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.

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