Column: So, these two nuns walk into a bar

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02/17/2011 11:46 AM |

It’s official: I’m older than dirt.

OK, before any of you weisenheimers pipe in with, “You must be, Buddy, if you’re just realizing that now,” yes, that’s not entirely a revelation. What makes it official is my high school class preparing for our — gulp — 40th reunion this summer.
40 years? Why, it doesn’t seem like more than 36, 38 tops.

Our reunion website provides the opportunity to view pictures of people I haven’t seen for, well, you know how long. Sweet day in the morning, who are all these old-timers? Glad I didn’t age like that. A-hem.

What most caught my attention is the link to “Our Teachers,” on the left side of the home page, next to a photo of three barefooted nuns — at least they’re dressed like nuns — sitting at the end of a dock drinking beer. The caption reads “Ha! Didn’t we wish!”

This I had to see.

In just 20 minutes I learned more about these women than I had during my four years (yes, only four years) at Mercy High. Not that I had a burning desire back then to get to know them. Most were well into their retirement years in the late ’60s, so the updates came largely via obituaries in the Long Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper (which, by the way, was the best source to identify the best movies. I mean, what review could top “morally objectionable for all” or “condemned?” Not that I got to see any of those.)

When sitting ramrod straight in a jacket and tie, never chewing gum and doing your utmost to stifle all yawns, many thoughts came to mind. “I wonder who Sister Mary (fill in the blank) really is?” was not among them.

It seems most of the Sisters of Mercy were Irish girls from Brooklyn. I know, not exactly shocking. Still, who knew?

Sister Mary Cleophas, who in a freshman year Latin class described me as “the stupidest boy I ever met,” was the daughter of Joseph Keegan and Bridget Donohue.
Sister Mary Leonie, fashioned entirely of nervous energy, was the former Susan O’Sullivan.
Sister Mary Eugene, who could make the strongest linebacker quake with fear, was born a Farrell.
Sister Mary Jeremiah was Catherine McDonough. Sister Mary Joachim, Mary Conway. Sister Mary Hugh, Anna McDougall.
Oh, man, even Sister Mary Carmelita, the Spanish teacher, is a Shaughnessy.

You’d think that given our shared heritage ­— I’m the product of Charles Kelly and Joan Brophy of Yonkers, with cops and firemen hanging off the family tree — the good sisters might have cut me some slack. But no.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly why they didn’t.

Nor did the Sisters of Charity, my teachers from first through eighth grade. A different order, but equally adept at inducing fear, anxiety, dread, horror, terror and panic, particularly among the ranks of under-achievers. Or so I’ve heard.

Alas, nuns have always been a part of my life. In my hometown, a wonderful old Stanford White bayfront home was for a time a summer retreat for sisters of unknown origin. Unknown to us, anyway. It was hard to miss, right across the creek from my best friend’s house. Every now and again, a group of nuns, flying full habits, would row up the creek in an old wooden boat, at least four, if not more, at the oar. Honestly. That was a sight, let me tell you. The Viking nuns, we called ’em.

One summer afternoon, we spied a solitary sister heading toward the bay. She doffed her black cloak and walked into the water in a black one-piece. Ah! Nun legs! I’m blind!

Me Ma, once a Catholic school teacher, invited the nuns from her school to our house at Christmas. They’d sip frosty whiskey sours, their cigarettes leaving curving, twisting smoke trails as they laughed in animated conversation. We watched, abashed and amazed, from a respectful distance.

You’d think by now I’d be cured of my nunophobia, but when walking down Fifth Avenue toward Rockefeller Center over the holidays my posture automatically corrected when I passed a pair of women en habit.

Still, I’m hoping some of the surviving sisters will come to the reunion. It would be nice, and novel, to interact as adults.

Hi, Sister. Long time no see. Ha ha.
Hello, Mr. Kelly. Nice to see you too. By the way, what’s that in your hand?
This? It’s a, uh, um, a piña colada.
Well, well, is that a fact?
Uh, yes, Sister, it is.
Would you get me one?
Uhhhhh, WHAT?

Comments

comments

536 Comment

  • I get it– the nudophobia…I was taught by The Dominican sisters, one Mother Cecil (yup, she took me under her wing, I think because of the name) , she actually fasted from water (?) or drank very little, so to secure my dads return to church. He did– after I insisted, the Mother Cecil was going to die of thirst….

    Great column!