Years ago, a television series came out called The Brides of Christ which portrayed Catholic nuns as sweet and beautiful women with gentle natures and kind hearts full of the love of Jesus. My truth was nowhere like that.
Being the third girl in a four-girl staunchly Catholic family, my educational destiny was the local catholic school in the 1950s. Being the third sister to go there, I thought they would be nice to me as they were supposedly friends of God, but something about me must have rubbed them up the wrong way.
From the very beginning, these women terrified me in their long black robes with swinging rosary beads. When they bent over me to hiss instructions, their breath was sour and they smelt like old people.
I tried hard to fit in but was often picked on. When the right answer didn’t appear, there was a vicious attack from a cane that stung – especially on a cold day. I learned to pull the legs of my bloomers down to meet the top of my socks. I seemed to always be in trouble and was never really sure why. But then all of the children in my class were constantly berated and punished. One day I had a gobstopper in my mouth at recess and was told to spit it out on the ground. When I snuck off to retrieve it later the nun gleefully crushed it under her heel.
I was always a soft touch with animals. When I found a nest of baby mice on my desk after the holidays, I kept feeding them with my lunch until the nun discovered them. She stood over me while I put them in a box and tipped them into the school incinerator in the yard. It was going at the time and I can still see their little bodies in the flames. My heart became sad and hardened to the nuns and all they represented.
I was always a questioner and got into trouble for asking hard questions about religion. It was ironic that when I ended up in the Catholic convent secondary college, I would stymie the teachers with my questions about God.
When it was very cold, the older nuns at the convent would often die and we would have to go and pay our respects to their bodies laid out in the cathedral. Yellow skin and whiskers poking out around their sunken mouths. Not an enticing call to the rebel in me when I was asked if I felt the ‘calling ‘ to going the convent and be a nun. Hell no.
I realise in retrospect that many people had a wonderful experience with a Catholic education with nuns, I’d love to know if I was the only one to be utterly miserable.