Preparing my two boys for the new school year inevitably brings back memories of how things were when I was growing up. I’ll leave to others the exaggerations of walking to school “10 miles uphill both ways” or the frightful demeanor of a particular nun.
The overall feeling that I had while attending St. John the Evangelist School in Midtown Manhattan was one of love and security. I knew that my parents cared enough to send me and my two brothers to Catholic school (which cost very little in the 1960s), and the teachers seemed to extend that sense of caring.
In the back of each classroom, there was a large picture of a brother and sister walking to school with a guardian angel watching over them, and that’s just how I felt going to Catholic school.
My wife Maria and I are fortunate to have found a school where we live in Connecticut that reminds us of the ones we attended. We value a strong Catholic identity, commitment to sacramental life, first Friday Mass and regular confession times. Yet there are some things that are different today.
When we were growing up, nuns filled most of the classrooms, with long habits sweeping the floor and full veils that made us wonder if they had any hair, save the one or two strands that sneaked out.
My children’s school might be unusual since it has two nuns, one who is the principal and the other a teacher, but I still wish there was a convent with a vibrant religious community for the parish.
Before, during and after school, you knew the sisters were there all day for you. Some of the kids in my class would joke about how the sisters weren’t married, but I always thought of their vow of chastity as a sign of commitment to the school and to us.
I’ll never forget Sister Elaine, my youthful first-grade teacher, grabbing the basketball at halftime, dribbling down the court — her black habit flying and rosary beads jangling — and making a perfect backboard layup as the crowd leaped from the wobbly bleachers.
Then there was Sister Helen in third grade, who asked students to get their parents to send in “plaid stamps” from the local supermarket so she could redeem them for coffeemakers or blenders for the convent.
There was also red-haired Father Sullivan, the youngest of three priests on staff. I was scared stiff one afternoon when I saw him at the mailboxes of my apartment building.
Trying to recall if I had done anything so bad that a priest would be looking for me, I walked slowly toward him.
He was looking for the buzzer for the disabled lady on the ground floor whom we all knew as Little Mary.
I showed him the button to press, and Little Mary came to the door, limping with her braces, and invited us both in.
I sat quietly, watching Father Sullivan as he sipped tea, engaged in small talk and laughter, and then placed a stole over his neck, took the pyx from his pocket and gave Communion to Little Mary.
It was one of the holiest moments I have ever known.
Suddenly I saw that Jesus was with us even in the simplest settings of an ordinary day.
These are the moments that I hope my two boys will experience. These are the reasons why, despite the significant financial sacrifices today, we send them to Catholic school only, where they may have more than a passing glance at Jesus passing in their midst.
Caulfield lives in Wallingford, Conn. He is the married father of two boys and serves as editor of FathersforGood.org, an online initiative for men and their families by the Knights of Columbus.
Catholic News Service