Memories of Sister Mercedes in Manhattan

From the Nostalgia File: writer and storyteller Thomas R. Pryor in today’s New York Times shares his memories of his beloved Catholic grade school in Manhattan:

I had a wide variety of strategies for getting detention: talking in church after a warning, sliding into an imaginary second base on the smooth marble floor at the back of the church, listening to my classmates’ made-up acts of contrition in the confessional box and giving them the last rites in the classroom.

When these schemes worked, Sister Mercedes would occasionally take me to the nuns’ residence, that mysterious floor with the curtained windows and no classrooms. My punishments included dusting, vacuuming and snapping the ends off string beans. Helping the nuns fix meals in the largest kitchen I had ever seen, I had cozy conversations with not only Sister Mercedes, but also two of my other favorite nuns, Sister Ancilla and Sister Jude, who both loved “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

If the nuns ran out of chores to give me, I would sit in a velvet wing chair in their study, with my legs up, reading about the tortures of the martyrs. My reading came in handy for one of my ventures: going from class to class selling holy articles. I borrowed a book from the nuns’ study and mined it for gripping facts to amuse my classmates.

One of my favorite martyrs was St. Sebastian, who was sentenced to be executed with arrows by Emperor Diocletian and was left for dead but recovered. Then Diocletian happened to see him on the street, got mad and had him beaten and thrown into a sewer. Double martyrdom!

I also liked St. Wulfstan, who flung himself into a thorn bush so he would stop having certain kinds of thoughts about a girl he had noticed. God rewarded him by making sure Wulfstan never had to fight those ideas again. The class got totally quiet for that one.

In this way, eighth grade flew by.

Read the rest.

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