Sister Theresa, while walking the yard at recess, always kept her hands in her pockets. Always.

Mary Magdalene, when on duty, always pulled her hands up into her sleeves and folded her arms in a sort of Mandarin hostess way. And always smiled.

Sister John Bosco, Mother Superior, she of the permanent scowl and eyes like Sicilian olives who not only taught eighth-grade math, but English and confession behavior, walked with her hands behind her back, moving forward down the halls, waist beads clicking furiously and leaning into the wind like an NFL lineman. To some, she was known as Our Lady of Permanent Menopause, because she wore a constant glistening tiara of sweat on her brow.

Sister John Bosco came, Father Keating said, from an Italian family on the Near North Side of Chicago. My brother Jug said she was Al Capone’s illegitimate daughter. Not true, but then they never cared for one another.

Today, so many decades later, when the good sisters look like Red Cross volunteers, I still remember those blessed women of my childhood and their individual mannerisms, and I wonder of what use they would be today.

I remember, because being too awkward to be included in recess ball games, I sat on the bench in front of the fence overlooking the river and watched the flow of Catholic comedy before me. It was better than the movies.


Those sisterly mannerisms — innocent human gestures of course — would, in light of all the current gab concerning arming teachers, take on a slightly sinister aura.

Thankfully, there was no school room gunplay in my halcyon days. Maybe in Ireland or Sicily, or the Near North Side of Chicago; but not there, not in my parish. Those were soft, breezy days. Happy days forever frozen in amber glass.

I can hear you now, softly moaning. Yes, I hear you, “Oh, there he goes again, with one of ‘those’ columns about the faith he abandoned and now thinks he can reclaim with prose.” Oh no, this is about something much darker.

I think of them this morning, those beautiful, sainted young women in their full, flowing, black garments that billowed in the river wind.

They watched over us, these sacred sentinels with ebony capes whipping around their faces and shoulders in the breeze, all the while scanning the yard for tiny miscreants. Should an unknown adult wander onto the yard or the polished floors of the school, they were immediately confronted by a flock of smiling black sparrows.

Today, just for fun, imagine my teaching sisters suddenly compelled by tweeted secular laws gone wild to pack something besides beads beneath those holy threads. Nuns with guns? Unthinkable?


Think of Sister Theresa, who always kept her hands in her pockets. Hmmm. How easy it would be, when in her role as the provoked shepherdess, for her to whip out an instrument of defense. Something small but effective.

Imagine Mary Magdalene, who always pulled her hands up into her sleeves and folded her arms in that Mandarin manner. What else, if called upon, could she have drawn from those Mandarin sleeves?

Sister Mary, I should add, was the only nun I ever saw who wore prescription sunglasses in the schoolyard, so that one never knew where she was looking. Now, in these frightful days, would she not stop a gunman in his tracks just by the sight of her?

Sister John Bosco — oh yes, Sister John Bosco. If I were a crazed shooter bursting in those front doors, she would be the last person I would want to see waiting for me.

There she would be, standing bathed in the stained-glass light beside the statues of Mary and Joseph, in front of a phalanx of sisters, waist beads clicking in unison, razor-edged rulers in hand.

Yes, it was long ago when I sat alone on the bench, collar up against the chill river wind, and watching, listening, recording. I miss you ladies of the veil. Pray for your errant son.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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