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Erica K

Erica K
New Jersey, USA
September 26
I have a new blog: Grew up in Jackson Heights, New York, but now live in Jersey. Married and the proud owner (servant?) of 4 cats, including a little blind guy named Quincy. Jobs have included: English teacher in U.S. and abroad, cabaret performer and member of a NYC sketch comedy troupe; now a legal secretary and freelance writer. Other jobs: canvasser for NYPIRG/cannery worker in Naknek, Alaska (a fisherman told me it was "the ugliest part of Alaska")/dog kennel cleaner/member of the swine and poultry crew on a California farm. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett


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MAY 15, 2012 4:48PM

Bully Nuns

Rate: 23 Flag

“Well those silly bully boys

They lost more than their toys”

           The Tiger Lillies


At Blessed Sacrament School (also known as “BSS”), which my brother called “Bull Shit School,” the atmosphere was rife with bullying.  Corporal punishment was not only allowed, but encouraged, it seemed, and I would be a liar to say I wasn’t afraid of some of my teachers, especially the nuns.  Sister Mary Alphonse may have been the worst.  (I have changed or altered names to protect the innocent and guilty.)


She was my homeroom teacher in seventh or eighth grade, and did not suffer fools or lack of cooperation gladly.  Cooperation included being silent during homeroom period.  She had a distinct limp when she walked, from a hip surgery, we thought, and sported a cane.  The cane was employed in various uses:  slamming on the desk of an uncooperative pupil, pointing towards the blackboard, and slamming against the blackboard.  She taught Algebra.  Luckily, I was good at Algebra.  One of my best friends, N, was not as fortunate.  Math was her worst subject.  Sister Mary A seemed to delight in sending N to the blackboard to do the most complicated problems even though she knew she was bound to fail.  The blackboard was positioned adjacent to her desk, so she would have to turn her head or get up to actually see the blackboard.  To this day, I have no idea how she saw without standing up, but somehow she managed.


N would stand at the board and do her best, but inevitably could not solve the problem at hand.  Sister A would glance over and say, “Erase Line 4, N!” in a very hostile voice.  Then, “Erase Line 3,” and on it would go.  Usually Sister A would stare straight ahead as she barked her commands.


The end result was N reduced to tears at the blackboard, hands shaking.  It went on time and time again, so often that the rest of the class started to tune it out.


As I said, I was good at Math, but I had my moments too.  One day I was sent to the blackboard and lost my train of thought or something, and could not solve the problem.


“Erase Line 4, Miss K,” said Sister Alphonse.


Then it was, “Erase line 3,” and finally, “Is that you, Erica K?”


Jesus, who else would it be?


I was a deer in the headlights.  I stood at the blackboard feeling what I thought N must have felt all those times.  I was frozen; it was me and the chalkboard and the chalkboard wasn’t speaking to me.  Sister Alphonse took her cane and pointed to line 3.  I still could not figure it out.


Sister Alphonse’s rage knew no bounds.  In retrospect, she must have been in a great deal of pain all the time.  Why else would she have been so mean?


One morning during homeroom period, Elena, who sat directly in front of me, was talking to her buddy in the adjacent row.  Sister Alphonse quietly hobbled down the row, struck her cane on Elena’s desk and slapped her in the face.  That was for talking. 


Then there was Mr. T, the Social Studies teacher who was having an affair with one of our classmates.  He would taunt me for not talking in class—I was the shyest person in my grade, for sure.  He made fun of my name and looked to the other pupils as he was mocking me, with a Cheshire Cat grin widening his pockmarked, saucer face, as if seeking approval for his bad behavior.


A favorite activity of Mr. T’s was to drag Orlando, a tiny Filipino boy, by his tie outside of the classroom and slam him against the wall while holding onto his tie.  He also liked spinning him around by his tie.  Sometimes I thought this was some kind of sick game between them.  I can’t remember what Orlando ever did to deserve this, but it was par for the course.


Then there was Miss Nelly, who punished our third grade class by turning off the lights, pulling down the shades, taping a sheet of black construction paper in the window of the door and locking us inside.  Kids started screaming and calling for their mothers or pissing themselves.  It was mass hysteria for however long it lasted.


Sister Kathleen terrorized me during First Holy Communion practice in second grade.  I don’t know what it’s like now, but in the 60s and early 70s there was no AC in the school or the church, only giant, useless circular fans on poles.  It was June, 1968.  We were all dripping with sweat as we filed down the hallways in preparation for Communion practice at Blessed Sacrament Church.  It was so hot in the church that some kids fainted.  I was so devout that I spoke all the prayers in full voice—I wanted to be a nun when I grew up—and at the end of the Our Father, I would always say, “Amen!”


Sister Kathleen turned around in the church and said, “Who said ‘Amen’?”


I confessed.


She walked up to me in line and said, as the sweat was glistening on my brow, “You do NOT say ‘Amen’ at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.”


I promised I would never do it again.  Sister Kathleen was my homeroom teacher so I really had to watch my step.


Of course, I did it again, and again, and again.  It seemed the more I got scolded, the more I did it.  At least I learned to catch myself once and only whisper “Amen.”  What a nightmare.


I know my story does not compare to the horrors that so many children and teenagers have endured over the years and continue to endure at the hands of bullies, cyber or otherwise, but I suppose the point I wanted to make is that bullying is an equal opportunity employer.  No age discrimination here.


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I've heard tales about rabid nuns with rulers... but never about psycho bully nuns with canes... whew, what a bunch of Bull Shit!!
Indeed, jmac. They were a fearsome lot! Although in high school things changed (luckily), and some of my favorite people were nuns.
PS: I'm falling in love with The Tiger Lillies, oddly like some gypsy vaudeville version of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys!!
jmac, they are awesome! I heard them live twice: once during the show "Shockheaded Peter" and then in concert in Brooklyn. See them if they ever come to your neck of the woods.
Erica, that's quite a series of stories! Interesting that high school was an altogether different scene from the bullying of the lower grades. One of my friends who went through Catholic school related how her class had to steam non-postmarked stamps off of envelopes so they could be used, thereby cheating the USPS.....

I'm sorry that you and your classmates had to endure these bullies at a younger age.
Heard a lot of bullying nun stories. Must have something to do with abstinence.
Sheesh. How horrible. I'm still haunted by the stories I've heard of Catholic abuse in Canada, Ireland and around the U.S. It's no wonder people have left "the church." ... I think that nun must have been very, very frustrated, insecure and sadistic. She may have been a victim of abuse herself. ... I had a little, old mean algebra teacher in middle school who was so cruel to me at the blackboard that I never studied math again. Years later I found out I could have been good at it if I'd only known the difference between a good teacher and a bad one. But kids don't have that knowledge at the time. R.
BTW, this is universal. Nuns can be ruthless; but, can you blame them!!? R
This is terrible. I can't believe these teachers treated you children like that. I'm so sorry that these adults whom you should have been able to trust and be guided by instead abused and debased you and themselves.
Been there. Dealt with the same things.
Damned glad I didn't attend that school. As Huck Finn said I'd have been "welts all over."

Designator, how bizarre! Yes, the nuns in high school were a much kinder lot. One of my favorite high school teachers was Sister Ambrose, a geometry teacher. We took a class trip with her to Santa Barbara--she was so smart and so much fun to be with.

Fernsy, very possible.

Deborah, I know my experience is not nearly as bad as what girls endured in Ireland and before my time. "The Magdalena Sisters" comes to mind. I can understand your not wanting to study algebra after what you went through. Sister A softened a bit as we neared graduation, and she and N became friends.
Thoth, yes, I know.

Kate, absolutely. Terror doesn't help boost one's faith. I became a lapsed Catholic, rarely, if ever, go to mass anymore.

Cc, it is what it is. I didn't know anything else so I assumed it was normal.

Linnn, a fellow traveler.

Jonathan, I'm glad you were spared too!
Great post Erica
Thanks, LammChops.
The truth shall be dictated; and the inquisition still lives on in some schools!

I suspect these are on the decline but I'm sure there are still way too many. I'm glad I didn't have to go to one of these, only a more moderate part time class which only lasted a few years in my case.
Zachery, right you are. We still managed to have fun, despite the sadistic teachers (not all were bullies).
On the contrary, Erica, your experience was much more horrific than those who suffered bullying from their fellow students. Yours was institutionalized. You might as well have been in prison. Evidently God hardened the hearts of those nuns and teachers as he had Pharaoh's back in the day. In order to do that, tho, I should think God would have first had to harden his own heart. What was with all those hardened hearts, anyway?
So sorry you had to endure such abuse. My first elementary school had a few of these bullies as well.

It's sad that there were so many of these habit-garbed bullies. I think it's even sadder to think of the conditions that caused many of them to become as such: stolen childhoods, family abuse, a church that thought of women as little more than indentured servants, a lack of formal education, and more.
Chicken Maaan, the last part of your comment sounds like a riddle or a vocal exercise. What about the heart-hardener of Hamelin instead of the pied piper?

Mary, good point. The nuns were and continue to be treated inferior to priests. More misogyny.
This story is a real shocker. thanks so much for sharing the things we never imagined.
Algis, I guess it surprises me that many people are shocked by the teachers' behavior. When I was a kid, I thought everyone's school was like this! Thanks for stopping by.
I have a non-catholic friend who went to a catholic school for a year or two and she tells me similar horror stories. She was often singled out because she was not catholic as well. I also have a catholic friend who attended catholic schools and he loved his schools and nun teachers. He is even still in contact with one or two. One is even on his FB friends lists. It boggles my mind why this has been tolerated for so long.
Painting, I don't know why it has been tolerated so long. I was in elementary school in the 60s and 70s, so I doubt the teachers are still this abusive. I loved some of my teachers too, believe me.
how hideous, erica. i am glad you survived them. i never realized corporal punishment in schools was so extreme. i mean, knuckle rapping sure never seemed like a good time, but this is way worse.
Jane, those were some crazy times in elementary school. I partially credit these teachers with helping me cultivate my gallows humor.
While stories like this about vicious nuns — and I’ve heard floods of them through the years — leave me feeling forever grateful that religion didn’t play a large role in my growing up, I have to say that I experienced plenty of mean, f-ed up (and terrific!) teachers in both public and high school (I’ve also had plenty of abusive, nutso bosses too). When I take a step back, I end up feeling sorry for these kinds of people. After all, we get to move onwards and upwards from such obviously deeply miserable, screwed up human pestilence, and they have to live within their own toxic, self-loathing skin day-in-day-out.
Good point, VA. Thanks for stopping by.
Thanks, Steel Breeze.
". . . bullying is an equal opportunity employer. No age discrimination here."

You're absolutely right, Erica. Escpecially when it comes from people who have power over children and young people, it can be worse. They print indelible impressions and fears on our lives. My most horrible teacher, Mrs H., was one such person who happened to cross my path when I had newly arrived in Canada. She gave me nightmares.
Fusun, I guess we've all had at least one "Mrs. H" in our lives. Too bad. xo
Erika,a terrible story...and to think that comes from nuns...What can one say...But as you are indeed a healthy human your last words,say all that is to be said "I suppose the point I wanted to make is that bullying is an equal opportunity employer. No age discrimination here.""You are so right....Lets all wish that bullying can disaρρear!!!
Great story on the sadistic nuns. My mother attended a catholic grade school in Germany and told similar tales of physical abuse by nuns. For example, one day she had a cold and reached for a handkerchief. The nun slapped her for not paying attention. to this day, my mother is antagonistic toward the Catholic Church, although she attends mass occasionally with my Dad. Makes me thankful I attended PUBLIC school. Dunno what it is about Nuns. Maybe sexual frustration makes 'em mean.

On the other hand, my husband attended a French Jesuit school in Lebanon. He said the priests were very strict but never mean and he received an excellent education. He's also completely baffled by the sexual abuse scandals. He said he never experienced any inappropriate touching, nor does he know anyone who did.

When this type of bullying goes on by a teacher, I fault the school administration. They should be keeping a MUCH closer eye on the teachers.

Stathi, unfortunately bullying is part of human nature. I think there will always be bullies. Bullies were often bullied or abused themselves.

Brokenwing, the school administration probably condoned this behavior in my school or at least turned a blind eye to it. When I was a kid, the teacher was ALWAYS right, and the pupil always wrong. Today it seems to be the exact reverse, which is not good either. I taught briefly in the NY public school system and at a hight school in Germany, and you are not even allowed to touch a student. One of my fellow teachers was punished for trying to control an unruly, rude student by tugging on his sleeve. The student told his parents that he hit him in the face.
Erica, I'm so sorry you kids went through that. Did the third grade teacher get in trouble for terrorizing the little kids? That is so terrible! Children are so easily imprinted. Adults have so much responsibility. It sickens me. I went to Catholic school through 9th grade. There were some nuns who were so nice. I remember one who played guitar. We lived near the convent, and my friends and I would visit and she would play for us. Then there was a bully nun who used to knock kids' desks over if they were messy - with the poor little kid still in the attached chair!!

My husband Billy grew up a Morman in Ohio, and was told that nuns eat little kids. If he saw one coming, he'd run screaming!

My brother went to a catholic boys school through 2nd grade. He told me later that the brothers used to beat on him (they were like priests, but couldn't give sacraments) He developed a twitch and used to get sick to his stomach a lot. Thank goodness he left for public school after 2nd grade.

I was terrible in algebra. Sister A would have had a party with me.

This is an excellent piece. You are right. There are bullies of all ages.
Joanne, it seemed that "back in the day" (not sure what it's like now), nuns and lay teachers had free reign to terrorize their students. I had some wonderful teachers too, like you. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Fray, who taught English. Every Friday we had to recite a poem (memorized) in front of the class. I thought it was a great exercise. She was very supportive of my writing, even in 7th grade and I will never forget her.
We had a 4'9" ball of fire nun in 8th grade. Not only did she strike terror in our hearts, but she taught math! Those bold 8th grade boys towed the line for her or else. That was in the days before lawsuits and media coverage.
We had fifty or more in our class and she kept everyone in order out of fear. She expected diligence in math or stay after for remediation.
It worked. We were a respectful, motivated bunch. And btw, at least ten of us got over 750 on our math SATs.
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger-so we must be made of titanium. Catholic school back then was brutal. I am so very grateful we survived ; and you survived to tell the tale. Thank you for breaking silence . Some of us fared better then others. My first boyfriend and his brother were molested by priests at his Catholic group home in the Bronx. It traumatized them both for may years. The frequency and prevalence of abuse is mind boggling-any other organization would have been shut down years ago for all the abuses to children, torture and human rights violations...yet the Catholic Church keeps chugging along as the wealthiest, largest land owner and most powerful religious institution in the world. Shame, shame, shame on them.
Nancy, yes, the Code of Silence. Cardinal Cook was on the CBS morning show today discussing his opposition to Obama's enforcing contraception on Catholic institutions. How terrible that women will be offered a choice, is all that ran through my mind. He says it's an issue of religious freedom, but sounds more like enslaving one gender to me.
Jeana, she sounds like a good teacher. I don't think you have to terrify and physically abuse children to teach them well, though.
Nancy, I meant Cardinal Dolan, not Cardinal Cook.