Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Thank You, S'ters! I Love You!

As I read this morning about the departures of the Dominican Nuns from Holy Rosary School in Duluth and the last Benedictine sister from the school in Pine City, I knew I had to finish a letter that I have been meaning to send for over five years. But I kept putting it off.

I would like to thank the Benedictine Sisters of the St. Scholastica Monastery (it will always be the “Villa Sancta Scholastica” or usually, just the “Villa” for me), their home, and the home of my now recently departed aunt, Sister Ann Edward, my Mom’s oldest sister, for the wonderful education I received from them.

I occasionally feel sorry for the children of today for the condition of their education, especially their religious education. I had twelve years of daily “indoctrination”, sometimes boring, sometimes interesting, sometimes edifying, and occasionally, I don’t want to be here. And in retrospect, life saving!

Life has had its ups and downs (most kids don’t discover that til they’re well into adulthood. At times I have observed the Ten Commandments, at times I had forgotten they existed. But I regularly encountered things that brought to mind what I was taught by those Sisters on brisk Autumn days, bone-chilling frigid Winter days and on warm Spring days (in Duluth, that would be only the last week of May) when we longed for recess or lunch so we could spring free to do our playing.

I don’t remember much at all about the games I played as a child, the things I collected, who my classmates were and even some of the teachers have faded from memory. My formal religious education ended at age 18. Now, years later I am continually amazed at how much I do remember. I can still recite the “Suscipiat” from my Altar Boy years and I remember half the words to the first verse of a lot of old hymns from the blue, thick St Gregory’s Hymnal, not to mention a bit of dogma, a catechism answer or two (did I tell you that I won the city-wide Catechism Contest one year) and a few tidbits about the Saints (in heaven only, the Villa’s college didn’t have sports teams in those days). And believe it or not, I can still read a bit of music that I was taught so I could sing those hymns, though not enough to go on any public or even private stage. My entire family is tone deaf!

I’ve read and learned a lot as an adult, and all of it was processed in the context of my learning at St. Anthony de Padua Grade School and the “old” Cathedral High School on Fourth Street, the one whose campus measured 1” by 250’, just enough for weeds. It is a great comfort to me that I haven’t forgotten my basic religious education and I often wonder how children who go to the occasional CCD class on Sundays are going to cope through life when the “downs” come.

Sometimes I have strayed, but it was those early years that eventually kept bringing me back.

Most of them are probably gone now, and I wouldn’t know some of them by their post Vatican II names. But in those days, the first name of all of them was “S’ter.” I still think fondly about friendly Sister Claudia who taught me in First Grade in her first year of teaching before she had even finished her college degree; Sister Mary Jean, who will always be “Sister Lawrence” to me, who taught me in Sixth Grade and high school English, where I won another city-wide prize for an essay; and Sister Mary Charles, my Seventh Grade teacher, who helped me create the only decent piece of art I have ever made in my life, a stained glass window out of butcher paper for a Christmas decoration for our piano window. Sister has moved way beyond that now, being nationally known for her beautiful and inspiring icons and other artwork.

The foggy recesses of memory and old yearbooks remind me of others: Sister Agnes Marie; Sister Jean Patrick; Sister Laurian; Sister Florence; Sister Rosalia, an older nun who actually had taught my Dad and who substituted one day and was the only person who ever tried to make me write with my right hand; Sister Macaria, who taught me Latin (I still love her great “Latin” joke that stumped us all — Toti Emul Esto. Email me if you know the answer. I’d love to hear from someone else who knows it). I think it was Sister Ramona who taught me typing in Twelfth Grade, which is perhaps the single most important, or at least helpful, skill that I have ever learned. I only got to 20 wpm in that class, but I did improve later. Sister Mary Daniel, along with my Dad, instilled in me a life-long love for history, of any kind.

Sister Noreen O’Connell, my Ninth Grade Homeroom teacher, also a French teacher, was a wonderful human being who had a reputation among the kids for being a bit “dizzy.” But she was the first person ever to call me aside to give me some life long advice (other than “study hard” and “stop fooling around”). Her advice was “Keep them laughing.” I haven’t always done it, but I’ve tried to. Sister was related to Ireland’s “Great Liberator”, Daniel O’Connell. I always wondered if Sister Philomene was upset when they kicked her name-Saint out of Heaven (I guess she’s been given a pardon, though). Sisters Imelda and Sheila tried to teach me higher mathematics, and I loved geometry and trigonometry, but higher algebra was “Arabic” to me.

Thank you, Sisters of the Villa. You did a great job. I apologize for not thanking you sooner.

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