May Day

It’s time to celebrate. Who knew a Catholic education would have proved so valuable?

Illustration by Deanna StaffoIn May 1963 I graduated from an elementary school where I’d been renditioned to a group of Inquisitors known as the School Sisters of Notre Dame. As non-signatories to the Geneva Conventions, the good Sisters were free to use instructional methods that would make Dick Cheney blush.

Those of us who made it to graduation realized we had learned a lot about academics (as expressed in our fine high school entrance exam results) and self-defense. (Though duck-and-cover may be useless in a nuclear attack, it proved of great value in the learning of geography at the hands—and biceps—of Sister Rottweiler.)

In May 1967 I graduated from a parochial high school operated by the Holy Cross Brothers, whose educational methodology was less physical than the Sisters’. This was probably due to the fact that testosterone had kicked in for many of us, making us bigger and stronger than we were in elementary school. The forearm and body block techniques of learning that had served our masters so well in grammar school were deemed less effective by our beloved Brothers, if for no other reason than a right hook thrown to emphasize the importance of noun-verb agreement could quite possibly be returned in kind.

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High school instruction seemed more a function of subtle psy-ops techniques and the application of mental anguish. As image became everything to pubescent males, the Brothers saw how easily public embarrassment could be employed as a learning tool among young men growing accustomed to comparing the buttons and loops of a dress shirt as a measure of belonging. Fusing learning with the prospect of public humiliation provided the Brothers with an effective wedge, driving home a richer understanding of the “Wilmot Proviso,” compound equations, “Paradise Lost” and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Finally, in May 1971, I graduated from Loyola University. With the good Jesuits questioning their own faith and vocations, college life seemed more free swinging, less disciplined than the cloistered tiger cages of our prior schooling. Questioning the authority, truthfulness, and relevance of our academic life was no longer physically or psychologically dangerous to our health. The realization that we were going to be responsible for our own futures, that no one would be there to beat or berate us into proper behavior, slowly took hold.

In May 1978 I found myself established in business. My wife and I had just closed on our first house, and we would shortly learn we were pregnant with our twin son and daughter. (A second daughter would arrive five years later.) A career path, lifelong indebtedness and parenthood were all locked down in one great clanging of the reality bell.

It was a piece of life knowledge that struck me with the combined forces of, say, a Sister Rottweiler head butt, the announcement to my fellow students by Brother Sneering Condescension that I had entered class streaming a length of toilet paper from the heel of a Weejun, and the realization by a self-defrocked Jesuit that I was truly alone in the universe.

Thirty Mays later, career, financial, and family challenges and successes have continued. Somehow, though, I always seem to find some bit of education that sees me through the challenge at hand and to new understanding. Many times I’ve raised my skeptical eyes heavenward to thank God for the Catholic education I had been privileged and fortunate to have received.

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Reid Champagne’s essay “The Six Stages of Golf Grief” appears in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book,” released in bookstores April 21.

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