My first run-in with nuns happened when my birth mother showed up at the Good Shepard Home in Hartford Ct. The Sisters of Mercy were in charge. They looked like penguins then. Imagine a newborn trying to get the looking, keeping the head up and general development stuff together with a penguin feeding you and changing your diaper. The nuns handed me off to my adoptive parents who handed me back at five years old. They were still penguins only the size relationship was more apparent. They were bigger than I was and in charge. They exerted their authority over me by the occasional thwack on the back of the head when I was thinking of important things rather than math or religion. They allowed me to strike the palm of my left hand repeatedly with a half-inch thick ruler because I wasn’t “in” the class in spirit. They let me walk around school with wet corduroys because they were tired of answering my questions and ignored my raised hand pleading for a trip to the facilities or the basement as we called it. That also got a note pinned to my shirt and the implication that urine could, under the right condition, corrupt human flesh. The corporal punishment gave way to psychological warfare. Convincing me that the subversive thoughts I was fostering were a direct path to Hell.
It wasn’t all bad. The nuns liked my writing, I showed talent. I also had a knack for history and trying to find the backstory. One of the nuns, the one I had in fourth grade lent out Pogo books for good performance in class. I don’t think she grasped the fact that some of the students, like me, would grasp the subversive nature of the strip. It molded me.
They wanted me. I was a mediocre student and squeaked out of ninth grade. My father, the nuns and Father Quinn arranged for me to attend St Thomas Aquinas High School. I went to take the entry test and Father Quinn came into the room. He took me to is office. All he said was “See you in September.” I broke the chains and went to public school and my reeducation was complete. I didn’t make it into college. I did make it into the Air Force. When I got out I attended community college in hopes of getting into a four year school. There were nuns there. Young ones. Not the dried up spinsters who had dedicated their lives to God but young women with questions and restrictions. The penguin suit was gone and it was replaced by more casual look. a while later they were given the option of uniform or conservative civilian dress. An eye opener.
I was getting older. I looked at women in general differently than in my teens. I was approaching my early thirties. I’d been in the belly of industrial America, in and out of college, again. All of the nascent movements of the Sixties were taking a more practical form. The nuns had left the cloister of being teachers and stepped into the Civil Rights Movement, Immigration Reform and political areas that they wouldn’t have dared think about during our first encounter. The nuns I met in school were close to my age. Even though most dressed kind of conservatively, a few wore jeans and weren’t afraid to mix in discussions. I was attracted to a few. I enjoyed having coffee with them, sometimes swapping Catholic school war stories, a loot were victims former students. I would be lying if I said that in the back of my brain, in that really, really dark part I didn’t harbor at least one fantasy. But I let them go.
Priests get the credit in the Catholic church for moving parishes and keeping the religion alive. That’s nonsense. The nuns are the ground troops. They teach, are frequently the face of the Church in causes. Some have left a calling that they believed to be Godsent because the men in charge of their religion have determined that it was their way or the highway. Some have left for love, getting married to a mortal is bigamy when you’ve already married God. Some haven’t moved into the twenty first century, I respect that.
One last really odd and slightly twisted bit: Pregnant nuns, yep if you go to one of those sites that you wouldn’t admit knowing about, you’ll find a photo of an attractive, made up, pregnant nun in a penguin suit. This is accompanied by a story about what goes on in the convent after hours. I found and read some stories like that in a point of my life when real female companionship was unavailable. It was unbelievable then and totally out of the question now. I won’t say there aren’t exceptions but ya know.
On 4/15 I read that the new Pope is taking to company line and cracking down on U.S. nuns who look to an enlightened view on homosexuality and other social issues. You would think a Jesuit would look to make an outreach or try to repair a misguided view of people who are on the fringe. To quote the Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” And the church why people are leaving. If you can’t adapt, you die.

See you tomorrow.