Sister Adolfa’s Revenge

Sister Adolfa, Terminator in a Habit
Sister Adolfa, Terminator in a Habit
A 1950s-60s Catholic school upbringing is like Superglue. It really sticks.

(Sister Adolfa, wherever you are, please notice my clever use of simile. … Yes, Str, I know the difference between a simile and a metaphor. I’m a writer.)

Okay. I’m not going to walk up to a priest or a nun, say “Good morning, Father” or “Good morning, Sister” and offer to carry whatever the consecrated human is toting around that day. I already carry the heaviest handbag in the western world, and I’m not going to carry someone else’s stuff, too. Besides, it’s easier just to wave and say, “Hey, Father Bill, how ya doin’?” and walk away.

(I’m sorry … SIS-ter. A simile is an indirect comparison, using the words “like” or “as.” A metaphor is a direct comparison, where the writer states that something is something else. I wrote that a 1950s Catholic school upbringing is LIKE Superglue. That’s a simile.)

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Catholic school wouldn’t have been as bad if it weren’t for the Baltimore Catechism. This was a brainwashing device right out of a 1950s Cold War movie. The whole thing was in the form of questions and answers, and it took great, cosmic ideas that theologians are STILL pondering after thousands of years and whittled them down into short sentences that kids could memorize by rote. We were told that these would help us defend our faith against the attacks of atheists, heathens and Protestants, but that was a lie. They were actually designed to hammer ideas so securely into our brains that we would never be able to dig them out.

(Um … excuse me, Sister? Of course, I remember what I learned in religion class. You all repeated it so much we couldn’t forget if we wanted to. … Oh, Okay. “God made me to show forth His goodness and to make me happy with Him in heaven.” Right?)

Sister Adolfa and her pop quizzes!

Anyway, the Baltimore Catechism didn’t just have questions and answers. It had illustrations. They weren’t very good. In fact, they looked like a kid under the influence of mimeograph ink drew them. But they got their ideas across. I will never forget the picture of the guy standing waist-deep in the fire of hell because he died after having committed a mortal sin. Every day we were warned that we could end up there if we were not careful, because it was SO easy to slip into mortal sin. If you then died before you could get to confession, you would be barbecuing with the Devil faster than you could say, “Help!”

(What was that, Sister Adolfa? Do I realize that you are dead? Well, I figured as much. … Yes, I know that conjuring the dead is a mortal sin. I didn’t figure you were actually going to show up, so I didn’t really conjure you. You just popped up.)

My idea in writing this is to show how that 1950s-60s religious upbringing stays in us, even if only a residue remains.

(No, I am not preaching heresy! … What? … O, shut up, you old banshee!)

Two days later:

Mea maxima culpa!
Mea maxima culpa!
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I called my high school English teacher an old banshee … .

*The name has been changed to protect the innocent – ME.

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12 thoughts on “Sister Adolfa’s Revenge”

  1. Oh, my. This brought back lots of visuals, like the “Board of Education” which was a paddle that came out on report card day to smack the low achievers. Cold war brainwashing techniques ain’t got nothin’ on the head drilling that went on in parochial schools, but like you, I did leave with a mastery of the English language.

    1. Oh yes. English class often meant diagramming sentences and having grammar pounded into our heads, whether our heads wanted it or not. Fortunately, both my mother and her mother spoke correctly, so the grammar lessons were not unlearned at home.

      I hated arithmetic with a passion, but I can still remember 99 percent of the multiplication tables, long division, fractions and other things that come in handy when you either don’t have a calculator or are too lazy to dig one out.

      My report cards almost always had “child is not working to capacity” marked off. That pretty much said it all.

  2. Nuns terrify the bejaysus outta me and Sister Adolfa looks like she has a hidden beard. Bearded Nuns are the most terrifying of the terrifying Nuns.

    1. I never saw a nun with a beard, but, then, we couldn’t see their hair, either, underneath all the headgear.

    1. I think Catholic school has changed a lot for the better since I was a kid. They did away with that old catechism, for one thing, and I think the students nowadays are given a much more positive approach to religion.

      We weren’t actually ruined. We got what was then an exceptionally good education in the basic subjects, as well as daily religion classes. A lot of us came out with psychological problems, though, caused by the way we were taught religion.

  3. I live in the bible belt, but all these Baptists down here aren’t so quick to threaten you with hell when you see them in the liquor store. That must have been a very interesting experience, and probably scary as a little kid.

  4. I have to say I had only one mean nun in 16 years of catholic school. Most of the nuns I had as teachers were kind and encouraging. Never had a ruler threaten me although I had a few erasers thrown at me for talking too much!

    1. I only had a few mean nuns in my 11 years of Catholic school. Unfortunately, the good ones (i.e. most of them) aren’t as easy to poke fun of, so most humor writers don’t write about them.

      There was another mean nun in our elementary school, but I wasn’t assigned to her classroom. I only knew her by reputation.

      I have wonderful memories of my 7th grade teacher and my first music teacher. I was very fond of both of them, and they were very loving and encouraging to me.

  5. Here’s hoping Sister Adolpha was a creation of your imagination. (It’s perfect) Surely the church didn’t allow their nuns to select names following the end of WWII that reflected the evil German dictator. 🙁

    1. Her real name was Sister H—–. I figured I ought to change it. She’s either dead by now or really, really old. We’re supposed to respect both the elderly and the dead. So I gave her another name. She was a pretty difficult character, so I gave her a name I thought would reflect her personality.

      Shame on me!

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