related to the seasons or holidays of the year, that the art teacher brought. She rotated from classroom to classroom on that day. It was more of a rendering lesson than an art lesson.

Good behavior, attention, and respect were both expected and enforced. Our teachers had no qualms about correcting conduct that was out of bounds.

Recess
Recess was what play time was called. We had recess after lunch. Girls and boys had separate, assigned play areas on the campus, where we played only with those in our own grade. This was not a problem, because there were so many children in a given grade, at least a hundred. So everyone had a friend or several friends with whom to play. I don't recall any loners. We didn't leave anyone out, even if we didn't especially like someone. Everyone was to be included.

For safety, barricades, which were saw horses, were placed at each end of Sunnyside Avenue so not cars could drive through the area during recess. So the street was one section of the play area, as was the church parking lot, which was quite large. The Sisters took turns monitoring.

We played organized games, which we organized ourselves. There were rules for each game and we made sure our friends followed them. From sixth grade on some of us girls enjoyed playing softball. But there wasn't enough room for a full game, so we practiced batting and catching.

When the bell rang at the end of recess, we immediately stopped and stood still, like statues. When the second bell rang we walked to an assigned place were we formed ranks with our class. Our teacher met us there. Everyone recited the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Cross of Christ." Then we walked silently---although I was an avid whisperer---to our classrooms.

Classroom Design
The class photo on my previous post shows what all the classroom looked like. The photo was taken from the front of the room with the photographer near the window side.

On the front wall above the black chalkboard hung a crucifix. Elsewhere in the room was a statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, standing on a globe, representing the while world, and she was stepping on a snake, representing Satan, who had tempted Adam and Eve.

A speaker, part of the school intercom system, was located on a wall near the crucifix. The system was used by the principal for daily announcements.

Both the front and side walls were lined with black chalkboards, and right above them was a narrow bulletin board. These were decorated with religious quotations like, "Work as if everything depended on you. Pray as if everything depended on God." The one in the photo that I mentioned says, "When you play, play hard. When you work, don't play at all." The Sisters always had fancy corners cut out of colored construction paper at the ends of the bulletin boards. Student work was always displayed on the side bulletin board. This would be spelling tests or art work. There was always a large, square bulletin board in the front of the room, next to the chalkboard. This was also decorated. In May it had a Marian theme.

In back of the room lockers lined the wall. You can see them clearly in the previous post. Winter jackets and boots were stored there along with our book satchels. No one used backpacks then.

Desks were arranged in five or six straight rows, depending on the size of the room and the number of children in the class. Desk styles varied from room to room. Some had separate chairs and others had chair and desk as one unit. Some were wood; others were laminated with Formica and had metal frames. The tops of some, like the ones in the photo, conveniently opened upward, but others were not adjustable and books were slid in and out, cubbyhole style.
Regardless of the type of desk our teachers expected them to be kept neat and orderly. At the end of each day a student passed the wastepaper basket so we could discard old papers. Also, at the end of the day we aligned our desks. If the chairs were separate we set them on top of the desk so the janitor could clean the floors more easily.

Dismissal
Our school days were long. To me they seemed interminable. For the last half hour I had my eye on the clock, which meant turning around as stealthily as possible to look at the time. Time seemed to stand still those last 30 minutes of the school day.

But when it was time to go home, the teacher waited until everyone was quiet and ready. We said a final prayer, The Act of Contrition. We stood an waited for our teacher to dismiss our row. If anyone in the row was misbehaving or not ready we all had to wait for that person. If things were really bad, the teacher would tell everyone to sit and we could be kept after school. This was not common, but it was an option, so we really wanted to cooperate. Needless to say any student, friend or not, who kept us waiting longer than necessary, heard about it from everyone when we finally were outside.

The Sisters actually didn't just open the school door to let us go. No, she walked us to a particular street corner and watched us as we set out to go home---no pushing, no running. And we gave Sister a friendly good-bye.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #3: Fifth Grade: May Altars and May Crowning

My Fifth Grade Class Photo with Sister Mary Magdala
Fifth grade was one of my favorite school years. Sister Mary Magdala was an enjoyable teacher. I liked her and I think everyone did.

Sister used to let me stay after school to help her decorate bulletin boards. When she discovered my artistic talents I was allowed to design some of them and to cut out the alphabet letters for the slogans. I especially liked doing the May Altar.

Do you remember May Altars? It was a tradition each year at St. Ed's to position Mary's statue on a little table in a prominent place and to surround it with decorations. We brought fresh flowers every day and placed them in vases. Lilacs and tulips were popular. The Sisters always cautioned us to the the flowers from our own gardens, not the neighbors'! Daily during May we prayed Marian prayers, especially the Rosary, and sang Marian hymns in Mary's honor. At the end of the month we had a May Crowning.

In recent decades this tradition of a May Crowning receded in popularity, but I revived it in our parish religious education program. St. Edward also has continued the tradition.

Photo of the Religious Education May Crowning of Mary, Our Mother and Our Queen

Monday, February 1, 2016

Growing Up Catholic #2: Catechism Classes

If I were orderly to perfection, perhaps this would have been my first post about Growing Up Catholic. Here I just want to introduce you to what the catechism classes were like in general. As mentioned in the previous post, my contact with the Dominican Sisters of Springfield began when, as a first-grader, I started catechism lessons at St. Edward School.

The lessons were convened twice weekly, once on Sunday mornings and again on Wednesday afternoons. To attend on Wednesdays we public school Catholics were released from our respective schools early and walked to St. Edward. For us at Palmer School it was quite a long walk. An upper grade student took charge of our group as we made the weekly trek. The St. Edward regulars, here I mean the students who attended Catholic school daily, loved Wednesdays, too, because they had early dismissal and could go home! I participated in these catechism classes for four years before transferring to St. Edward School.

What was school like then? These classes, also called CCD for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, consisted of memorizing and reciting the answers to the questions from the Catechism of Christian Doctrine. In addition to that we memorized prayers, which we recited verbatim to demonstrate our knowledge. Sometime we learned about the life of a saint. I found this more interesting because it didn't require the discipline of memorization. Instead we listened to inspiring stories of heroic faith. These stories appealed to me.

I will say that I wanted very much to go to St. Edward on a daily basis. I really enjoyed learning about God and doing so every day seemed so much better than twice a week. I wasn't particularly pious---far from it---but I knew what I wanted to know. I begged my parents to send me there, but they always said, "No!" I believe this had to do with the distance from our home, and perhaps the tuition costs, although by today's standards the costs were minimal.

One spring day after a Sunday morning Mass, Father Duffy, one of our priests, and a friend of my Dad from his seminary days, said, "Bob, I want to see those children of yours in our school next year." No, I didn't put him up to that, but my eyes grew wide with excitement. I was hopefully silent. All I know after that is that John, Joan, and I were enrolled at St. Edward the following year. Was this due to Father Duffy's influence? Perhaps. I was ten and in fifth grade. I continued at St. Edward School until graduation from eighth grade. I really enjoyed that school and my Catholic education during those years.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fond Memories of Catholic Schools in Chicago

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I love this video, which I found at Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog.

So glad I had the fantastic education depicted in some of these historic shots.  I knew one of the narrators, Fr. Arturo Perez, who was a young priest at Maternity B.V.M. Parish when I taught fifth grade at the parish school.  I remember him telling me how very excited he was that he would be leaving to study liturgy at one of the finest Catholic Universities in the country.

There is also glimpse of a Pope John XXIII School uniform on one of the contemporary models.  I taught at that Pope John school and my daughter Catherine was a student at that time.

Growing Up Catholic #1: My First Catechism Lesson

Seminal events shape our lives and set us on a path. This is the story of one of those moments as I remember experiencing it.

Dad told me that it was time for me to begin catechism classes at St. Edward School. I asked, “What is that?” He said, “You will learn about God.” This seemed like a good idea, because I didn’t know much about God. Now I could learn. I was six years old.

On the day of my first lesson Dad took me to St. Edward School. He accompanied me to the school office. Someone else escorted me to the classroom and introduced me to my catechism teacher, Sister Mary Luke.

Sister Mary Luke was seated at her desk. She looked different. She wore what I would later learn is a habit, the garb that Dominican Sisters wore at the time. Sister also had freckles---like me. She asked me some questions, like my age, the grade I was in, my name, address, and telephone number. I hesitated when she asked for my telephone number, because I didn’t know it. So she said, “It’s important for you to know your telephone number. Learn it and tell me next time you come.” Sister also mentioned that I had missed the first catechism class, so I would need to "catch up." Then she gave me a little grey catechism book and assigned the desk where I would sit. It was the first desk in the second row from the windows. I liked it 'cause it was right up front.

I sat down with my little book and peeked around to see the other children. I recognized two of them Pat Gutting and her brother Danny. They also went to Palmer School. Pat was a year older than I, and in second grade, and Danny a year younger. I soon learned that the children in this classroom were mixed ages and grades ranging from Danny Gutting in kindergarten to some who were in eighth grade. It was like a one room schoolhouse.

I paged through the skinny, plain, grey-covered book. I saw lots of letters and words inside, but I didn’t know how to read yet. So I closed it and waited. I looked around some more. I noticed a very large statue, which I would learn latter is a depiction of Mary as Our Lady of Grace. She was stepping on a big snake. In front of the room I noticed the American flag and a crucifix. We had a crucifix in our house.

Soon it was time for the lesson about God to begin. Sister Mary Luke stood up and took her place in front of us. She wore a long, creamy white dress with a black belt. Her hair was covered with white material in such a way that only her freckled face showed. On top was a black veil with a white lining. The top of the veil was heart-shaped. When she turned around to write something on the blackboard, I saw the back of the veil was very long and pleated. It came to a point below her waist. All sorts of interesting things hung from Sister Mary Luke’s belt. She had holders for a watch, like a pocket watch, a pencil/pen, and keys. There was also a long, long rosary that hung from her waist nearly to the floor. The rosary beads rattled when she walked. I thought she looked nice. ☺

Sister Mary Luke looked at the girl sitting next to me, on the window side, and asked her, “Who made you?” I thought that was an interesting question. The little girl said, “God made me.” I was very surprised to hear her answer. I scrutinized her carefully, because I wanted to see what someone God made looked like. Sister Mary Luke asked the next child the same question, and this one answered the same way. One after another was asked the same question, “Who made you?” One after one they answered in turn, “God made me.” I was amazed, almost overwhelmed, to think all these kids were made by God. I began to wonder who made me.

Then, it was my turn. Sister asked me, “Who made you?” I looked right at her and told her I don’t know. No one had ever told me. I guess I had never asked or even thought about from where I had come or how I was made. I honestly did not know. Sister gave me that same look as when I didn’t know my telephone number. I thought, “I better find out who made me.”

After every student---about 40---had answered that first question, Sister Mary Luke asked another, similar question. “Who made all the people in the world? Here was another good question for me to contemplate. But I didn’t do so for long, because student after student gave the answer, “God made all the people in the world.” Although I was still a newly minted six-year-old, my powers of deduction kicked in. “If God made ALL the people in the world, then God made me!”

This revelation, this insight, filled my little mind and heart with wonder and awe. I was excited to think that God, too, made me! I visualized God making me. I somehow saw him taking a head, and arms and legs and putting me together, sort of like a doll, but alive.

Next I found out that God is a “Supreme Being who made all things and keeps them in existence.” I knew this meant that God was very important and special, even if I couldn’t fully fathom the notion of “Supreme Being” or “existence.”

By the end of my first class session of religious instruction I had also learned my destiny and the meaning of my life---the reason why God had made me. “God made me to show forth His goodness and to share with me His everlasting happiness in heaven.” Sister Mary Luke talked to us about heaven and about happiness. Heaven is where God lives, and when we get there we can see God face to face. And heaven is a place where it is happy all the time. This idea of being happy all the time certainly attracted me.

Next I learned that to get to heaven “I must know, love, and serve God in this world.” So, this was why I would be coming to catechism classes. This was the place to “know” about God. I didn’t yet understand there was another kind of knowing that would lead to the loving and serving part. But a new “vision” had emerged for me. This was faith. My faith came alive. Hearing the answers to all those questions about God resonated within me. I was sure it was true, and I accepted these truths with joy. Faith comes through hearing. (cf. Romans 10:17)

This knowledge of God fired my very young imagination, and I think it was the beginning of my consciousness of a spiritual life. I began to understand that God knew who I was and that He cared about me, and I really wanted to know more about Him.

When that first class session was finished, I took my little grey catechism book with me and followed the children to the front door of the school. Outside there were what looked to me like hundreds of grown-ups waiting. I looked for my dad’s face, but I didn’t see him. Panicking I started to cry. I thought he had forgotten me. I didn’t know my way home. Someone---one of the bigger kids---looked at me and said, “Don’t be a cry baby.” I felt embarrassed. In a few seconds Dad was there. What a relief.

In the car I told Dad everything I had learned about God. From then on he helped me with my catechism lessons. There was a lot of "learning by heart" in those days.

I was very fortunate to have a father who was thoroughly schooled in Catholic thought and who could explain the difficult concepts to me, like “Supreme Being” and “existence.” He could also answer my questions about God, of which I had many, in a way that I could understand. My enthusiasm for my faith grew. I couldn’t be more grateful.

I know from experience that young children are capable, with the guidance of faith-filled parents and teachers, to understand the mysteries of God. It’s a real deprivation when parents procrastinate or deprive their children of developing this relationship.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Remembering Dad #14: His Book

My cousin Julie, found a book that belonged to my dad among some my Aunt Eileen's possessions when she was cleaning some drawers. It is called The Imitation of Christ, and Julie asked me if I’d like to have it. Of course I was thrilled to say, “Yes!” I do like having memorabilia of my loved ones. Thank you, thank you, Julie!

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis is a Catholic classic about the Christian life. Next to the Bible, this book is the most popular guide to living the Christian way of life. I, myself, have a copy that my best friend gave me when I had graduated from high school. Because it is a classic, it is still in print and widely available. It has also been translated into modern English to make it more palatable to modern readers. Dad’s copy and mine retain the old English. So there are sentences like this, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, saith the Lord (John, viii. 12).

In dad’s copy there are some inscriptions. Some are in English and some are in Latin.

English Inscription #1 on inside of back cover:
.30 Purchased
Calvert Book Store
Nov. 25, 1939

Dad would have been 20 years of age at that time.

There are also some numbers, which I surmise are page numbers, perhaps passages that were important to Dad. I looked up those pages. On one page he penciled a box around these words, “It is better for thee to have less than much, which may puff thee up with pride.”

English Inscription #2 on page facing inside cover:
First, Dad wrote his name as follows: Robert Keller. That’s not too significant except most of the time he included his middle initial, which he didn’t do here.

Below dad’s name are these words, “What will God think?” As soon as I read that I thought of a modern saying that has gained popularity, “What would Jesus do?” Dad was ahead of his time. ☺

My Latin is very rusty, so I found a Dominican priest who offered to translate. He said he's not a Latin scholar, but the following translations are his.

Latin Inscription #1 on inside of front cover:
Dad wrote:
"Prae
Loquere, Domine, quia audit servis tuus. Da mihi intellectum, et scrutabor legem tuam, et custodiam illam in toto corde meo."

Translation: "O Lord, who hears as Thy servants speak, grant that as my mind studies Thy laws, I retain all of them in my heart."

Latin Inscription #2 on page facing inside back cover:
Dad wrote: "Praesta, quaesumus Domine, auxilium gratiae tuae, ut quae, te docente, facienda cognovimus, te adjuvante, impleamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen."

Translation: "Grant we beseech Thee, O Lord, that by the help of Thy grace we come to knowledge of Thy teachings and move according to Thy direction. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen."

I think all this gives a glimpse of my dad and what he was like as a young man.

Photo: An old family photo of my dad that was taken when he was in his early 20s. I think he worked at Sears.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Remembering Dad #13: Dad Had Some Serious Childhood Health Problems

When Dad was a boy, a very young one, in the 1920s, he contracted the dreaded childhood disease of polio, also known as infantile paralysis. How severe his case was I don't know for sure. I vaguely remember him saying that he needed a leg brace for awhile. Dad had a large and terrible-looking scar on one leg, and this may have been connected with his bout of polio. He did recover and go on to live normally. When he was in his 50s he may have had post-polio syndrome, which causes muscle weakness, and fatigue, and pain in both muscles and joints. But, he never complained of it and didn't let it get him down. Immunizations for polio did not come along until the 1950s.

While he was still fairly young Dad was prone to bouts of pneumonia. In the 1920s and 30s antibiotics for pneumonia were not available, so recuperation was a matter of getting rest and having one's immune system fight it off. Dad received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church twice when he was a boy because he was in imminent danger of death. The sacraments were called Last Rites because they were [at least until recent years] usually administered when the person receiving them was in grave danger of dying. The term in those days referred to the reception of all of the Last Sacraments, Confession, Viaticum [Holy Communion] and Extreme Unction [Anointing of the Sick].

Even in adulthood Dad was prone to pneumonia. I recall his having it once or twice when I was a girl. But by then it could be treated with penicillin. Still, it wasn't a pleasant illness and could require hospitalization.

Photo: The photo above shows Dad with his dog, Maybe, when he was about eight years of age. By then he was over the polio.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Remembering Dad, #12: He Encouraged a Positive Outlook

I don’t know if Dad ever read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He really didn’t need to.

Dad promoted the idea and the practice of not complaining, not saying nasty things about people---even if they deserved it. Perhaps he felt no one deserved to be maligned, calumniated, defamed, slandered or libeled. I guess that covers the territory of all the badness one can do or say to or about others. Oh, and yes, I did forget negative criticism and gossip.

He had his ways of enforcing that outlook on his children. In my case, when I attempted to complain, he gave me “the look.” It was a tacit message to “say no more.” There were boundaries, and I had stepped over one of them. So I learned early not to complain---at least not in my dad’s presence. Perhaps that sounds harsh to say this type of behavior was enforced. I would say it was strict, not harsh. What he did was provide a strong guidance for developing virtue---as in good habits.

When Dad, on occasion, took us for a tasty treat to the Mayflower Doughnut Shoppe in Chicago, he made it a point to direct our attention to the large, colorful, wall poster that depicted a rotund baker stooping over to offer a little fellow a doughnut. The baker also offered the urchin this piece of advice: “As you ramble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut, not upon the hole.” Dad engaged us in conversation. “What do you think that means?” Through involving us in a discussion he was able to capture our interest and make us think.

Here he emphasized finding the good rather than the fault in other people and in life’s situations. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Don't take this to mean that Dad overlooked or didn't see the bad in some people. He just didn't talk about it, harp on it, or, in general, discuss it.

Now you may wonder, did my dad live up to these ideals? I would say he did. In fact, I would say he did so more than the average person. And I wish my track record were as good as his.

Don't you think the world would be a better place if all of us held our tongue and tried to bring out what is good in others?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Remembering Dad #11: Dad Took Us Places

We did lots of fun things with our dad. The majority of those things had to do with going places. So, I will just list as many of the places I can recall with a few tidbits that I remember, links where possible, and some apropos photos. We went so many places that I will have to subdivide these memories

The Playdium: This was a roller-skating rink and an indoor swimming pool that belonged to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Glenview, IL. Dad took us there often, either to skate or to swim. Fun, fun, fun! After searching the web I’ve concluded the place has closed. I’m sure it was too expensive for a parish to run in this day and age. http://www.merchantcircle.com/business/The.Playdium.Roller.Rink.847-724-6767/picture/gallery

The Museum of Science and Industry: We went there VERY often. This was an educational place to visit, and even in my childhood there was some “hands on,” although I wouldn’t call it interactive by today’s standards. Exhibits I remember well and never tired of were a miniature railroad on the main floor, a real coal mine, Yesterday’s Main Street, The Spirit of St. Louis airplane suspended from the ceiling, a human heart large enough to walk through and listen to the sound of the beating, an exhibit of human embryos that depicted uterine development throughout the 9 months of gestation, the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle, and a pendulum that hung from ceiling to floor in one of the stairways. I also liked the basement exhibit of photos of famous people. There was a machine that stamped a quarter (I think) into a museum souvenir. http://www.msichicago.org/whats-here/exhibits/coal-mine/

The Field Museum of Natural History: We went to the “Field” museum often. I loved seeing the dinosaur exhibit in the great hall. Next I enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit, especially the mummies. There was also a display of miniature rooms fully furnished. http://www.fieldmuseum.org/cleopatra/egypt.html

The Chicago Historical Society: This is the year of the Lincoln Bicentennial. Did you know that? For me this museum, near Lincoln Park, was not as exciting as the others. However, as I grew older I came to appreciate it more. In the main lobby there was a very large bust of Abraham Lincoln. People rubbed its nose, which, as a result, was very shiny. This is where I learned about the Columbian Exposition and the Great Chicago Fire. http://www.chicagohistory.org/

Grotto in Dickeyville, WI: This was a fascinating Catholic shrine that was made out of rocks and pieces of glass. It’s still there apparently. This website has some photos of parts of the shrine. I remember there being more to it. If you’re looking for a very unique place to visit, this is it! http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2242

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Remembering Dad #10: A Simple, Memorable Lesson about Racism


In the light of what has been happening lately concerning race relations in our country, I thought I'd repost this story, which I wrote about 7 years ago.  This, I think, is how parents can teach their children about any aspect of right and wrong.  It was a teachable moment.

This happened long ago, and it keeps coming to mind when I think about the social aspect of sin. During the hot, muggy summer days of my childhood in Chicago, my dad often would drive us out of the city to one of the lakes for a day of fun. This was before the days of air-conditioned cars and interstate highways. After an hour or so of driving on two lane highways we would invariably ask: "How much longer? Are we almost there?"

One time, when I was about nine years of age, dad said he would take us to a different lake. My brother, sister, and I were overjoyed when we arrived, and couldn't wait to race to the beach and jump into the refreshing water. Then suddenly Dad braked the car and said, "We can't swim here."

"Why not?" I complained.

"There's a sign that says this beach is restricted, Dad replied.

"What does that mean?" I continued.

"It means that Negro people aren't allowed to swim here."

"Well, we're not Negroes!!" I argued.

Dad insisted, "I won't support any place that puts restrictions on people because of their skin color." And off he drove with three wailing children in the back seat.

Happily, Dad did drive us to a different lake.  One that was open to all.

All of this happened in the early 1950s, well before the Civil Rights era of the 60s. In that simple way, my father took a stand and ultimately positively influenced my thinking, even though I was temporarily more than annoyed. He wasn't an activist, but he used his power for good.

Note:  I use the word "Negro" in a historical context in this post.  At the time of this incident, the term "Negro" was considered polite.  Martin Luther King, Jr. used the term to refer to his race in his "I Have a Dream" speech.  Nowadays it's more common to hear "Black," "African-american."