John Roche, a graduate of St. Raymond’s High School for Boys, a journalist and author, shares with us his experiences at Catholic schools following Christopher Mele’s blog post about corporal punishment.
Roche’s recently published book, “Bronx Bound,” is a cop thriller/mystery set in the familiar environs of his old Bronx neighborhoods, including Orchard Beach, Parkchester, Tremont Avenue and other settings.
I can honestly say that all throughout my Catholic schooling, I only got hit when I deserved it. And I can add that, during those 13 years, I deserved a lot more smacks than I ever got from a Christian Brother, Sister of Charity, priest or a lay teacher.
The slaps I did receive are etched in my mind.
But truth be told, all these years later, with all kinds of political correctness under the bridge, I still strongly feel that I deserved it. I just wished I knew that was the punishment that would be meted out before I committed the transgression.
It wasn’t a terrible crime, and actually, then and now, it was kind of funny.
A math teacher was chastising me for wasting my time, mind and my parents’ money, explaining that they worked hard to pay her to teach me algebra.
“Your parents hired me and pay me to be here, so if you don’t care about wasting your time and talents, you should care about that,” she said. “I’m being paid by them, by YOU, to teach you this.”
I couldn’t resist.
“So if my family is paying your salary, it’s like you’re our employee, right?”
“Exactly!” was poor, unsuspecting Mrs. Webb’s response.
I fixed my tie a little, and then said, “If that’s the case, take the rest of the day off.”
The class went crazy with laughter, and Mrs. Webb’s face went crimson. I actually felt bad for her, even later in the day during detention.
At St. Raymond’s, an all-boys high school in the Bronx, detention amounted to what we called “The Wall.”
We had to stand along the wall (not against it; leaning could result in a second day’s detention) outside the principal’s office.
I was a frequent visitor, mostly for being late for school in the morning. Frequent, like three out of five days, and more if you threw in the trouble I got in for being a smartass.
I was a smartass, but I was also smart, and that got me out of detention early most days.
Our principal, Brother Christopher, was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. And sensible.
Once, for instance, I got The Wall for chewing gum in class. When he asked me why I was in detention that particular day, I told him, and rolled my eyes, I guess.
He questioned why I seemed annoyed, and I said that it seemed silly to me that people could chew gum anytime and anywhere, but doing so in school was forbidden. We had that hammered into us since we were in first grade, yet it didn’t make any sense.
“Gum, once chewed and no longer wanted, creates a mess — stuck under desks, in books, on walls, in the hair of our fellow students,” Brother Christopher explained. Huh.
The best part of The Wall, was that most days, after 20 minutes or so of standing, Brother Christopher would ask a question, and if you got the answer correct, you could leave.
I got a lot of those questions right, like “What is the definition of ilk?” or “What does the ‘S’ stand for in Harry S Truman?”
This day — the day I embarrassed my well-intentioned math teacher almost to the point of tears — Brother Christopher stepped before me and with a smile asked a question.
I was stumped, but I knew I had a 50/50 chance at being right, and ciotog, rhyming at the end with rogue, sounded better to my ear.
“I’ll take a ciotog, Brother,” I said.
With that, Brother Christopher swung and clipped my jaw with the stone fist of his left hand. Everyone else on The Wall collectively gasped, which I could barely hear over the ringing in my head from the punch.
“You can go now,” he said. “You’re lucky you didn’t pick the right hand. No more disrespect to your math teacher, understood?”
Holding my still-stinging jaw, I nodded.
I don’t remember much algebra these days. But 36 years later, I remember that lefty punch.
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