Dear LA Dodgers: Here Are Some Sisters Who Really Deserve to Be Honored
Here’s how the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth touched my heart and changed my world.
Last night, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence took the stage at Dodger Stadium, purportedly to receive an award from the Dodgers’ management for their role as “community heroes” who have generously given of their time and energy in “public service.” In reality, as many reasonable citizens have pointed out, the “Sisters” are a group of cross-dressing men who mock religious sisters while engaged in offensive, sexualized and blasphemous conduct.
How do the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence compare to real religious sisters, who have devoted their lives to Christ? For starters, of course, real sisters do not engage in blasphemous performances; instead they teach children how to add and subtract, diagram a sentence, pray, and be kind to their neighbors. They comfort the sick in hospitals and senior centers. They offer food and other resources through community centers in cities across the nation.
For me, I recall especially the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, an order who had their motherhouse in Pittsburgh and who taught at the Catholic elementary and high schools I attended in southeastern Michigan. That was more than a few years ago, and I’m sure many of the sisters I knew have gone to their eternal reward. I’d like to thank a few of them by name.
Thank you, Sister Mary Amabilis. Sister Amabilis was my first grade teacher. There were 64 baby-boomer children in her crowded classroom, desks closely spaced, coats doubled up on the coat hooks, with only one teacher and no teachers’ aides; and yet we learned. Our parents — who sacrificed to send us to Catholic school, believing we would receive a superior education — were not disappointed. Sister Amabilis was never too busy to answer a question or to offer praise for a correct answer. She carried a pointer and a piece of chalk, quizzing us on the alphabet and teaching us to pray with our hands together, thumbs crossed and fingers pointing toward heaven. When the 5-year-old me got lost — forgetting whether my class sat on the left side of the church or the right — and had to sit with the second-graders at daily Mass, Sister Amabilis found me and welcomed me back to her brood.
Thank you, Sister Mary Gracille. Sister Gracille was my teacher in both second and fourth grades. That meant that she was responsible for preparing me and the others in our class for three sacraments: for our first Confession and first Holy Communion, which we received in second grade, and for Confirmation, which at the time was administered in fourth grade. She guided us through the Baltimore Catechism.
Thank you, Sister Mary Richard. Sister Richard was the principal, and she had a boy’s name, so I was afraid of her. In reality, though, she administered the school well. I think she also taught third grade, although I was not in her classroom.
Thank you, Sister Mary Georgia. Even back then, she seemed so old to me — her face wrinkled, her shoulders hunched. I’m sure Sister Georgia has gone to her eternal reward, but did I ever really thank her for all the time she devoted to us? Sister Georgia introduced us to history and to some really cool artistic techniques.
Thank you, Sister Mary Patricia. Sister Patricia taught music at the high school level. I was so shy in those years, and she insisted that I couldn’t sing under my breath but had to stretch to reach the high notes. She was a forceful presence in the classroom — sharing humorous stories about her own youth, her long strides as she crossed the classroom emphasizing her points.
Thank you, Sister Mary Gabriel. In contrast to Sister Patricia’s exuberant style, Sister Gabriel was quiet and serene. She taught high school French, which actually comes in handy sometimes when I encounter a new word and can break down its parts to understand its meaning. It definitely did not come in handy when I actually traveled to France, because they talk so fast and I’d learned so little, so long ago. Still, I am grateful for what Sister Gabriel was able to pack into my brain.
Thank you, Sister Mary Simplicia. Sister Simplicia made simple the world of home economics. I confess, I no longer iron in long steady strokes as she taught; but thanks to her, I can sauté and poach and blanch and sear and create a roux. It was in her class that I had my only experience with a sewing machine.
Thank you, Sister Mary Sophia. She taught science — and I was a lover of words, not a lover of math and science, so I was intimidated by the things going on in her science lab. Under Sister Sophia’s tutelage, I did manage to pass Biology, though, so there’s that.
Thank you, Sister Mary Bonaventure. Oh, poor Sister Bonaventure, how the students teased you — calling you “Bonnie” behind your back. You were faithful to your mission and to all of us.
Thank you, Sister Mary Virgiline. Sister Virgiline was our soft-spoken high school principal, gloved in velvet, not iron. She’d visit our classrooms personally when there was news to share, when we needed encouragement, when she wanted to thank us for a job well done.
Thank you, Sister Mary Edward. Of all the Sisters who taught me, more than any, it was Sister Edward who shaped my life in a concrete way. Sister Edward was the journalism moderator, and it was she who pulled me out of the classroom to ask whether I’d join the staff of the school newspaper, The Cabrin. It was there that I met (woo hoo!) my future husband, and there that I formed lifelong friendships. My husband Jerry was co-editor of The Cabrin in his senior year; I was editor the following year, walking away from high school with a special “Journalist of the Year” trophy. Sister Edward, in addition to cracking the whip and getting us inexperienced writers to meet the printer’s deadline, taught the essentials of good writing: how to craft a lede, put the heavy details in the first sentence, then explain in greater depth in the story. How to sharpen text, using a strong verb and remaining, where possible, in the active tense. She demonstrated the difference between a news story and a feature. Under her tutelage, we learned layout and always faced photos toward the center of the page.
I’m pretty sure, despite this long list, that I’m forgetting someone who touched my heart and changed my world. Some were strict, some wore smiles more than they did frowns; but all were trying to help us to understand the Faith and its meaning in our lives. They were stalwart, dedicated to helping us grow in knowledge and virtue and faith. Some achieved that noble goal with smiles and hugs, others with a ruler; but always, with affection. I may not list here all of the sisters who influenced me long ago, but God knows. May he welcome them, the brides of Christ, to an eternity in his presence.
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Folk singer Michael Smith remembers, too. Here, one of my favorite folk songs: “Sister Clarissa.”