Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Wicked Catholic Nuns of my Youth?

I've seen a couple of movies featuring some pretty evil Irish nuns. The first movie, Philomena, has Irish nuns running an orphanage. The movie, supposedly based on a true story, focuses on a mother who is searching for her son whom she had to give up while living at the convent. The story implies that the nuns ran a business of "selling" babies to wealthy people looking for babies to adopt.

In this story, the nuns appear polite but in fact have destroyed all adoption records in a fire, and have lied to both mother and son to keep them apart.

Another Evil Nun movie is an episode of Jack Taylor (TV series), The Magdalen Martyrs.  Here we have an Irish nun who tortures teenage girls.

Both movies made me think about my upbringing with Catholic nuns. From kindergarten through high school, I was with Belgian and Filipino nuns at St. Theresa's College. For college, I went to Maryknoll College, which was run by American Maryknoll nuns.

I asked myself if the nuns I grew up with were as cruel as those depicted in the movies.

I have to say that there probably were nuns who were evil, but there were nuns who were also good.

The nuns I grew up with had a style of controlling students and they did have ideas that make me raise my eyebrows now.  Up through high school, the nuns had strict rules about the length of our skirts, and if your skirt was too short, some nuns would rip out the hem. They used to punish students by hitting their knuckles with the wooden ruler (this never happened to me!). They did not allow the use of brassieres; we were supposed to wear chemises.  (Now I wonder what heavy-breasted girls were supposed to do without proper support!)  The nuns did not allow the use of nail polish, nor makeup. At some point, we were not allowed to study ballet. And we were not allowed to read certain books.

In college, with the American Maryknoll nuns, we had more leeway, but they had rules all the same. We needed passes to be able to leave the campus for instance. We had to behave properly in- or off-campus, and heaven help you if word got to the nuns that you had drank or smoked or been seen unchaperoned with a boy.

But the American nuns were more liberal and we could bend their rules. What the Maryknoll nuns wanted was academic achievement, and they would more or less look askance if you were "naughty" but did your school work.

I remember two nuns who had maltreated me: in kindergarten a Belgian nun flew at me enraged because I had undone my uniform ribbon with the intention of redoing it. She may have thought I unraveled it out of malice; she was quite rough in handling me. The second nun was my teacher in Grade III. She was one of these sweet-looking pretty nuns who really wasn't nice inside. She had favorites in class.  I was not a favorite, and she was unfair to me and others whom she did not favor.

But I did not encounter cruel nuns like those depicted in Philomena and The Magdalen Martyrs. In balance, the nuns of my youth had a positive effect on me. I even co-edited a laudatory book, Behind the Walls: Life of Convent Girls!

Read also:
The Schools I attended - St. Theresa's College 
The Schools I attended - UP & Maryknoll
The Schools I attended - UCLA

tags: Catholic schools, convent, St. Theresa's College, Maryknoll College, sisters, nuns

All for now,

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