Friday, January 30, 2009

Mary, Queen of Victory, pray for us!

This is me in the 5th grade (1975).
Nice hair!

We just finished up Catholic Schools Week! And a saintly week it was. I kicked it off at St. Ann's in Prairie Village, then St. George had a snow day, so we rescheduled. We rocked the gym at Holy Cross in Overland Park, and finished with a rousing version of "This Little Light of Mine" at St. Regis in Kansas City.

This week brings me back to my roots, as I am a product of Catholic education. 17 years! It's true. Kindergarten through eighth grades at St. Peter's, Rockhurst High School, and Marquette University. (I suffered through one semester at University of Missouri - Columbia and, well, let's just say that going to school with 25,000 other kids wasn't for me. And I did my master's at University of New Mexico, so I have a little "public" in me.)

With the Catholic Education I got the guitar masses, uniforms, getting out of school to serve funerals, and nuns. We were taught by the Sister's of Mercy at St. Peter's -- which always cracks me up. Mercy, right? Like, they're supposed to live it and dispense it as Christ did. I swear my scalp is permanently tattooed (I can see it now that I'm balding) from where Sr. Jean used to tap the ball-point of her pen into my head. (Sr. Jean was an awesome English teacher and generally very cool, but that pen hurt.)

When I started kindergarten in the late 60's, the nuns all wore habits -- a couple of them in the full Blues-Brothers-Penguin garb, most in veils. By the time we graduated in the late 70's most of them had kicked the habit and transformed into groovy progressive nuns. Sr. Damien and St. Johanna were our principals, and both very cool. Sr. Colette was a sweet, old rebel-rouser -- always pulling a wagon full of food for the poor and rallying for some cause. Sr. Cecilia-Marie taught my sisters and subbed in my class a couple of times, which was enough to scare me. There was another nun who was about seven feet tall, but nobody seemed to know her real name. We just called her Sr. Jolly Green Giant. (We were so polite.)

If you forgot to bring your lunch to school (as I did often), you had to climb the stairs of humiliation up to the convent on the top floor of the school building, knock on the door, confess your forgetfulness to the aged sister-at-arms, and sit in penitential silence while she fixed you a PB&J. The deafening hum of the fluorescent lights and that sickening ever-present smell of gravy made the wait maddening. With a slight bow and a quick "Thank you, Sister." I'd split down the stairs, two at a time, back to the chaotic safety and comforting sour-milk-smell of the cafeteria.

There are a lot of glorious mysteries about elementary school that still linger. One mystery was the unusual ritual before the start of each basketball game -- our team would huddle together, put a hand in a pile in the middle, get a pep-talk from the coach, and then finish with a rousing and manly "Mary, Queen of Victory, pray for us!" What was up with that? And who started that tradition? As if Mary was taking sides between St. Elizabeth and St. Peter. Or, as if Mary had ever even played basketball.

People write whole books about their Catholic School experiences, as could I. Show me one public school kid who can match our tales.

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