So, exactly how I wound up in Catholic school remains a bit cloudy to me. I’m pretty sure I was set up ;a plot that I that didn’t see forming until it was too late.
This I know: in sixth grade I found myself at Saint Bernards Catholic school after attending PS 41 from kindergarten on.
I know it must have had something to do with the Released Time Program :If you have been following this blog, you know I described this program previously and you will know what I’m speaking of. In summary , Released Time was a program that was a partnership between the Catholic school system and the public school system in New York at the time. Kids, such as me, who were Catholic but attending public schools were granted one hour per week of “released time” from the public school system to go to the local Catholic school to receive proper religious instruction. I was involved in this program from day one.
I am pretty sure one of the teachers I had at the Catholic school viewed me as a missionary project.
They probably saw how obvious it was that I did not fit into the public school system: but remember, I probably would not have fit into any school system. I was a shy, introverted, insecure kid. Friends were definitely not at a premium.
Remember also that we public school kids who were Catholic were viewed as the heathen : we needed to be reached and rescued from the “damned” system we were part of.
In reflecting back, it was most likely one of the Catholic school teachers who took pity on me and began the intricate process of convincing my parents they should spend the money to send me to private, Catholic school. Again, remember, money was not easily come by in my family: dad working three jobs at times. However,both the eternal and present day security of this lost boy was at stake. I’m not sure who the first teacher at Saint Bernards Catholic school was that contacted my parents, but I would think it may have been Brother Kevin. Brother Kevin was part of the order of Christian brothers who taught at Saint Bernards and many of the other Catholic schools in the New York school system.
Another likely candidate in this devious plot was Father Craoke. Father Croake was, by the days standard, a pretty cool priest who was on the staff at Saint Bernards Catholic church. My parents liked him a lot because he seemed to be able to relate to the real issues of growing up on the mean streets of New York. He very well may have been part of the plot.
Regardless, I have little doubt that there was a plot afoot.
I remember the day well that my mom first raised the issue with me. Dad was standing in the background pretending to make some coffee, trying to stay out of it. Mom approached it in a pretty intelligent way:
“How would you like to go to the same school as James goes to?”
She casually asked. Now, this approach was both masterful and devious. Let me explain.
James was James Lawyer, The kid who lived in the apartment next door to ours at 290 W. 12th St. After my only friend in public school, Richard Zimmer.,, Who I have previously told you about, moved on to the genius classes I was again left without any real friends. Enter James Lawyer. He was in a grade above me but for some reason took a liking to me. We would hang out on the fire escape ( don’t know what a fire escape is? That’s understandable) We would talk and devise interesting games to play. James attended Saint Bernards and always impressed my parents as being a well-behaved and respectful young man. Come to think about it, he may have unknowingly been part of the plot himself. With the arrival of James, I found that I had my traditional one friend. We talked a lot about school and the kids in our classes and the ups and downs of a typical school day. I don’t know what it was about me, but I always seemed to wind up with the real smart kid as my one and only friend. As with Richard Zimmer, James was one of the smartest in his class and always scored highly on quizzes and test.
Anyway, with James being my only friend, mom used that pretty devious ploy to attract me to the idea of attending the Catholic school.
The thought of being in the same school with the only friend I had seemed, initially ,a pretty good comcept.I certainly didn’t discount it right away, which is surprising, in that I was terribly frightened of any kind of change in my life, let alone a change as big as what we were talking about here. Be that as it may, the idea of being in the same school hit me as a good thing. Granted, we would not be in the same class, as he would be in seventh grade and I in sixth.However, at Saint Bernards, back in the day the seventh and sixth grade boys shared the same classroom ,while the curriculum was clearly different. The other thing I would have to get used to was being in an all boys class. Obviously, at PS 41 the girls and boys were in the same classroom. Not so with St. Bernard’s :boys and girls were separated: most likely to keep us from the tempting vice of actually liking someone of the opposite sex. In hindsight this was really of no issue to me in that girls frightened the hell out of me anyway so being separated from them was not all that terrible. It’s Not that I didn’t enjoy looking at them, but to engage in conversation or try to act cool around them? A disaster in my case.
So, the bait was cast,
the plot was hatched and there appeared to be many involved in its adaptation. Mom thought it would be great, because I could be around all the nice boys and girls(I found out differently as time went on, but that’s another story.) Brother Kevin thought it was a wonderful idea as I would finally get a good education and a Christian education and would perhaps make something of myself. James told me it would be a great idea because I would get to be around all the cool people he was friends with.(this didn’t quite work out as planned either, but more about that another time.)
So, I took the bait, hook line and sinker : I was going to be a Catholic school kid.
Many things quickly changed. The dress code for instance. Good Catholic boys were required to wear dark pants,a white shirt and a standard St. Bernard school tie. This tie, hideous by today’s standards, was a woven powder blue with the St. Bernard’s school logo stitched across the front in gold.At the time ,I was pretty proud of that tie.
The second thing that changed rapidly was my perception of all the friends I would have here. I remember the first day I showed up in the new classroom with the seventh and sixth grade boys in the same room. I thought it would good to walk over to James’ desk on the seventh grade side. One would have thought I committed mass murder. It quickly became apparent that it was NOT acceptable for a loser from the sixth grade side of the classroom to associate with the cool seventh graders on the right side of the classroom.
The looks of disdain I got from the eighth graders made me feel as if perhaps I had forgotten to wear pants that day. I was after all, still a public school kid in their eyes.To make matters worse, when I got to James’s desk to say hi, he acted as if perhaps I had just arrived from mars. Uh-oh…,this was not going well.
The third major change was the discipline in the classroom. Brother Kevin, who taught both grades in the same classroom turned from being the kindly Christian brother to the AntiChrist. James had warned me that corporal punishment was quite acceptable at St. Bernards as well as at most Catholic Schools of the day. I quickly found out what corporal punishment was. If you acted up in class in any way, you were subject to one of three classic punishments :
The first on the hit parade (no pun intended) was the classic ruler against the knuckle trick (never fun): Second; the pointer against the bare back of your legs: clearly a step up from ruler against knuckles: or the Coup de grace, the famous and effective hand slap across the face. This last one was the most dreaded, and reserved for the most serious offenders . Brother Kevin packed quite a wallop. I only got the hand slap a few times in my year with Brother Kevin… But it did the trick. Whatever I had done to piss him off never happened again.
After reading this , you may think that going to St. Bernards was a terrible move, but, in hindsight, it really was not. A lot of good things resulted from my time there, I just could not necessarily see them at the time.
However, I’ll never forget that first day , slinking back to my seat in the looser side of the classroom , thinking : “what have I done??”