The World of Grandpa Don

Sister Dionysius

During the summer of 2004 St Julie parish sponsored a series of sessions on "Writing your Memoirs". This after I had already written 15 chapters of mine. After the first session Jane Barron gave us a homework assignment to write about an object. This is my story using her example as presented the previous week.

We had moved to Mt. Greenwood during the summer of 1944  between seventh and eight grades so when I entered St Christina School in the old brick building at 111th and Central Park, I was a total stranger to my classmates and the nun who would be my teacher. She introduced herself to the class by writing her name on the blackboard in bold letters. The name, Sister Dionysius was as intimidating as the woman herself, substantial in size in her white Dominican habit.  

I have since looked up Dionysius in the list of saints and was surprised to find 16 saints and 2 Blesseds. Most were martyrs, which didn’t surprise me. There was a Pope with a couple Bishops thrown in. One also carried the title “The Great”, again, not surprising. What did startle me was the number of saints bearing the name.  

Sister Dionysius laid down the law right at the start. Most of her rules were the standards you would expect but one made me wonder.  “There would be no crying in her class.”  That was a strange one, …  but as I later found out, there was a reason for it. Later in that year, at a parish social event, she mentioned to my mother that she preferred to teach boys because girls just go to tears if you merely look cross at them. 

I do not remember her ever striking a girl, but boys were different. Raymond had a habit of forgetting his patrol belt. He was stationed with me on the busy corner of 111th and Central Park. She had warned him that if he forgot it one more time, she would knock him into the middle of next week. When he came to class with his head down in guilt, she said, “Head up and look me in the eyes. What did I tell you?” He repeated her promise and sister D came through with a right cross that took him off his feet. There were others who shared his fate at various times for various reasons, always preceded by due warning. 

More than once, as a male student, stumbled through a recitation she would slowly get up and deliberately walk toward him. As he stood there not daring to look up from his book, he was well aware of her approach and we all knew what was coming. She stood in front of the lad as he stammered through the words and finally would take the book from his hands, close it and used it to administer a two handed blow to the top of his head accompanied by the words, “Sit down, George” (or whatever the appropriate name.) 

The girls were not totally immune to her wrath. Father Rebedou (Spelling?) visited the class and using the list of name provided to him called on various students with questions. He mispronounced the name of one young lady and asked her if he said it correctly. She said, “Yes Father, that’s OK.” After the pastor left, Sr. Dionysius berated the girl for several minutes, loudly telling her that her name is something in which she should take pride and if the Pope mispronounced it she should correct him.  

During the course of the year I discovered that this class had taken advantage of their very mild mannered seventh grade teacher and after she had a nervous breakdown bragged about how they sent her to the loony bin. That perhaps explains some of the actions of their eight-grade teacher. In all fairness I must say that many of us had excellent treatment by her and never felt her wrath. Those who did feel her most severe punishments were most deserving of them and were probably the worst offenders the previous year.  

I do not remember learning a specific subject that year except for the Gettysburg Address which was indelibly imprinted on my mind, probably with thanks to Frank who, when he was told to recite it, (it seems like hundreds of times) invariably started out, “Score four … “ and was told to “sit down and study it again for tomorrow.” I think it was the year that we diagramed sentences, which I loved to do. It fit right in with my desire to have everything sorted out in a logical order. My major failure was in spelling which continues to be a problem. I should have been an Englishman because, I tend to append an “e” to every word, whether it needs it or not.  

In any case, I got along well with Sister Dionysius due to my apparent good behavior, organizational talents, and natural quiet nature. In sixth grade, Sister Stella had christened me “The Judge”. I was always serious, at least to all outward appearances. But that is another story. 

Don Plefka




Authored by 
Don Plefka

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Sister Dionysius

The World of Grandpa Don 

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