TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses many forms of child abuse.
At St. Clement of Rome elementary school, I made friends with a boy named Brian. He had an mop of unruly blond hair and his teeth seemed too big for his mouth, making him look goofy. I remember black was his favorite color. My peers had unanimously agreed only blue or green were acceptable choices. Secretly, I thought him brave.
One day, Brian got in trouble for talking during a music lesson. Sister Bernadette made us sing church hymns, so no one took it seriously. Music was on the same level as art or gym, which the school drilled into us was not as crucial as English, and the holy of holies, Catechism. No doubt this is why Brian was talking.
We were on the cusp of puberty. It was the time of life where the good opinion of friends was of paramount importance. We noticed the opposite sex wasn’t entirely revolting as they had once been. To be embarrassed was death and everything embarrassed us.
As a punishment, this “bride of Christ” directed Brian to sing the hymn a cappella at the front of the class. He turned beet red and mumbled an apology in a desperate attempt to avoid his impending doom. It didn’t work. The nuns had taught us that only God grants mercy. Inwardly, I cringed because Brian, like me, was one of the worst singers in our grade. I vividly remember judging her punishment as cruel. I prayed Sister would send him back to his seat with a stern warning and a demerit.
Standing in his rumpled school uniform of slacks, white shirt and a clip-on tie, Brian quietly sang the hymn. He was horribly off key. The humiliation was heartbreaking. Sister Bernadette berated him to be louder. As is common for boys that age and at that stage of physical development, his voice cracked. Tears rolled down his cheeks. My heart ached for my friend.
Sister Bernadette had a smile on her face with a look of pure satisfaction. She enjoyed it.
Catholic Child Abuse Ignored
For decades during the 20th century, Catholic schools fostered a culture of abuse. Why is no one demanding accountability?
While the sexual abuse of children is heinous, the sheer number of victims of verbal and emotional abuse is far greater. These other sins also need to be dragged from the darkness of the past. Former students who were victims or witnessed child abuse should demand the Vatican confess their sins and beg forgiveness.
The decades of verbal, emotional and physical abuse potentially affected some 5.2 million US children attending 13,000 Catholic schools in the 1960s alone. Scores of children across the globe have been beaten, berated and humiliated by the clergy — or witnessed such maltreatment — in Catholic educational institutions.
It seems every older adult who was educated in a Catholic school has a story to tell, an experience they have held onto for 40 or 50 years or more. Although accounts of lay teachers abusing children are not as prevalent as those involving the clergy, some did participate.
One example from my own childhood was a teacher who yanked me out of line for committing the sin of talking while students changed classrooms. The teacher was enraged. I don’t remember her name, only that she was a redhead and was frequently angry. She dragged me by my hair into her room and proceeded to tell me how much she disliked me and how I would never amount to anything. I can still recall the pain in my scalp and being emotionally crushed by her words.
Child abuse was a regular occurrence in Catholic schools, it was celebrated as a form of discipline and institutionalized. The public has ignored the lifelong consequences of such a toxic environment. Perhaps this is the result of our low expectations for some measure of remorse from Church leadership in the wake of the organization’s handling of the sexual abuse scandals. Or perhaps the problem was so widespread, we instinctively believe to expose it would be to further victimize millions of former students.
Setting the Tone for Catholic Child Abuse
I entered the parochial school system early as my birthday fell in that no-man’s land of the summer months. I was the youngest and smallest in the class. Kindergarten had been a half day and more like nursery school with plenty of playtime, naps and snacks.
First grade was my initial taste of what lay ahead for me at the hands of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The first week was my introduction into the Church’s program of child abuse as a form of strict discipline.
Having just turned six the week prior, most of my classmates were a year or two older. I was still struggling with my physical development.
I had problems pronouncing certain sounds, like “U” at the beginning of the word eulogy. My siblings had teased me, so I was sensitive about it and avoided using words I had trouble pronouncing. I have since learned these types of speech problems are common for children.
Catholic education places importance on the ability to not only read, but do it early and fast. They focused on phonics. As part of learning the sound of each letter, the teacher showed each of us a picture and asked us to identify the image. We had to respond with the answer that began with the “M” sound. Sister Mary was in the room observing. This would be my first interaction with a nun.
I was terrified and confused, not understanding why things were so different. I wondered why this was not like Kindergarten with friendly Mrs. Doerr who gave us cookies and read us stories. I didn’t know most of my classmates, so I was in a strange situation surrounded by strange kids.
My turn came and the picture was a mule. I stared at the flash card and did not respond. The teacher stood expectantly holding the card in front of her. I wracked my brain for any other word that began with “M” that could fit. . . monster. . .monkey. . .man. . .
Sister Mary barked at me. “You know what it is. Answer!”
I was trembling and meekly responded, “Mool.”
She was visibly angry with what she likely perceived as insolence, “Say it right.”
I twisted my mouth trying to make the sound. “Moooool.” Please don’t make me cry because these kids will make fun of me.
“Come up here.” She had enough of my shit.
I walked to the front of the class. I faced the big imposing woman with wide hips dressed in a modern habit, a black polyester dress so dark it absorbed everything good including the light.
Bats, bats are black and scary. Witches wear black. So do dead people.
Sister Mary grabbed my shoulders and spun me around to face the now frightened class.
She spanked me as my horrified classmates watched.
I had been designated as the sacrificial lamb to impart an important lesson to the rest of the flock that first week. Do what you are told or this will happen to you. You will obey or else.
“Stand in the hall and think about what you have done.”
She pushed me out the door. I was sobbing and humiliated, left alone and unsupervised. Today, leaving an emotionally distraught child exposed and unattended in an empty hallway would likely end a job — and hitting a child would no doubt bring about the demise of a career.
In Catholic schools, child abuse was preferred.
Was the Decline in Enrollment Due to Catholic Child Abuse?
Enrollment in Catholic Schools experienced a sharp decline beginning in the 1970s. Coincidentally, this was about the same time students who attended in the 1950s prepared to send their own children off to be educated. Falling enrollment is usually attributed to economics and changing demographics. No one admits to any loss of enrollment due to Catholic child abuse in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1965, Catholic institutions educated 89% of American children who were attending private schools. By 2013, that figure had dropped to half. During the previous decade, more than 1,300 schools have been closed or consolidated, according to the National Catholic Education Association.
We will never know much abuse affected declining enrollments, nor is it likely to be revealed by the NCEA. But one thing is certain, many students attending Catholic schools with abusive clergy experienced trauma long after their education ended.
Catholic Child Abuse and Trauma
Most of us recognize the trauma of physical abuse in childhood has a lasting affect on the victim. A 2011 study by Rutgers University showed child abuse leads to increases in rates of depression, anxiety, anger and a host of physical ailments. The CDC and Kaiser studied Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and found the greater number of negative events increased the risk alcoholism, illicit drug use, fetal death, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases — among many others.
It is clear that all forms of abuse, whether it is physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual, can have long-term effects on the victim’s mental health.
It is not widely recognized that children who witness the humiliation or physical abuse of others are also at risk. Former students relate countless stories of abuse by the clergy, some are shocking. They range from extreme amounts of homework such as requiring students to write each missed vocabulary word a hundred times, to humiliation, slaps in the face, forcing children to kneel with their arms outstretched, and using books, rulers and pointers to strike children. For every victim of direct abuse, dozens more witnessed acts of violence and humiliation, incurring trauma indirectly from the abuse of others.
According tochildren are at risk for psychological problems if they witness high levels of conflict and discord, bullying by teachers or experience toxic competitive environments. Children can be victimized indirectly by being present while another child is abused. Known as toxic socialization, it leads to physical, psychological, and emotional debility and dysfunction.
The costs are staggering. The estimated average lifetime cost per victim is $210,012, mostly due to healthcare costs and lost productivity. The Vatican has not addressed the problem much less the cost to society, and likely won’t until victims speak up about the abuse.
Perhaps it is time we had a global dialogue about the Catholic Church making reparations to their victims from their vast accumulation of wealth. Society continues to suffer due to institutionalized Catholic child abuse of the past.
Great article and so totally relate. Spent time kneeling by my desk and learned early what hypocrisy is.
I’m still sad after reading this. I spent eight years in hell at St Gabriel’s in Norwood, PA.
Absolute HELL, with Sister Donatus in 8th grade, as the perfect bitch from Hades!!!
I just had a epiphany moment!!
So glad I came upon this article. I Googled “non-sexual abuse by Catholic Church”. I was horribly abused. Physical & emotional. Still haunts me today. What you didn’t talk about was the ignorant parents who sent us there. My mother doesn’t want to hear about it today. I’m a drama queen. She didn’t believe it back then. It’s no wonder these young boys never told anyone about being molested. Who would believe them?
I love how you mentioned catechism being so important. A solid 15-20% of my education is completely useless. I have never been in a meeting where someone asked me to name the 7 deadly sins. Yet this information was drilled into us. Even if these institutions were wonderful, think about how much was missed compared to a public school education. What a farce these places were. And all in the name of God. Thank you for writing this.
Frankly, I am surprised at the number of Catholics who normalize this type of abusive behavior in children.
I attended a catholic school outside Philadelphia from kindergarten through 6th grade in the mid 60’s. Thankfully my mother pulled me out for public school. I remember being terrified for 7 straight years. I observed physical and emotional abuse done to other children and was a recipient of verbal and emotional abuse by the so-called Sisters of Mercy. For all of my adult years, I blocked out any memories of my childhood. At age 62, I had a nervous breakdown defined by intense anxiety and panic attacks. During counseling, I started to remember what had happened as a grade school child and how warped my belief system was. What an epiphany to realize that I was not bad, only human. I am well on the way to recovery, learning to have immense compassion for my terrified child self. I have been an atheist since the age of 16 because of what the Catholic Church did to me.
I am so sorry. I hope that as more of us speak out, we can help others.
I felt compelled to write about being physically and psychologically abused when I attended St. Titus Catholic school in Titusville, PA in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, when a member of a hometown memory Facebook group, to which I belong, responded to a post about Catholic school abuse by nuns. He said what I experienced was “bullshit.” Obviously, he was either one of the rare children who somehow avoided the nuns’ abuse, or he’s in denial.
One of my nun abuse episodes has remained with me since it happened to me in 1965 when I was in the first grade. The nun’s name was Sister Mary Isabelle. I don’t know to this day why she abused me. I was a tiny, quiet, polite little girl who was excited to be starting first grade. It was a very confusing and frightening time for me once I started school that year because I wasn’t allowed to use the first name I’d always been called from my earliest memory. The name I knew myself as was “Tricia.” I was told by Sr. Isabelle that there were only “Patty’s” in her classroom and that I was going to have to be Patty from then on in her classroom. There were three girls in the class named Patricia, and I was the only one whose parents called her Tricia. I would be regularly punched in the back by Sr. Isabelle, when she would call on “Patty” to answer a question in class, and I would fail to answer. I wasn’t accustomed to answering to that name since I’d been called Tricia since birth. She would punch my spine so hard that I felt as though her fist would come right through my chest. One day in math class, she pointed at me and said “Patty! Come here!” I went up to her desk, as ordered and she handed me a shoe box lid filled with geometric shapes cut from card stock. She told me to pass out one of each of the shapes to each of my classmates. She watched me like a hawk as I went from desk to desk. One of the boys tapped me on the shoulder and showed me that two of the triangles were stuck together and attempted to give one back to me. When Sr. Isabelle saw this “crime”, she came running toward me, old fashioned habit veil and rosary beads flying around her and she grabbed me by the arm and punched the center of my back so hard that I collapsed in pain and the shoebox lid with the paper shapes in it flew up into the air with little geometric paper shapes falling like confetti all over the classroom. That event really enraged her because she began punching me all over my torso. I was laying on the floor and trying to shield myself from her fists by crawling under my desk. As I began to get under my desk, she began kicking me in the ribs with her pointy-toed nun shoes. I was sobbing by then and could hardly breathe. The boy to whom I mistakenly gave two geometric shapes, was crying hysterically at witnessing her tirade. She turned to him and told him to “shut up” and that was when I was able to crawl away from her kicks and try to pull my dress back in place. I didn’t know what to do afterward! None of my classmates would look at me. The only sounds were of me and the boy student trying to stifle our sobs. I was in such pain and so frightened that I just sat in my chair at my desk. I heard her moments later say “Patty, come here!” I thought she was probably going to really kill me this time. Being an innocent, tiny, frightened, and confused little girl, I went up to her desk. She put her arm around my shoulder and led me back to a cupboard she called “the press” and reached inside and brought out a miraculous medal on a light blue ribbon. She turned me toward her and placed the medal over my head saying, “This is for you.” Now, I was really confused because I couldn’t understand why she would punch and kick me and then give me the medal on the beautiful blue ribbon. She put her lips right up to my ear and warned me that if I told anyone what happened that the devil would come with his pitchfork, pick me up with it, and carry me off to hell.
At bath time at home, my mom asked me how I not so bruised up. I told her I fell off the swing. She believed me because my siblings and I were very active kids and always had bruises from falls off bikes, etc.
I was a junior in high school before I told my parents what Sr. Isabelle had done to me in the first grade. I’m 60 years old now and I still remember this incident like it was yesterday. This beating wasn’t my only instance of abuse at the hand of this evil nun, merely the most psycho one. The Catholic Church needs to be held accountable for physical and psychological abuse by the Sisters of Mercy. Incredibly, I ran into a man over this past weekend who was in first grade with me. He said: “ Hi, Patty.”
This is such a powerful story and sadly, not unusual. The silence on this matter makes so many complicit in the abuse of children. I hope you write your story and publish it. More people need to face the truth of the child abuse by Catholic educational institutions.
I would like to expose the abuse but in my hometown, there are many , many Catholics who refuse to believe that anyone was a victim of the nuns’ abuse. I don’t know where would be the best place to publish my experience.
I will publish it as a guest column. You can write under a pen name.
You mentioned that you could publish my nun abuse experience as a guest column. Please contact me, by email, to let me know how this can be accomplished. Thank you.
Please, allow me gather my thoughts from years of mental and verbal abuse coupled with daily fear when I attended Resurrection Roman Catholic Church located in Harlem. So, I she’ll return shortly.
Bye for now,
I was abused by nuns at Blessed Secrement school in Gary, Indiana. Back in the 60s I hear it was the norm. I am 61 and I still have PTSD due to the abuse. I have finally receiving trama therpay. After 35 years of therpay. I am finally getting the help I have needed for a lifetime. I have spoke to my therpist about during the Catholic church for this abuse. Why can you sue for sexual abuse? But not phyical or emotional. Have been searching for a lawyer to do just that. Why are we divided? Abuse, is abuse.
I’ve been googling physical abuse in Catholic schools since people on fb seem to be so dismissive any time the subject is brought up. Others will swear about what angels the nuns were. My mother’s cousin was a nun, and she pulled strings to get me and my sister into the local Catholic school. Kindergarten was in the local public school — a superb school district — but no, my mother, who also suffered through Catholic school, decided to do this to her kids. She also warned me that if I got in trouble at school, I’d be in trouble when I got home. She was physically abusive as it was, so I knew I had no recourse.
Like you, I had speech impediments. I was also left-handed and probably on the autism spectrum. The first day of class, Sister Mary Cormack disappeared for quite a long time. I had a bathroom emergency and, following the procedure from kindergarten, rushed to the bathroom and returned right away. She was waiting and furious. I got turned over her knee and beaten in the front of the class. The shame of that lived with me for the eight years of Catholic school. I lost control over my bodily functions during school, but could never tell anyone what was done to me. I was a quiet, frightened kid who somehow ended up having to kneel in the hallway by the open front door of the school and told to stay on my knees and beg for forgiveness while everyone walked past. Someone once picked up a pencil I had dropped and handed it to me. The nun told me to take off my glasses and slammed me full force across the face. She then complained to my parents that I was possessed by the devil. The sisters delighted in picking up my desk and dumping out the contents in front of my peers. No one ever suggested ways for me to organize that desk. School was painful and humiliating. To make matters even worse, I ended up having Sister Mary Cormack for seventh grade as well.
I learned to hate school. It took years for me to separate the joy of learning from the horrors of the Catholic school system. Thank you for writing this. I just can’t understand how these abuses are dismissed so readily.
It still goes on. I taught in an all boys catholic school in MN. Some men yell and swear at the boys terribly. One coach was just sanctioned by the mn state HS league for his behavior at a state meet but at school he is a hero. It is a sick culture of abuse/yelling/bullying done by a few toward some kids, minorities, and adults. Their enrollment is down and 70 adults have quit over the last 5 year’s but that type will never admit what is done is wrong. I moved to another catholic school not as harsh but still bad. My last day a man chewed out a kid starting with”DONT BE A JACKASS” and on and on over a little piece of trash! Why not just’ hey pick up the trash please?’ Just another man with inner anger he vents on an adolescent. They will never never admit what they do is wrong. At this school if you complain about yelling they just yell “so what they are just having a bad day”. Eventually good people leave and all left are those of anger and kids of parents who like such anger. So sad. Certainly not what God intended. I believe there are proverbs warning to stay away from men of anger.
I am wondering how I can get my story out. I attended Catholic school in the early 1980s. I was about 6 years old. My entire life I have suffered from OCD, depression and extreme anxiety. In first grade at Catholic school I would have what I now know to have been panic attacks. I would cry uncontrollably and was treated as a discipline problem at the hands of my teacher who was ironically named Sister Theresa. One memory burnt into my mind was being picked up by my shoulders and shaken like a rag doll to stop me from crying. I will never forget seeing that crucifix around her neck shaking about as Sister Theresa violently shook me into silence. On another occasion, I was dragged out of the classroom by my desk, with me in it and left unattended in a windowless hall as the classroom was located in the basement. I was dragged up a flight of stairs by my arm, bouncing off of the stairs. I finally got out when my pediatrician informed my mother that I was never to return to that school ever again or she would lose me as I would end up institutionalized. I was in to see the Dr. because I was having massive anxiety attacks at night, screaming my head off that I wanted to go home; I was in my own bed. My experience has left me scarred. I was an emotionally disturbed 6 year old boy treated like garbage by ignorant people hiding behind “God.”
This is happening at my children’s school and parents are silent. Fear and intimidation are powerful. Why we continue to put up with this is beyond me.
I did not suffer physical abuse, but I believe that the Baltimore Catechism was a form of emotional abuse. I agonized every day and night for years and years about whether a fleeting thought could potentially send me to hell. I developed full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder, which in the 1960s and 1970s was not really addressed. My childhood and teen years were consumed with ruminating over which mortal sin I might have committed from one minute to the next. I would leave Confession relieved, only to become terrified moments later that I’d committed yet another mortal sin. I cannot wrap my head around what sort of mind created the Baltimore Catechism for young impressionable children. Its teachings bore no resemblance to what Jesus Christ was about.
How many of us from Buffalo, NY were victims of the Felician Nuns. These women were “gifted” in using there voices, hands, fists, yard sticks, pointers, rulers, counter brushes, stones, marbles, rope cords from their habits, dark closets, corners, flipping over desks, no lunch break…I was a victim of many of these as were so many others in my school, some of the students had learning disabilities and they really got the worst of it! There were no special ed classes in the 60’s. There were times when more than 1 nun was involved, especially if you were sent to the principal! It’s sad that we couldn’t tell our parents….because we would have to endure the wrath of their punishment and that could include the strap, the cat of nine tails or whatever happened to be in their hand at the time…this usually happened if you had an older sibling in the same school who tattled on you!
Just as a side note, I had to clean the church weekly with several other students, this included the confessionals….low and behold Playboy and Hustler under the priest’s cushion……think about that….
At the age of 61, suppressed memories still come to the surface. I am not alone !! Again, no one wanted to listen. A nun in 2nd grade made up promise to keep everything in school at school. The only thing that got me through the horror was my headstrong attitude. But, still at this age the pain keeps me awake at night. Thank you all as now I know I am not alone and WE are not alone.
I was 7 in 3rd grade. Sister Mary Syncletica at St Mary’s in Kalamazoo Mi picked me as her favorite target as I was the biggest kid in the class. The attacks “Patty” described were
common occurrences in class. I
suffered all the abuse previously
described by others on this forum.
Her favorite way to abuse me was using a hand brush on the back of my thighs. The brush was about 2 feet long with a barrel like a little league baseball bat cut length wise with bristles poking from the flat edge. It had a handle about 8 inches long. While standing and touching my toes she would beat the top of the back of my thighs until she found a nerve that made the leg tremble uncontrollably. I tried to fake the tremble but couldn’t. I ran away from school in late April causing a big fuss. But my parents didn’t believe me and made me good back to that Hell hole. When I read Tricia’s account just now I had a 10 minute crying jag. I have Complex PTSD thanks to that “bride of Christ” ( spit !!!)
If a class action lawsuit is available to join please let me know.
These comments are affirming what I endured from the age of 4 to 13 in Catholic elementary school in NJ. Much of the physical and psychological abuse I was subjected to from the nuns, brothers and priests, I suppressed for many years, though I experienced depression and outbursts throughout my adult years. Then when I in my 50s, I got cancer and the treatments I was given open the flood gates on the Catholic years. During the cancer years, I was finally correctly diagnosed with Complex PTSD from childhood trauma. While it is good to know this as it refines the treatments for handling it, I am now in my 60s processing the ‘memories’ that haunted me for years in my dreams and behaviors. Sadly, the severe isolation as a single man due to the coronavirus pandemic has been a major challenge to the progress I have made with my therapies. I am stunned that I am in retirement and my Catholic school abuses still impact my life. It’s hard to forgive these people, who are all dead now, and my parents for turning a blind eye due to being such devote Catholics. Anyway, this article was helpful and the comments reaffirming. Thank you
Thank you all so very much for sharing your unspeakable experiences. My mother went through it too. She’s 77 and is only now really connecting her childhood Catholic school upbringing and her adult behaviors that were undeniably intertwined. For decades I’ve watched her struggle with crippling low self esteem all while trying to maintain some sense of ‘normal’ life, she’s got her facade perfected and it pains me deeply. I look foward to reading this again with her later and being there to hug her when she absolutely knows she is not alone, or stupid, or worthless and begins to believe she is perfect just the way she is. Thank you again, everyone for sharing and to the author for uniting all who know and feel your pain.
Peace and love and strength to you all.
The ruined lives, the families destroyed, the wasted potential, and no one speaks of it. To read your post of your mother reminds me why I wrote this piece.
A female teacher who went by the alias “Sister Kathleen Anne” physically abused me in the fall of 1963 when I was a student at St. Monica’s school in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. She pulled up hard on my right ear. I was six years old. Through much effort in contacting a string of Catholic officials, I learned the legal name of “Sister Kathleen Anne,” as well as her employer: Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I looked for a Pennsylvania law firm to take my case but no law firm agreed to do so.
I can appreciate all of these stories about physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of nuns..
I spent 8 years, from 1961-1969, at St Brigid’s grade School on Westbury, NY..
The School Sisters of Notre Dame was the community of nuns who tortured us…
I’ve been burying my feelings and horrific memories for over 50 years…
But I truly want my story to be told now.
It’s way over due..
I tried reaching out to the Diocese of Rockville Center to discuss the situation over a year ago, but have received nothing but the run around..
I feel the diocese may listen if I contacted an attorney but I don’t know who to talk to..
It seems many attorneys don’t feel there was abuse unless it was sexual, which I never witnessed..
Any information about a law firm who I might contact would be greatly appreciated
I can never forget the time where it was fourth grade and common practice was if you had to answer a question you stood up to do it. I gave the wrong answer to something or another and the nun just started going on and on how stupid I was and why did I even bother coming to class. Are there was the nun who had a barrel full of laughs when she made up a front and back pie board saying I had sinned and I was a horrible person. She made me wear this going home and she said she was going to call my mother to let her her know how bad I was and that I should be coming through the door of my home wearing this embarrassing device. Of course in the eyes of my mother the nuns were always right so you got it at school and then you came home and got it from her.
As I sit here reading all these horrible things people have experienced at the hands of the Catholic Establishment, my mind reflects back to my experiences in their hypocritical, self serving greatness.
like you the experiences have never really gone away but haunt from the back of my mind. Back in the 60’s I was the kid with cancer that they did not want in their school. The physical, emotional and verbal pain continues to be felt, even today. I am so glad that I can finally tell this to people I know will understand. I just turned 60. Just to let you know, I am from Ontario, Canada. Their inhumanity knows no borders. Sharing feels so good. God understands the wrongs that have been done to us and will remember on judgement day
I went to Catholic school from 1958-1961 at St. Francis Xavier school in Junction City Kansas and it was a terrible time for me. To me the Catholic Church is pure fascism. I remember my third grade teacher, sister Mary Teresina, out of frustration slapped me across the face. It seems that I couldn’t understand what she wanted me to do; I was not being smart mouthed or disrespectful. It turns out that I was very near sighted though I didn’t know it at the time. We had to attend mass every morning and I remembered after getting my glasses that I could see the flames on the candles on the altar for the first time; before that the flames just appeared as sparks at the top of the candles. It was my mother who forced Catholicism on me; she was German and met my father just after the war. My father didn’t believe in religion. My mother wanted him to convert to Catholicism but he refused but she wanted out of Germany bad enough to compromise her values and married him anyway; he did agree though that any children in there marriage would be Catholics. Basically I was sold to the church so that she could be married in the church though my father wasn’t Catholic. That was the deal; he gets the mamma the church gets the kids. I can sum up my mother with this phrase: “you are going to mass!; you are going to catechism!”. At that young age I believed in what I was taught in church and school but it was made worse when at home my father would mock the church. To me the Catholic Church is the last remnants of the ancient Roman empire; the ancient pagan Roman religion simply morphed into the Roman Catholic Church when then Emperor Constantine was baptized some time in the 4th century CE. I really hate that church.
I too started Catholic school, or parochial school, at the tender age of only six, in the First Grade. My brother was in first grade in a public school. We were transferred because he was almost stabbed by one of his classmates.
I too was traumatized upon entering parochial school, ours being St. Louis, in New Haven, CT. I believe. The nuns there ran the school as if it was the military, complete with daily, repetitive physical and emotional abuse. Even if you were not the one receiving the abuse directly, the whole class witnessed most of the abuse on a daily basis. Part of the punishment was the humiliation in front of the class. Personally, I witnessed and regularly endured the following traumatic experiences: children’s’ desks being picked up and thrown to the ground, from behind, with the children still in the attached chairs; children being hung up on walls by their ties, as a lesson for the class to watch; children being dragged to the front of the class, and humiliated there, as a lesson for the class to watch; children being beaten with rulers having their hands on their desks for small infractions such as paying a note; chalkboard erasers thrown at their heads at by teachers for simply speaking; water pistols being whipped out by teachers and fired without warning at children’s heads for similar, small infractions; being dragged to the front of the class, with or without your desk, to be humiliated individually in front of your peers, sometimes until you cried, often leading to additional be reading by your peers; daily, repetitive, individual verbal berating by teachers for perceived minor infractions to teachers, such as talking back and incorrect answers; daily, repetitive, group verbal berating by teachers for not lining up perfectly straight every time we left or entered a classroom or a building; and so much more.
One example of A traumatic experience, which I was subjected to by nuns, that sticks with me, is trying to teach me to write with my right hand. I was naturally left-handed. But, At the time, some schools were trying to transfer lefties to be right handed, allegedly for their own good. My school had hand writing class every single day. Every single day, my teacher would insist I wasn’t trying hard enough and be rate me. Sometimes, they would pull my desk to the front of the class, for the sole purpose of berating and humiliating me in front of my peers! My handwriting never got any better, no matter how they tortured me, for the simple reason that I was already doing my best. To this day, I write with my right hand… Held in the position of a left-handed person. It is the only way I can write and it leaves my handwriting very messy. To this day, I wonder how good my handwriting would have been if I was allowed to continue to write left-handed.
Not only did this normalize abuse, for both the staff and the children, it left severe emotional scars on some of us too. Personally, I am diagnosed with severe PTSD. It is attributed to a trauma I endured as an adult, but… I feel the foundation, for me to develop severe PTSD was laid in Catholic school. With this in mind, I strongly believe the Catholic schools should be held legally accountable for the trauma that we endured as children during their care. Memories, nightmares and flashbacks continue to re-traumatize some of us, like myself, throughout our adulthood too.
I firmly believe that parochial schools must be held legally accountable for the neglect, physical and verbal abuse, and dramatization of its students back in the 60s, 70s… and as long as it continued. I would love to start, or join, a class action lawsuit to force the catholic church to compensate the living victims, who endured this childhood trauma, and their families. This is the very least the Uber wealthy Catholic Churches could do to help cover the cost of a lifetime of therapy, let alone the pain and suffering they have caused millions of children who now are forced to live with severe PTSD from being traumatized in Catholic school.
We still refer to our elementary school as St Joseph Child Abuse School. My family moved and I started the fifth graded in a new Catholic School. I was so afraid to attend that I had my dad walk me to school. None of my four other youngest siblings had a parent come with them.The nun stood at the front door of the class. I accidently used my wrong hand to shake hers. She scolded me, but smiling at my dad, “Oh is that the right hand.” I knew she hated me then. Throughout that year if I couldn’t think of the answer she’d hit me. She hit me more if I cried, calling me a stupid, stupid child. At night I’d cry and cry. My parents didn’t understand why. I became an alcoholic and joined AA. Later I found out she joined. I didn’t ever see her, nor did I want to.
I can relate to all of psychological abuse. I started catholic school early. I was 5 years old would not be 6 until April. I remember sister Bernadette she was nice. The only thing that was a problem she would would try to be fair and let us change seats so every one gets a chance to sit at the front Rowe She stopped doing it and I remained in the back seat I was very tiny and it was difficult to look over the other students head. I never complained. Second grade I only remember doing my communion and confession in that scary box. 6 years old what kind of sin could you have.? I had to lie to make up some sins.
I can’t even remember the nuns name or what was taught or how I was treated. That changed with my third grade nun. Sister Claudia. The worse nun I ever had. She humiliated me in front of the class she new how to confuse me. I would stand to answer a question if I got it wrong she go on and on asking me what’s the answer I kept getting it wrong I think. I had no idea even if I knew the right answer. She humiliated me I started to cry. She told me to come up to her desk. I did and she was hugging me. I don’t know what she said to me in my ear I can’t remember. I cringed at the fact this nun was hugging me making me feel like I was wrong. My cousin was in my class she told me when we were adults that she saw what the nun was doing to me. I had a feeling sister Claudia did this but I was never sure. I finally realized it was true. My poor cousin suffered too. She told me she didn’t know what to do to help me.
I remember how cruel they were. One kid for talking had masking tape across his mouth and had to sit in the corner until lunch came. One boy she said wrote on his desk with pencil May be a tiny mark by accident. She took him to the front of the room he sat on the floor she gave him looked like a really small stool that would be his desk for the day.
One more incident was her pulling on boys ears across the room. In the upper grades if u kneeled on the floor and your skirt was to short they would rip your hem. Also if your bangs were too long they would cut it uneven. I was terrified in that I witnessed so many cruel things. That it upset me. I was a shy tiny girl petrified of the nuns. They took away my self esteem.
Making me think I was stupid. The only time I was ever hit was when the principal was checking our work. She looked at mine hit my knuckles with the pointer. It dint hurt. My feelings was destroyed. I was just about to cry when she turned the page and said you did it right. The damage to me was already done. My older brother also went to that school ST. Lenard’s When we grew up we told our mother what they did. My mother was shocked. Her response was what did I do send you to reform school? We moved when I was going into 6th grade I had the choice Catholic school or Public. Public it was ..unfortunately lot of damage was done.
My son has been in Catholic school and we just had to pull him because we put an incident report into the police department and were informed (we recorded it) that we need to leave because we went outside of the school and it should have been a private matter. The teachers refused to add grades that were 100% so his grades looked bad, he was assaulted by a teacher (head slammed against the desk) and then the school made false records, teacher was fired and no police report or anything, and then in recorded events they would badger our son repeatedly.
My husband was abused for yers at st ritas in chicago. When he talks about it he laughs as a coping mechanism. Why cant we sue them for all this damage. I know he has psd and has been an alcholic for years