I went to Catholic grade school. It was incredibly awesome. Surprised? I’ve heard so many despicable stories lately about the Catholic church, I thought I’d tell a good one.
I had not ONE bad experience at my grade school. That might be an exaggeration…once I wet my pants in first grade…so incredibly embarrassing. It involved paper mache Easter bunnies (that warm water!) and 8th grade helpers (those terrifying older kids!) I was too shy to ask to go. Another involves a kidnapping film shown to all of us in first grade. (Yes, first grade wasn’t so easy for me.) Another involves tripping over an AV cart and landing on my nose…4th grade.
Every Notre Dame sister I had (and I had all nuns) was a great teacher and so dedicated to doing her best. I learned about a loving God…there was no hell and damnation and fire and brimstone that I remember. We learned a lot about the Saints…and some of it scared me…those aren’t easy stories to tell…they could have made it slightly more age appropriate but the good stuf far outweighed the blood and gore. Compared to what kid’s see and hear on TV today it’s nothing.
Yes, we learned of sins…but not in some awful way like being stained with sin from birth, or that we were wretched souls awaiting judgment…but we did learn what sin was, and what it meant to be good and our Ten Commandments and how to be kind people. That was stressed more than ever…little ways to love our neighbor and to be kind to others no matter what. To appreciate what we had because so many people had less than us.
I learned perfection in handwriting…and perfection in neatness and organization and to read, read, read and write, write, write. Reports like crazy. Science and social studies, and math. Religion and art and music…big time, music. Spelling…oh, boy, spelling. With all of that, we fit in two recesses. And a nice long lunch and morning snack. Imagine that…we must be losing hours over the decades?
The school was located on gorgeous acres and acres of woods, and fields and orchards. It was connected right to the Mother House. We had to walk through a tunnel (this is from a child’s point of view…it felt like a tunnel but was really a large basement hallway) to get to church. We went to weekly Mass. We knew better to misbehave. I can hardly remember anyone ever getting in trouble. Really, we had high expectation put upon us and they were clear and we met them. If you talked you got a look and you shut up quick. Just a look is all it took. We were always walking in straight, quiet lines. We were not allowed to gawk at the nuns in the Mother House…we did though…it was like some giant mystery over there and we peeked every chance we got. We saw the nuns working in the laundry room, or the nurse nuns pushing wheelchairs. Exciting stuff, I guess?
We had amazing Christmas concerts. Beautiful. We prepared for weeks. I remember making hundreds and hundreds of beautiful glittery snowflakes and the auditorium was just transformed. We sung our heart out…whether you wanted to or not, you sang and gave it your all.
May Crowning…when we had a special ceremony, Mass and the crowning of Mary was one of my favorite traditions. We all had to gather as many flowers as we could from our gardens at home, and when you put the whole school’s together it was incredible. Someone was chosen to make the crown and to crown Mary and we had to dress up. And I mean dress up. There was no dress down days in our school…once or twice there was dress-up days and it was just as exciting. (For me at least….I’m sure the boys didn’t feel this way.)
We had a beautiful cafeteria and beautiful classrooms. Because WE kept them that way. Right before the afternoon prayer, the Sisters would make us straighten our desks, or wash them down with a bucket and a rag. We had to get down and pick up the tiniest scraps of paper off the floors. Every single tiny dot of paper. Wash and scrub. The janitors had it easy at our school, let me tell you. WE were expected to do the work, because we made the mess. A great way to show respect and teach responsibility. Those nuns were smart.
We were taught the way to do little things and do them right. For example, we were taught how to eat lunch neatly…spread your napkin, put your milk at the top left hand corner, set your lunch items on top of the napkin, respect other’s space, clean up our crumbs and garbage when finished. Have manners.
When we handed in homework, it better be on clean, neat, unwrinkled, wide-ruled, loose leaf notebook paper, and in pen. Our names had to be in cursive in the upper right hand corner. No exceptions. Of course.
We had separate playgrounds…the boys and the girls. It worked out well. No funny stuff. The boys played football…and the girls did too, if they wanted, just don’t cross over the line to the boy’s playground. They told us it was because the boy’s played way too rough and didn’t watch where they were going…part of the truth perhaps. We didn’t care…we just had fun. There was little boy/girl stuff even at the junior high level. Maybe today it’s different, but it was refreshing to not deal with the pressures back then. If you wore make-up, it was rumored that a Sister would take you in the bathroom and make you wash it off immediately with household cleanser. No colored nailpolish. I swear, I have no memory of anyone rebelling.
Outside, the nuns had a cider press. They would pick apples from the orchards in the fall and sell the gallons of cider. How cool is that? I still remember that smell from the corner of the playground of fresh ground apples.
Doesn’t it sound like heaven? It was a little piece, for me at least. I will always appreciate the sacrifice my parents made to send me, and I’ll always appreciate the incredible education the nuns gave me.