Tag Archives: Heartwarming Nun Stories

The Hot Line

During the Cold War there was a red phone on the desk of the President of the United States. A corresponding red phone sat on the desk of the leader of the Soviet Union. It was called the Hot Line and it was meant to prevent an accidental nuclear exchange between the two countries. During the eighth grade I learned the hard way that a similar Hot Line existed between the principal of my Catholic middle school, Sister John, and my grandmother.

Photo by Gaorganizer, Wikimedia Commons

I found about the existence of this Hot Line when I skipped an entire day of school to go surfing with two of my friends.

Chip, Tommy and I planned the whole thing for weeks, scheming like jewel thieves planning a heist. The plan was to rendezvous at Chip’s house that morning, go to the beach all day and then be back at our houses at precisely the right time to make it look like we had just gotten out of school. But we made one fatal mistake – we forgot to factor Sister John into our plans. You would think by that point in our Catholic school careers that we would have known better. How I ever thought that a student in the eighth grade of a private Catholic school could get away with something like skipping an entire day of school remains a mystery to me to this day.

Much of my courage came from Chip, who had attended Topsail Junior High the year before. He knew all about skipping class because he had done it frequently while at Topsail. But the principal at Topsail was not a nun, Topsail was not a private school where parents paid good money for tuition, and at Topsail no one cared whether or not a student went to class. Therefore no one ever called a student’s home or a parent’s place of work when that student was not in class. Sister John however, was on the Hot Line with my grandmother within ten minutes of learning that I was not in class that day. In her mind the Apocalypse was at hand.

We thought our plan was going to work. Instead of riding my bike to school that morning I rode to Chip’s house. Chip’s parents had already left for work so he was in the clear. Tommy met up with us at Chip’s house and we changed into our Quicksilver surfing baggies and headed for the beach. In an act of unparalleled planning, Tommy and I had both “accidentally” left our surfboards in Chip’s garage the previous weekend when we had all surfed together. This was an important part of our plan because each of us knew we could not very well ride off to school on a weekday with surfboards under our arms.

The waves were five-foot glassy green tubes rolling in over the outer sandbar. Chip quickly explained that the waves were always this good when school was in session. He said it was just a law or something, and that we would rarely see waves this good on a Saturday. We rode for hours until the tide finally changed and flattened out the surf.

After we left the beach we took the boards back to Chip’s house and then rode our bikes to a local sandwich shop where we each consumed a foot-long hoagie. We were just feral teenagers, wild and free, famished from hours of riding the waves. We ate our hoagies while high-fiving each other, secure in the notion that we had pulled off the greatest jailbreak in the history of Our Lady of the Ascension.

After we left the sandwich shop we rode our bikes on the beach for a while and then back to Chip’s house where I changed back into my school uniform. I hid my wet baggies in my book bag and bid farewell to my buddies. Then I took off for my house at precisely the right time to make it look like I had just gotten out of school. All was well, I reasoned.

I was sorely mistaken.

Little did I know at the time that Sister John had called my grandmother at work early that morning, telling her there was a truancy scheme afoot and that three kids were missing from class. After learning this, my grandmother left work early in order to get her hickory switch ready so that she could be waiting for me when I came home that afternoon.

My grandmother had delivered her share of championship ass whippings to me long before that day. She could work a hickory switch the way a pirate works a cutlass, but the switching she delivered to me that afternoon was above and beyond anything I had ever had before.

The next day at school, Sister John called me to her office.

“I assume your grandmother spoke to you about your absence yesterday?”

“Yes, Sister John.”

“Barring a documentable illness, a broken bone or the Second Coming of our Lord can I expect another unexcused absence from you this year?”

“No Sister John. I will never skip school again.”

Sister John then turned and looked at the yardstick propped in the corner of her office next to the door. My eyes followed hers and I swallowed hard when they settled on the three-foot long piece of wood. It was much thicker than normal yardsticks and I knew immediately that its intended purpose was not for measuring, and that the inch marks on it were just for show.

Sister John then leaned back in her chair and surveyed me with her steely-blue eyes in a manner that left no doubt in my mind that she was the sheriff at Our Lady of the Ascension and that my days as a class-skipping vagabond were over.

“Very well, then. I have your grandmother’s work phone number in case you suddenly decide otherwise. That will be all. You may return to class.”

“Yes, Sister John.”

I never skipped school again. In fact, I never even thought about skipping school again. I went surfing that Saturday and even though the waves weren’t quite as good as they were on the day we skipped class, I knew from that point on that weekday waves were certainly not something worth dying for.

Stairway to Heaven

“Tell us a about yourself,” Sister Matthew said as she walked down the aisle to within a few feet of my desk. She was dressed in a white habit and held chalk in one hand and an eraser in the other. I could see in her eyes that she was sizing me up.

I had just transferred from a public school named Vandalia to a private Catholic school named Our Lady of Mercy. To say this caused a little friction in my family is an understatement. Everyone on my father’s side of the family is Catholic and apparently his side had won the battle of how I was to be educated. Everyone on my mother’s side of the family is a Southern Baptist however, and no Southern Baptist in their right mind sends their child to a Catholic school. Fire and brimstone have fallen from the heavens for lesser offenses. My grandmother said that if a second flood came that none of us would be allowed on the next Ark, and my great-grandmother was even less optimistic. She fully expected locusts to swarm the earth. The child of a Baptist family was about to be educated by nuns who worked for some guy in Rome. Every night I could hear both of them praying to the Lord to have mercy on us all.

So there I was sitting in a room wearing a white dress shirt, clip-on tie and navy blue pants being asked by nun for my life story. I was nervous so I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. “I… I… I have a Schwinn bicycle and I kiss girls under the lunch table.” The words escaped my lips before I could stop them. Sister Matthew’s mouth dropped open and the chalk in her hand fell to the floor. You would have thought I had just told her I was Jewish. The audible gasp from the room was deafening. And then all of a sudden everyone started to laugh. Everyone except Sister Matthew, that is. I was about to learn that she was a no-nonsense kind of gal who had absolutely no sense of humor.

“You kiss girls under the lunch table? I see,” she said as she began to move the chalkboard eraser from one hand to the other. She knew right then that the Lord had sent her a public school hooligan that needed to be set straight in his evil ways and led to a path of righteousness.

“Yes, but, I, uh…” She then quickly interrupted me.

“That’s enough, young man. Apparently you have decided that portraying yourself as some sort of lawless scalawag is the best way to relieve the stress of being a new student here. This is not Vandalia, and you will certainly not be carrying on like it is. Look to your left and you will see what happens to the scalawags in my room.”

“Yes, Sister Matthew,” I stammered. “I didn’t… I didn’t mean that…” “Look to your left, young man,” she interrupted again.

I looked over to the corner of the room and there sat a forlorn kid on a wooden stool with a yellow chalkboard eraser print on his white dress shirt. That chalk print was a clear testament to the fact that nuns were skilled in the art of throwing an eraser. I wasn’t lying to Sister Matthew. I did kiss girls under the lunch table at Vandalia. Well, one girl anyway. Her name was Shelby and we used to kiss underneath the lunch table right under my Scooby Doo lunchbox. Kissing Shelby is about the only memory I can recall from my time at Vandalia. A guy always remembers his first kiss.

I managed to survive second grade and my fair share of hits from the eraser. Sister Matthew wasted no time in showing me who was in charge of her room. And her aim was impeccable. On many a night I had to explain to my mother why there was a yellow chalkboard eraser print on my uniform shirt.

My third grade nun was a short, round woman who went by the name of Sister Thomas. But I wasn’t afraid of her. This was the early Seventies, around the time The Six Million Dollar Man show was on TV, and I had somehow convinced myself that I had the same bionic powers as Steve Austin. I knew if Sister Thomas tried to throw a chalkboard eraser at me that I would simply deflect it with my quick bionic reflexes. I entered her class every day with no fear in my heart.

Sister Paul was my fourth grade nun. Talk about corporal punishment… Sister Paul would storm down the aisle in her black patent leather shoes and grab an offending student by the upper arm, lift him about six inches off the seat of his chair and then start slapping him on his shoulder blade in a fit of rage until his eyes filled with tears. Nobody wanted to cross Sister Paul. Her class was the most disciplined and well behaved class at Our Lady of Mercy. Most of us simply knew better than to run our Communion holes in her class. And only the boys got smacked. Sister Paul, or any of the nuns for that matter, never wanted to send the message that it was okay for anyone, even a nun, to hit a girl. And besides, the girls were smarter than the boys. They could learn their lesson by just watching a boy take it on the shoulder.

Sister Paul was also skilled in the art of throwing the eraser just like Sister Matthew. They must have all learned how to do that in nun school. She once hit me in the forehead with her eraser from a distance of over twenty feet and then made me wear the chalk print for the rest of the day, telling me I was not allowed to wipe it off. It was my own little badge of honor that served as an example to the class of what happened to a student who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. And since my bionic powers had left me by the time I got to fourth grade, I feared Sister Paul as much as the rest of the students did.

But Sister Paul also had a cool side to her. She gave guitar lessons after school and taught me how to play Stairway to Heaven on my acoustic guitar, or at least a little part of it. So not only could Sister Paul whip ass, she could also play Zeppelin on a guitar. I’m telling you, you haven’t seen anything until you see a nun play Stairway to Heaven on a guitar.

To this day I can still remember Sister Paul sitting there with her guitar on her knee singing and playing that song. She was a fine woman, and when her time came I’m sure she was rewarded with her own private stairway to Heaven.

The Ghost Of Sister Mary Catherine

My family’s yellow Labrador retriever is the reincarnated soul of my sixth grade teacher, a nun named Sister Mary Catherine.

There, I said it. So begins the road to redemption.

Oakley 3
I know she’s in there…

I know you must think I’m crazy and you’re in good company. Everyone thinks I’m crazy for believing that the soul of a nun is living inside our dog Oakley. But I know it’s true, and Oakley knows it’s true. Every night he sits by the couch and stares at me with those… eyes. I try to ignore him and focus on the television but it doesn’t do any good. Sister Mary Catherine is in there, and she wants me to know that she knows all about what I did in sixth grade.

I’m convinced that Oakley is repayment for the sin that I committed in sixth grade. He not only stares at me for hours at a time, he also destroys everything he can get his paws on in our backyard. He has ripped every piece of lattice from underneath our deck, torn long strips of vinyl siding from our shed, and dug so many holes in our backyard that it looks like a huge Whack-a-Mole game. The only person it aggravates is me, because I’m the only person it is supposed to aggravate. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie Marley and Me. I can tell you that Marley has nothing on Sister Mary Catherine.

So what did I do in sixth grade that was so bad that I am now being haunted by the ghost of a nun? I broke a Commandment, that’s what I did. More specifically, I broke the one about bearing false witness. In simple terms, I told a lie. But I didn’t lie to just anyone. Oh no, I had to lie to a nun. No one, and I do mean no one lies to a nun and gets away with it. After all, they have friends in high places. Very high places…

I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. I was standing by the condiments table in the lunchroom of St. Patrick’s Catholic school putting ketchup on my hot dog. There is a hooligan inside of every Catholic school boy and I was no different from the rest. When I finished putting the ketchup on my hot dog I quickly turned to see if anyone was looking. When I realized the coast was clear, I unscrewed the top on the squeeze bottle of ketchup and then sat the bottle down on the table, along with the loose lid, where it could lie in wait for an unsuspecting victim.

I had no idea that the victim would be Sister Mary Catherine.

Before I could stop her, Sister Mary Catherine walked up to the table, picked up the ketchup bottle and gave it a hard squeeze above her hot dog. The resulting explosion of red ketchup splattered across the white material of Sister Mary Catherine’s long sleeved habit from her elbow all the way down to her wrist.

She stood there speechless in her black patent leather shoes with her white shirt sleeve covered in red ketchup. Then she calmly looked over at me standing there mortified. Anyone that has been to a Catholic school knows that the nuns have written permission to whoop ass if the need arises. Visions of Sister Mary Catherine doing Kung Fu on me right there in the cafeteria bolted through my mind. But instead of striking a classic Grasshopper pose, Sister Mary Catherine instead just calmly asked me a question that still haunts me to this day.

“Dale, did you do this?”

The next words out of my mouth sealed my fate.

“No Sister Mary Catherine, I did not.”

There you have it, seven words that changed my life. Forty years later I’m still paying for them.

Oakley on deck

So every night I sit and try to watch TV while Sister Mary Catherine looks at me through the eyes of a yellow Labrador retriever, eyes that tell me that she knows that I lied to her about the ketchup and that she will repay me for the lie by eating the cover on the gas grill or maybe chewing the handle off of my favorite hammer.

But the guilt is becoming more than I can bear. It’s time to release Sister Mary Catherine so that she can go on to a better place. Besides, she can’t possibly like living inside of Oakley. He stinks and does unholy things with his tongue. The poor woman has suffered enough and so have I. It’s time to confess my sins.

The next stop for me is the confessional. I have not been in many years but I still know the words to use. Every good Catholic knows them by heart.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned…