By Bob O'Connor
Last week I met with a group of old classmates to plan for our upcoming 50th anniversary of graduating from St. Martin Catholic School in South Buffalo. We did more drinking than planning and had a grand time reminiscing about the nuns and priests who traumatized us for nine years back in the 1960s.
I had forgotten so many of the stories including the one where one a poor sister tried to break up a fight and got punched in the head. Maybe we were the ones doing the traumatizing.
I told everyone about my terror in Sister Bernadine’s history class. Every time it was my turn to read from the text, the guy behind me would lean in and start humming “Yankee Doodle Dandy” until I would shake with laughter. The old nun would storm down the aisle and beat me mercilessly with a wooden pointer, telling me to stop my impudence. To this day, I hate that damn song.
A lot has changed in five decades. In our time, the nuns had everything covered but their faces and they traveled in pairs. They were like mythical creatures who appeared in our class each morning, then disappeared when school was out. You never saw them in local restaurants or picking up bread and milk at the Super Duper. They entered their big brick convent at dusk and didn’t emerge until dawn, like giant vampire bats.
The priests, on the other hand, were like gods. We would jump to attention when they entered our classroom. We would sit in rapt attention as they told us about heaven and hell and we were all aware that only they had the power to forgive our sins. These guys determined our fate for all eternity.
If you ticked off a man of the cloth, you could be dancing with Satan in a fiery disco forever and ever.
When the good father was done scaring the holy poop out of us, some teacher’s pet would raise her hand (it was always a girl) and ask for a blessing. We would all fall to our knees while the man would call upon God himself to have his blessing “descend upon us and remain with us forever.” Now that was mojo.
I remain a practicing Catholic, though I am far from devout and even farther from pious. Back in the late ’70s, my fiancée and I made the obligatory visit to a local pastor to discuss the sacrament of matrimony; I got into a theological discussion with the old curmudgeon, while my girlfriend looked on in shock.
At one point the priest stated he was not sure I should be married in his church. “Your church?” I fumed. “This is as much my church as yours and being a priest does not make you more Catholic than I!” I was 24 years old.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and the good father agreed to “allow” us to marry in the church. After the ceremony, I invited him to the wedding reception. He looked at me like I asked him if he wanted drop a little acid. He declined and I never saw him again.
I thought about this as I read about the most recent sexual misconduct allegations against area priests. Two of the accused priests taught me in high school and a third grew up around the corner from me.
These men are no more the Catholic Church than a crooked politician is the United States of America. It is our church, not theirs.
Bob O’Connor, of Hamburg, recalls the sting of beatings with a wooden pointer in Catholic school.