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Cavanaugh: Catholic school days remembered
Thoughts of a Baby Boomer
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Recently reading about all of our local graduates brought back some of my fond memories of my days at old St. Mary's in Annapolis, Md.
The order of nuns who taught us there was called the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and they wore those big black habits that only allowed their face to show.
The greatest mystery for a first or second grader in those days was how did the nuns always know who was talking when they were writing on the blackboard and you were in the back row.
I can still hear Sister Marie in the first grade without a flinch and without turning around to look, admonishing me, saying "Paddy Cavanaugh, if I hear your mouth open again, we will take a visit to the cloak room (I still don't know why they called it the cloak room), and Mr. Ruler and I will tan your behind."
Wow! I mean, that was a powerful threat, and it was not an idle one.
I learned much later, after many visits with Mr. Ruler, that you were never to go home and tell your parents that you had a visit with him, because more than likely you would then have a visit from Mr. Belt at home.
Because of my experience with Sister Marie, I believed with all of my heart that all nuns had eyes in the back of their heads.
As a result of this belief, I found it easy to believe in Santa Claus until I was 14.
The next remembrance I have was in the third grade. There, I came under the guidance of Sister Gerard, who was only about 4-feet 2-inches tall and had been teaching for 50 years.
In Sister Gerard's room, there was a medicine cabinet. If you ever scraped or bruised yourself, you were sent to Sister Gerard, and she fixed you up.
Sister Gerard was very strict about your doing your homework, and every day she would go from desk to desk asking questions from your homework assignment. If you didn't have the answer, she would pop you upside the back of your head. The boy in front of me was so scared of this action that he wet himself at least three times a week. As a result he was forever known as Pee-Pee Smith.
Make no mistake, Sister Gerard was a compassionate person, but I have to admit that even at a young age I figured out how to take advantage of that compassion.
When I didn't have my catechism studied, I would raise my hand and tell Sister Gerard that I had a headache. She would then rub some kind of hot stuff on my forehead and have me rest my head on a towel on my desk.
If you used this maneuver, she would always skip over you, and of course, I received no pop in the back of the head, which I can assure you really did give you a headache.
Don't feel that I got away with much. I received my share of pops for other reasons throughout the year.
Sister Delia was a nun I was truly afraid of. I managed to miss her class until the eighth grade, my last year in grade school.
Sister Delia was a stern-looking, no nonsense type of person. She took no prisoners.
Backed by the stories my classmates told of her, starting the eighth grade with her as my teacher I thought was a punishment worse than being taught by Attila the Hun.
But something strange happened. Sister Delia took a liking to me and I quickly became her pet.
One of the greatest jobs you could do in the eighth grade was to be able to ring the bell, which was the signal to end recess, start school, change classes and end school.
The power that it put in your hands was overwhelming.
We had to draw from a hat every two months to see what type of job we would get. Jobs like hall monitors or lunch line monitors were all positions of power. But to control the bell was the ultimate power.
For some mysterious reason, my name was drawn to ring the bell almost every time.
I lived about 30 miles out in the country. We only had one car at that time and my father worked in Washington. He didn't get home until about 6 p.m.
I rode a bus to and from school, so it was an extreme hardship for my folks to come to town and pick me up if I was ever detained.
Sure enough, one time, even though I was the pet, I was detained.
Since my parents couldn't pick me up until after 6 p.m., Sister Delia took me home to the convent, the sacred mystery of mysteries, the inner sanctum.
I was ushered into a big parlor and met a kindly round-faced nun whom I had never seen in public. She had an apron on and came out and brought me the biggest and best oatmeal cookies I had ever eaten, and a big glass of the coldest milk.
As I sat there in wonderment of being in a house that most of my classmates had only talked about in hushed whispers, the nuns came down to go to dinner, and on the way, one-by-one they stopped and smiled and treated me like I was the king of the school.
I was in heaven.
My parents came to retrieve me, and my mom asked Sister Delia not to keep me after school again because it was such a hardship on the family.
There was no way I was going to be deprived of those cookies and those joys of being the king. I found many more times to be mischievous, and I ate many more cookies, and soon at home, Mr. Belt graduated to Mr. Restriction.
I loved Sister Delia. Still, I don't think she was my parents' favorite, though.
When I was in high school, in the 10th grade for the second time (again, another story someday), we had an annual religious retreat and we would have to go over to church and for three days we would learn more about our faith, attend mass and have the dreaded lecture about sex.
In those days, I have no doubt in my mind that everyone who was in the 10th grade at St. Mary's High School was a virgin.
When it was time for the dreaded sex talk, they separated the boys and girls. And proceeded to lecture us on the virtues of being celibate.
The sister who was in charge of our home room that year was Sister Georgina. She could have played linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. She was about 6-feet 4-inches, and with that black habit she looked like a giant.
My friend Bobby Orme, who was a big boy himself, and I sat together for the great sex lecture. And every time the priest said something that we didn't want to hear, we giggled and punched each other and stirred up the rest of the boys and actually started enjoying ourselves.
When the lecture was over and we were walking down the hall back to our classroom, we were rather proud of ourselves. Then all hell broke loose. Bobby all of sudden was flying through the air. I found myself pressed up against the wall by the biggest, baldest creature I had ever seen. My God, when I could see clearly, it was Sister Georgina, who was draining the life out of me. We didn't know that she had been sitting in the last pew observing our antics.
My friend Bob was cowering on the floor as Sister Georgina towered over me. My eyes were so big I'm sure she saw completely into my soul. She shouted in the loudest of voices that I am sure shook the whole school, "If you two clowns think you are going to make a shambles of this retreat like you did last year, you have another thought coming."
She was right; we didn't have another thought.
The next day Bob sat on one side of Sister Georgina with his catechism book and I sat on the other side with my rosary, two of the most perfect angels that you would have ever seen.
I think Sister Georgina left the order after that year and became a wrestler or something.
I loved my School Sisters of Notre Dame. I owe everything to them today.

T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. He can be reached at