If you grew up in the 1950s and went to a Catholic grade school, there probably isn’t a one of us who doesn’t recall, with trepidation, a nun who was – to be kind – a holy terror.
My nemesis was Sister Raphael, fourth grade at St. Wendelin’s in Pittsburgh. She terrified us with her demeanor and actions, some of which would probably garner a call to the cops today. For whatever reason, maybe deserved, she seemed to always go after the boys. I remember one time she whacked my buddy, little Johnny Kozar, so hard over the knuckles with a ruler that the school nurse could hardly stop the bleeding. By the way little Johnny Kozar is now Father John Kozar.
I had avoided sister’s wrath until late in the school year when one day I just must have looked in the wrong direction and she picked up her desk alarm clock and hurled it at me in the back of the room. I ducked; it missed and crashed into the wall breaking into little bitty pieces. That really ticked her off.
Now that I have that finally off my chest I must say the other nuns who taught me were just wonderful, great teachers, mentors and, when needed, a third parent. I got a darn good education at a good school and made friends and memories that last to this day. And to Sister Raphael’s credit I admit that I live in fear should I do something grossly wrong she will return to Earth and, justifiably, beat the living daylights out of me.
Today of course nuns are increasingly in short supply and most Catholic school classes are taught by lay teachers.
Still nuns around the world are doing good things – God’s work if you will.
They work with the poor, downtrodden and sick. In some countries they live among danger but continue to do what their strong beliefs tell them they have to do. But the all-male leadership just doesn’t get it and is increasingly out of touch with reality. Recently, The Vatican sent a damning letter to the organization that oversees about 80 per cent of American nuns, accusing them of worrying too much about the poor and discriminated and not enough about restrictive church orthodoxy on gays and abortion. Really, is that what Jesus had in mind? Cracking down on nuns is a no-win proposition for the church. But you can bet your last dollar in the offering basket that the out-of-touch male leaders of the church will fight to their dying breaths to crack down on anyone who stands up to them, especially a Catholic. A Bishop has been put in charge of delivering this message and taking care of business. Now I really wish Sister Raphael was still alive, because I can tell you what she would do with her copy of the memo.
Then there is the case of the “grave, immoral sinner” Emily Herx, the recently fired teacher in Fort Wayne. In a move that could not be cleaned up by a team of marketing agents, she was fired because she and her husband tried to get pregnant using fertility treatments. The Diocese may not lose the lawsuit but they have already lost a lot in the court of public opinion.
My church is as much a part of my life as the air I breathe, but I am having an increasingly difficult time rationalizing the priorities of its leadership.A few good women, I think, would make a big difference.