Friday, July 9, 2010


It didn’t take long before I was singled out to be required to attend Mass every morning. BM had this deep down feeling that I was a great sinner and badly in need of repenting and reform.
Once she decided that I needed to attend Mass every morning, she had a unique way of waking me up. All of the other girls would be asleep (prior to the bright lights and bell ringing). She would come to my bed in the dark, grab my foot by the toes and (painfully) bend my toes backward. This technique woke me up instantly! Then, she would stand over me while I said my morning prayers.

Once, I was very sick with a really bad cold. I coughed and coughed during Mass and she punished me afterward because in her opinion, I was “just trying to get attention”. She told me the next day that I had “better not cough in church if I knew what was good for me”. I tried so hard not to cough in the chapel the next morning that I actually passed out from holding it back (try sometime not to cough when you have a cold and you will understand what I was up against). She was so extremely furious at me, her face turned red. She said she was sick of me trying to make people feel sorry for me and that I had done it on purpose to make her look bad. I was campused for a month for that one.

There were other ways BM was relentless in her treatment of me. She would call me into her office, and the conversation would go something like this:
BM: (arms folded) “Do you want to tell me what it was you did two days ago that you didn’t want me to find out about?”
Sharon: “I have no idea what you are talking about”.
BM: “Well, is that so! I’ll give you some time to think about it until you are ready to tell me what you did”.
Sharon: “You can give me all the time you want, I didn’t do anything”.
BM: “Until you tell me, you are campused, so it would be wise if you would just admit it”.

Being ‘campused’ meant that you were not allowed to leave the building or the school grounds at any time. She had to know where you were at all times. She even made us ask permission to go to the restroom – and we were given 5 minutes maximum to do that. Only one of us at a time was ever allowed to go to the bathroom, lest we try to make it into a social event.

She always seemed to find a reason to campus me when she knew I had plans to do something on the weekend. She would know when I was planning to spend the weekend with my sister and brothers, or with another boarder at her house. She would make sure I had to spend it at the boarding school instead. Many times I was the only boarder at the school over the weekend (which ironically, meant that she was also punishing herself because she had to constantly be with me to monitor everything I did). Then, she would carry out the punishment for what I had done. Most often this would consist of making me clean the decorative rod-iron grate-work on the sides of the multitude of desks in the dozens of classrooms throughout the school. I would spend all day Saturday performing that task. Luckily, Sunday was a day we were not allowed to do any extra tasks other than our basic routine (Sunday was a day of “rest”).

She would find a way to keep me busy anyway. She would make me write a letter to my father. She would read it and mark any mistakes in red ink. I would have to keep re-writing it until everything was perfect. This task took up most of my Sundays. Of course, I couldn’t write what I really wanted to – because she was reading it and editing it. Our incoming mail was also opened and read before it was given to us.

Whenever I would ask her what it was that I had done, she would invariably answer: “you know what you did; I don’t need to tell you”. Needless to say, never did I ever learn what any of the awful things I had done were. She also told me – many times: “you are on the wrong path. Somehow you slid off the track heading to heaven, and you are sliding into hell”.

Don’t misunderstand, I seemed to be at the top of her “hate” list, but she inflicted the same kind of treatment upon all of the boarders under her charge. Of the myriad of horrendous things she did to me and others over the years, there was one particular incident that was by far the worst - ever. It was one that would have a lasting effect on me for the rest of my life...

Chapter 3, Part 2 - THE DAILY ROUTINE

All of the boarders slept on the 5th floor of the huge brick building, in two separate dormitories. No private rooms. Each dormitory had about 60 beds, which was quite a bit larger than good ol’ VV. Above and around each bed were pipes with pink curtains. This way you could dress in the morning and undress at night with some privacy. However, this was the only time we were ever allowed to close our curtains.

There were six long electrical cords hanging from a high ceiling. Each cord had a bare 150-watt light bulb hanging at the bottom. We would be awakened each morning at 6:00 AM. Sister Bernard Marie would turn on all six light bulbs - at once - and walk up and down the aisles of beds with a large bell that she rang as loudly as she possibly could. All of us were to immediately get on our knees on the floor next to our bed and say morning prayers. We would all say the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Act of Contrition (out loud). After saying prayers, Sister BM (which I will call her from here on) would clap her hands and order us to get in line at the eight washbasins located at one end of the dorm. We were each allowed three minutes to wash our face and brush our teeth. If we were not done in our allotted time, we were yanked by our hair, scolded, and sent back to our station (bed). BM obviously enjoyed being mean and cruel.

Next we would go back to our beds, close the curtains and put on our uniforms. The uniforms were dark navy blue long sleeved dresses that buttoned in the front and were pleated from the waist down. They had a matching cloth belt that buttoned at the waistline. There was a round white cotton collar that buttoned onto the neckline of the dress. On our feet we wore white anklets and brown oxford shoes. The collars would only be worn once and then put into the laundry.

Each girl was required to heavily starch and iron her own collars. There was so much starch in them that they were stiff and could actually stand up on their own. They were so stiff that many times they would actually cut into our necks. None of the “day students” had starched collars. Our anklets had to be folded down an exact way so we all looked exactly alike. Boarders were not allowed any creative folding or rolling of their socks, which many of the day students did. The high school students had completely different uniforms than the grade school.

We would then go to breakfast. All students were required to attend Mass before breakfast twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays (sometimes more if there was a religious feast during the week). We went to Mass every day during Lent. We were awakened at 5:00 AM on Mass days.

The heat took a long time to get from the basement, where the furnace was located, up to the 5th floor. It was not heated during the night. The Janitor would arrive around 4:00 am to load it with coal and get it started. In the winter we would be on our knees on ice-cold hard wood floors, saying our prayers. Sometimes it would be so cold at 5:00 AM we could see our breath.

After cleaning and getting dressed into our uniforms, we formed into a line and marched either to the chapel or to breakfast. Once a week, we would have to go to “confession” after Mass, before we could go to breakfast. There, we would tell the priest in the confessional all the great and horrible sins we committed the past week in boarding school.

After breakfast, we would be marched back up the 5 flights of stairs to the dormitory where we would clean our stations. This was an area that consisted of our bed, a chest of drawers, and a chair that was at the end of each bed. We had to dust the floors and the furniture every day. We also had to clean the other areas of the dorm where the sinks were, and the room where there were three bathtubs. We rotated on the cleaning of those areas. After cleaning, we had the dreaded “inspection”. Because she was (without a doubt) sadistic, this was BM’s favorite time of day. She really enjoyed making all of us as miserable as possible. If our bed was not absolutely perfectly made, she ripped down the sheets and blankets and made us do it over.

She would inspect the insides of each drawer in our chest of drawers. If everything was not in perfect order and folded exactly the right way, she would dump it all onto our bed and make us put it back in order. She would look for dust under each bed. The curtains around our bed had to be folded perfectly with the pleats at the top all facing in the same direction. If too many things were not perfect, we would be punished after school by not being able to join in the recess we all looked forward to. Sometimes we would have to write punishment “essays” instead of having recess. Needless to say, since she never liked me anyway, my station was rarely up to par, no matter how hard I tried. I was destined to spend 4 years redoing my station, writing essays, and recesses that were few and far between.