"Mother Ximenes’ Handbook for Grade School Nuns" is the eleventh chapter of Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies.
Mother Ximenes's book covers a number of key areas and topics for the newly-ordained (or even perhaps the seasoned professional) grade-school level instructor, including teaching ("Things Catholic Children Should Know"), religion ("Ways to Cultivate the Fear of Dying in Mortal Sin" and "Conversion Tactics"), fundraising for the school ("Ways of Raising Money"), and suggestions for successful May Processions.
Much like A Short Guide to Catholic Church History, Bellairs presents the contents as if it were a book, this time a text used by the instructors at a parochial school.
Bellairs, in a way, got to interact with teaching nuns on both sides of the classroom, as a student at Saint Mary's Catholic School in Marshall and later teaching alongside the sisters at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona - though admittedly this was in a collegiate setting. Saint Fidgeta introduces some of Bellairs’s earliest comments about growing up in parochial schools and while some excerpts are greatly exaggerated – indeed, this chapter – one may wonder the affects the experience might have been on such a young person.
Myers cannot vouch for the effect of Catholic schooling on Bellairs but notes one could not be more wrong in assuming that such as experience was frightening.
"Quite the opposite in fact: it provided a great sense of comfort and clannishness. Bellairs’s book is just one of a great sub-category of literature dealing with the tribulations of the Catholic school experience. Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood and Frank McCourt’s Angela's Ashes spring immediately to mind, as do such lesser-to-outright-meretricious works such as Do Patent Leather Shoes Reflect Up? and the various Nunsense reviews. I believe even James Joyce got into the act. Most of the works, but admittedly not all, treat the subject for its comic value but do have an undercurrent of affection.
“In the United States at least, parents send their kids to Catholic schools because of their own positive experience (they were never at any time forced to), often at considerable financial sacrifice. The authority of the priests and especially the nuns, who of course formed the backbone of the Catholic school system, was absolutely unquestioned. Granted, they weren't all geniuses, but the ones I encountered were for the most part intelligent and dedicated. The nuns deserve special mention; they were devoted and for the most part talented women, many of them whom joined into the convent in the first place for the opportunity to develop their intellects and exercise authority, goals not easily attainable in society at large. I guess you could say that the Catholic school was part of the extended Catholic family.
"I did find that going to a Catholic school offered two great advantages. One was that, as religious instruction was part of the curriculum, I could stop going to Sunday school. Second, on Catholic holy days of obligation (these are days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass), the class would assemble for early morning mass and then have the rest of the day off, freedom made doubly sweet by the realization that public school kids all had their noses to the grindstone. But this has nothing to do with Bellairs, so apologies for the digression.
"In conclusion, if I have painted too rosy a picture of Catholic schools, let me leave you with the words of Alfred Hitchcock, who was educated by the Jesuits in England. He said (and this quote is approximate; I don't have it in front of me): ‘I saw a young lad about to enter a Jesuit school, I'd scream, ‘Run! Run away little boy! Escape before it's too late!'"
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