Nuns were a big part of my life for the eight years I attended Catholic school in a neighborhood in Philadelphia called Manayunk. At St. John the Baptist, we were taught by Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM).
I loved the sisters. I must have really believed that they were the brides of Christ. They were so beautiful, and the habits!
Some, it’s true, I loved less than others. Sister Florine, whose veins popped up and down like the hammers inside the piano when she played, whacked my delicate six-year-old fingers with a pointer every time one of them missed its mark.
Sister Thomas Kathleen, my first grade teacher, precipitated the only spanking I ever got from my father. Sister called my mother one day and told her I needed fixing. She said, “I’ve seated her next to every girl in the class, (there were fifty-four of us) and there isn’t one she won’t talk to. I finally put her in the seat next to my desk, and now she talks to me.”
When I crept into our house, my mother would only say, “Wait till your father gets home.”
In third grade, Sister Celeste pulled my hair during an exercise in addition because I was carrying the remainder to the wrong place, alongside the number in the tens column, instead of on top of it.
And my eighth grade nun, Sister Magdelena Marie, was just plain mean to me.
As for the rest of the nuns who taught me–I adored them– especially after I read The Nun’s Story, in fifth grade, and decided I had a vocation.
I jettisoned that notion when I moved on to Girl’s High, saw a film on the Holocaust, and decided I didn’t believe in God anymore. Furthermore, I concluded that the Catholic church suppressed both women and the poor. I thought what a clever trick it was to promise, “You’ll get your reward in heaven.”
Nonetheless, my fondness for nuns remained. And I grew to respect them enormously. In Philadelphia, Sister Mary Scullion, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, has worked tirelessly to aid the homeless and mentally ill. Is there a person alive who hasn’t heard of Sister Helen Prejean’s work with death row criminals? I hardly have to mention Mother Theresa.
Nuns are everywhere in the world, making life better for the poor, homeless, under-served populations that governments have abandoned. They get right in there with those the rest of us pretend not to notice. Is there a job too dirty or demeaning for a nun?
So, along with countless others, I’m appalled that the Vatican has had the audacity, the temerity, the shameless lack of awareness to disparage nuns. The Pope and his minions claim that nuns are radical feminists, as if that were a terrible thing. These are the same guys, mind you, who’ve been busy protecting pedophiles at the expense of countless sexually abused children.
The big boys in Rome want less talk about social justice, and more about the important issues of abortion and marriage as defined by the Church. Shut up and shill, is the message, but the nuns aren’t running scared.
Some nuns are fighting back. In fact, they’ve taken their show on the road. Fourteen of them are touring nine states on a bus. They’re chastising Ryan and the Republicans for making life harder for the poor and marginalized, the conveniently invisible among us. Let’s join our voices with theirs.