Click! My Catholic School Report Card

At St. Charles School in the mid 1960s, Father Foley, our parish pastor, came into our classroom to hand out the report cards. He said the same thing every year:

You know, children, I look at these report cards Sister prepared so carefully for you, and the very first thing I look at is what? Can you guess? Deportment. Oh, you might do fine work in math and music, but what the Lord is watching for is deportment, how you conduct yourself as a son or daughter of Christ.

Here, there is a long pause while Father Foley rifles through the report cards looking for a bad seed. Father then hands us our report cards on by one. We stand for his blessing. We curtsy or bow. Father glides out. Sister lets out a sigh she does not know we can hear. Is it gratitude he is gone, or gratitude he graced our presence? Sister deferred to Father Foley. She was coy. She was reverential. She fanned the flame of the little priest’s power. It was embarrassing. My role model, the one woman who made the world make sense–how I hated seeing her upstaged.

I like to imagine it this way: Father turns to Sister, asks if the class has been on its best behavior, demonstrating deportment worthy of the seraphim? Sister turns to the little priest and says,

With all due respect, Father, get a clue! They’re kids, so their hygiene is irredeemable, their attention spans naught, their budding libidos tiresome. Mine is no job for the faint of heart. I attempt no less than to bring civilization to these little people each day. First there is math, then science, then the catechism, then literature, then penmanship. After that, I pop back a sandwich while I watch this same brood eat their lunches. Then I spend 45 minutes walking around the playground. Kids hang on my habit. I break up fights. I get ice for loose teeth and sprained ankles. Then, when the school day is done and the angels are on the buses, I clean my classroom, attempt some grading, rush back to the convent to prepare dinner for 20 nuns, half of whom are geriatric, all before evening Mass. Did I mention, Father, that I do not get paid? As in money. I get none. I get a room in the convent with a single bed and a crucifix on the wall. I get my food. I get my habits and shoes. No money.

You get money, Father, don’t you? You live in that Victorian across the yard. And, Father, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t that a new Fairlane 500 you are driving? After our little meeting here, Father, you can toddle back to the rectory for the fine lunch your housekeeper prepared–damn, one housekeeper per priest. For the love of God, Father, can you begin to imagine how angry I am? Wonder with me for a moment now, Father: If the good Lord were to visit our parish today and give it a report card, what would the deportment grade be? And that’s the most important grade, as you said–as you say every single bloody year. What would Jesus do with our deportment, how we deport ourselves in relation to each other? Father, it’s no secret: He’d have a bird. Let the truth be told: Jesus would have a bird.

No such speech would have occurred to me as a girl growing up in St. Charles, but the seeds were there. Witnessing Sister, and the other women who taught me about dignity and honesty and goodness, reduced to handmaidens to men like Father Foley,  felt confusing at best, yucky at worst. I looked away, read my Nancy Drew under my desk until it was over. And something inside bloomed.

Photo by Flickr user pjern, under license from Creative Commons 2.0

This post is a part of the Feminist Coming Out Day week-long blog carnival.

Comments

  1. natalie wilson says:

    Great Click piece! Takes me back to my own Catholic school days — who knew all those scratchy uniforms would create so many ardent feminists???
    Your piece also reminds me of Doubt and the way that play/film so brilliantly portrays the priest/nun/child hierarchy.
    Thanks for writing this post!

  2. ROXANNE LOGET says:

    is that the same "father" foley who sexually abused so many, many children for decades & that the church covered for & obfuscated for decades?

  3. Carol King says:

    Beautiful depiction of life in a Catholic school. Father Pomponi (pompous Pomponi) distributed our report cards and we were graded on "Courtesy." Like you, I looked up to the nuns – had to, I was very small and they were huge in those habits – and didn't like the priest coming into our class to take over. He didn't belong there – teaching was the nuns' job.

  4. I contribute to the various retirement funds of the religious orders who taught me in Catholic school but not a cent to the church any longer. My Dallas diocese just gave money to Heroic Media – the right-wing group that have those obnoxious bulletin boards. When I saw that the diocese did that was when I decided no more money for the church.

  5. Melissa Davenport says:

    Excellent. Stories from religious educational institutions of the past never cease to amaze me, having been brought up with almost no exposure to religion at all. I wonder how similar the current experience is.

  6. Bryan ONeil says:

    Hey Donna

    Know exactly how you feel. Went to an all Boys Prep School. We had weekly food fights and you would not want to see my report report card. We also had Weekly NOW (National Organiztion of Women) meetings for all the day studends who were the female persuation.

    Feel the Love

    Dr. Royal Dude

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