In Plymouth, Massachusetts, where my family moved when I was five, my brother Jay and I first attended Sacred Heart School, a parochial school run by the Sisters of Divine Providence. The school buildings have been sold and re-purposed, but I recall them as vividly as yesterday – a long asphalt driveway that ran up a hill between a large, dark brown clapboard, two story building and a white building of the same size, curving around into a parking lot behind the brown building. The brown building held the classrooms, while the white building was the nuns’ home and had the chapel where Mass was held on First Fridays.
Mom was Catholic and Dad was not, but since my mother grew up being taught by nuns in a Catholic school and had what she described as a truly good education, she was resolved we would be taught by nuns, too. My brother got to go to the new school in Kingston when he entered, which is where Sacred Heart School is still located today.
My memories of my classes there are a bit fragmented, since I only attended through the second grade, but they were run with military precision by the nuns. In those days the Sisters of Divine Providence wore long black habits with veils, and wide, round, stiffly starched collars and forehead pieces to which veils were attached. A large wooden rosary served as a belt.
I don’t think I was the best of students. I remember climbing on the rocks surrounding the parking lot, pretending to be a circus performer and falling during one of my aerial feats. The nun who tended to my bleeding knee clucked about being more careful and not daydreaming. The nun whom no students wanted to encounter was Sister Mary Paraclete, the Mother Superior. With bushy grey eyebrows (that is all you could see of hair), a gray thin mustache, and a stern look, you knew you were in trouble if you were called to see her. I liked to talk during class, and one day, despite a stern warning from my second grade teacher, I kept chatting with the girl in the next desk and was caught. It was decided my punishment would be to sit in the kindergarten class for half a day and read to them. Sitting in the tiny kindergarten desks and having all of the little kids staring at you (of course it was explained to them why we were there) was a terrible punishment and shut me up for the remainder of the year. I had to see Sister Mary Paraclete when our banishment from our class was over, and I remember being so frightened of her that I was nearly sick. There were some little girls that were her favorites, however, and one day one of them was marched around in a tiny nun’s habit. I always wondered if that girl became a nun.
In any event, at the end of second grade, my parents told me that they were going to send me to public school the next year. I think it had to do with finances, and they figured that Jay would really need the nuns. So the following fall, I found myself sitting in a third grade classroom at in Burton, one of the two school buildings that made up Cornish-Burton Elementary. They were old even then. To be continued…