Writer’s Workshop: The Nuns Go Mod

St. Ignatius Grammar School. Source: Tim O’Connor, St. Ignatius Grade School 1950’s-1960’s Facebook Group

In the picture above, you’re standing on the southeast corner of Lakewood and Loyola Avenues, looking at what was at the time St. Ignatius Grammar School. Sometime in the 1990’s the decision was made to join with the other Catholic schools in the area and form the Northside Catholic Academy, closing the school. The parish then rented the school to The Chicago Waldorf School, which now I understand is relocating. I’ve asked the group if anyone’s heard what’s to become of the school building. I hope they don’t tear it down…

Which is kind of different than I felt 50 years ago, when I was in sixth grade. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, and in retrospect they were happy times. Just didn’t seem that way at the time.

Me, fifty years ago

My 6th grade nun (okay, teacher, but we always referred to them as “the nuns” or singular “the nun”) was Mother Ann Catherine, who taught me two years before when she was Sister Ann Catherine. Guess she was promoted… anyway, she seemed pretty young, but with all the yards of black material she was swathed in, it was hard to tell.

One Friday, we got a mimeographed letter to take home that said the Sisters would be adopting modern dress over the weekend, and that when we returned on Monday they would be dressed differently and would be using their civilian names with “Sister” appended to the front. I guess this was to prepare us for the shock that would accompany our seeing our nuns dressed like our moms, which, in comparison to how they had dressed up to that point, would be practically naked.

I took the letter home and gave it to Mom, who read it over and showed it to Jim and Kip. They read it, shrugged and said “OK.” In the grand scheme of things, this was no big deal. I didn’t give it any thought, really.

It was a good thing they had warned us about it, though. Sister Ann, who we all pretty much knew was young and kind of pretty anyway, now looked young and pretty. In fact, she was really attractive, and when she said “good morning” I was kind of stuck for an answer. All of us were at first, but as the day went on we got used to the new look, and soon all was back to normal.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at the convent during lunch, just to hear the conversation…

29 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: The Nuns Go Mod

  1. I only went to Catholic school for a few months in fourth grade until my dad went to Vietnam. I had what I think was called a lay teacher who wore regular clothes. The nuns wore traditional habits. The nuns seemed nicer than my teacher who yelled at us, but then I wasn’t in their classrooms.

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  2. Oh I remember the nuns but there was only one nun who still wore her habit and dress and she was not pretty. The other nuns wore regular clothes but were still very conservative. I hope they don’t tear down the old building

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  3. I remember when our nuns started wearing more civilian style clothes. They still wore a shortened veil though. We didn’t have any young ones in our school. I can see where it would have given you reason to pause.

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  4. Felician Sisters in grade school wore habits – shorter veil. School Sisters of the Notre Dame in high school wore civilian clothes except for Sister Harold our chemistry teacher.

    I hope the don’t tear down the building either. My grade school closed in 2017 and it’s very sad. Inner city school and end of a era. The high school is barely hanging on.

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    1. One possibility is that Loyola University, which is about two blocks away, might pick it up. Heaven knows they’ve been buying most of Rogers Park anyway. The building isn’t that far off campus, and has a theater attached that had been part of the university anyway.

      I heard rumors that the church might be closed at some point. That would leave a huge block of potentially valuable real estate that the Archdiocese could sell. It breaks my heart to think of the church where I received all my initiation sacraments reduced to rubble…

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  5. Thanks for the picture and the story. I first entered that building in as a third grader in 1941. Haven’t been back to the old neighborhood in years and years even though we only live 20 – 25 miles west. Lots of memories!!!

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    1. There’s no reason to go there anymore. I think I’ve been back four times that I can remember: for Ralph Cusick’s wake, for Mom’s wake and funeral, and for Genny Taylor’s wedding. The wedding was 17 years ago today, so the only trips to East Rogers Park I’ve taken have been in my head…

      Speaking of St. Ignatius School, Mom used to tell the story about your graduation…

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      1. Yeah, our graduation! We were on stage in the theater and this priest in flowing robes exploded on to the stage and proceeded to give a passionate commencement address. Maybe suitable for a college graduation, but not for a grammar school graduation. Most of the class, me included, took a fit of laughing and couldn’t stop. It was made worse by a nun standing offstage frantically waving a crucifix at us. It was made even worse when the members of the audience began laughing. I believe my rather prim and proper Aunt Marie got up and left the theater she was laughing so hard. Yes, my grammar school graduation is one of my most vivid life memories.

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    1. I don’t think they were required to, and we had a couple of ancient nuns that flat-out didn’t, but most of the sisters were happy with the change. The more modern dress was much more practical in the classroom and when working in the missions and hospitals, not to mention a good deal more comfortable during the summer.

      I was twelve in the picture, meaning that picture is 50 years old. Kind of surprising that the colors held so well.

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  6. Oh I hope they don’t tear the building down too. And look at you all DAPPER in your school pic. That is too cute! I had a nun for a teacher in 4th grade. I wonder how you earn the title of “mother”. Your comment about being promoted made me laugh.

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    1. I’ve got a few more dapper pictures in today’s post.

      I never quite the “Sister”/”Mother” thing. I wonder if it was like being promoted in the military (you get the pectoral cross after three years). They abandoned “Mother” around the time they abandoned the habit and started using their actual names. They still call the head of the convent “Reverend Mother,” I think, but I’m not even sure they even lives in convents anymore.

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