Tag Archives: catholic school memoir

Me vs. The O.S.B: The Grammar Grade

Fifth Grade at the CTK Catholic School meant one thing, The Eleventh Commandment. You know it, “Thou shalt not abuse the basic rules of grammar”. By God’s Grace or hours upon hours upon hours of work , you would know the basics of a sentence, you would know nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs and prepositional phrases and blah, blah, blah blah blah blah.

And fifth grade at the CTK meant English with Sister Verene. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Sr. Verene. She was awesome. She was (and I know this is nearly impossible to believe) a nice human being who liked kids, but she was also perhaps the most insect-like human being I have known. She was a small, nervous creature. She had a skinny, pointed face. Her small hands were always in motion, grasshopper-like in concerted movements with her metallic voice.  Of course, this could maybe be the faded memory of a boy of the 1970’s, who maybe watched too many Saturday morning sci-fi monster movie marathons, but I digress. Sr. Verene plain, straight out LOVED grammar. It was her vocation. Most of the other nuns probably prayed rosaries and such, but I am pretty sure Sr. Verene broke down grammatical errors in the Roman Missal and diagrammed the Bible as her contemplation.

I know this is a major surprise to my wife (a.k.a The Grammar Police), my editors at MuseItUp Publishing, my former players and fellow coaches, but at one time (5th grade) this backward, redneck speaking (yeah, that’s speakin’) bubba boy  was a minor grammar god. I was mesmerized by the science of it all and drawn into the world of grammar by Sr. Verene. We diagrammed sentences like madmen. I would even volunteer to go to the board to diagram sentences. The best time was when Sr. Verene set up elimination-style speed diagramming tournaments. She was too cool.

Do people still diagram sentences in school? I don’t think they do it anymore. Too bad, it helped me. I should pull out the old grammar books and brush up on my sentence diagramming. It has to be like riding a bike, you never quite forget how to do it. Maybe it will make a comeback and become an Olympic sport someday, who knows?


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Best Day Ever

I went to Catholic school. Taught by the nuns of the  Order of Saint Benedict (O.S.B). The nuns of the O.S.B. were the very pillar of old-school Catholicism. Full black battle gear with rosary bead belts, shiny black boots, and a seemingly physical inability to smile in the absence of parents.

Pro discipline, duty, corporal punishment, and evoking fear in children.

Anti smiles, happiness, liberal thinking and smart-assness.

They ruled with an iron fist (or thin side of a yardstick, or cane, or crutch…whatever was within reach). This is the story of the greatest day ever. Great day for us boys, but a day of infamy for the O.S.B.

Fr. John was new at the school and the church. He was junior associate pastor, which meant he did all the duties the pastor and the associate pastor didn’t want to do. He was young and he was educated. Besides being a priest, I think he had advanced degree in psychology.  Now, none of us 8th graders knew anything about psychology (Heck, I doubt half of us could even spell it.). But, we did know anything ending in  -ology was not to be totally and completely trusted.

That particular afternoon, we were at the church for a religious education session with Fr. John. It was a classic Catholic school session on SIN. Fr. John gave a masterful presentation on mortal and venial sin.  The retired O.S.B sat in the front pew, the classes spread out in pews behind them and, although each was class supervised by their respective teacher, we could feel the retired nuns “watching” the crowd.

It was a long-standing belief, backed by volumes of empirical evidence, that many of the O.S.B had an extra eye in the back of their head. I personally experienced this extra visual sensory organ in a fourth-grade incident when 70+-year-old Sister Johanna trapped a friend of mine in a corner and was laying on him a verbal assault of biblical proportion. I stood several feet behind her, pointing and making faces at my poor friend, when a blind, behind-the-back slap landed square on the side of my head, almost knocking me down for the count. The O.S.B were no BS.

Fr. John finished his session on sin and we knew we were about to be set free with the wrap up prayer. I was already mentally preparing my recess basketball game when two spots down from me the unspeakable happened. One of our class clowns, a smart-ass extraordinaire, raised his hand to ask a smartass question. He just couldn’t leave well enough alone. We were halfway to recess, what was he thinking? Fr. John acknowledged the hand up with a “Yes, son?”. The heads of the O.S.B snapped around to find the raised hand.

Young smart ass stood up, grinned at us as we rapidly slid away from him in the pew,  and asked the loaded question,”Father John. Is cussing a venial or a mortal sin?”

The line of the O.S.B relaxed in their front pew. A crack of a smile broke through the stone facade on one or two of them. This was an easy one for Father John, they thought, it was a softball lobbed over the middle of the plate for the young priest.  All was good.

Thank God for psychology, for what came next was totally unexpected and turned a normal, bland day into a miraculous one.

“Neither.” Said Fr. John. The O.S.B. collectively cringed in their seats. The students snapped to attention. Game on.

Smartass was as shocked as the rest of us. “You mean it’s not a sin?”

“No. Cursing and bad language is more a sign of ignorance than an act of sin.”

Smartass was stupefied. For the first time in eight years of school, he was speechless.

Fr. John asked the stunned crowd if there were any other questions. There were none. So he led us on a final prayer and dismissed us. I floated out of the church on cloud nine. The O.S.B sat frozen in totally disbelief. This ordinary day had suddenly, miraculously transformed into the BEST DAY EVER. Why?

I was longer going to hell for poor language choices!

I was just going to be an idiot!



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