You’ve probably heard horror stories about people who have attended Catholic school. Stories of sadistic nuns acting as the ironic enforcers of righteousness and wielding wooden rulers as weapons. It’s all true, though of course some teachers were more sadistic than others, and some had altogether different expectations of righteousness.
As a young teenage girl, naturally I resented the harsh, seemingly arbitrary punishment that I suffered at Sister Dina’s hand. But in time I came to appreciate the self-discipline and the sense of devotion that she instilled in me.
A wooden ruler may not seem like much of an implement of torment, but directed at a young woman’s knuckles with expert precision, over and over again, it yielded the most exquisite pain. Each rap built exponentially upon the last, and the constant needling sensation eventually came to settle into the depths of my mind, more so than upon my hand.
The most remarkable thing about this, I came to find, was the effect that it had on my concentration during long periods of enforced discipline. Writing lines is, of course, the other stereotypical Catholic school punishment, and Sister Dina was as fond of it as she was of meting out pain. In fact, the hours spent sitting alone with her and writing lines were painful in their own right.
Add to that the throbbing that intensified in my knuckles with every mistake she perceived, and I soon found myself positively entranced by the pain. In one particularly brutal session, Sister Dina’s abuse gradually drew blood from my hands, and I dare say that my soul left my body so as to cope with the assignment without incurring still more of her wrath.
It was at the conclusion of that punishment that my perception of this brutal taskmistress instantly shifted from resentment from admiration. I could not even account for how long I had been writing; I had been so engrossed in the repetition that I’d abandoned all awareness of what I was doing with my hands. I looked down to see my own blood mingling with the pen strokes in tiny splashes.
Punctuated with the blood and standing neatly between the lines, I discovered the words “I reject the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” filling one page after another. Panicked tightness seized my chest for a moment before I looked up at Sister Dina, who was leaning imposingly over my desk clutching her innocent-looking weapon. Contrary to all expectations, her face wore an unnatural-looking grin as she peered deep into my eyes. “You’ve done well,” she declared with obvious pride. “You have always been my best pupil.”