My old school

June 8
old school just died. To be more precise, St. Francis Grammar School in
Ridgefield Park, NJ, just closed due to financial reasons.

one’s grammar school is a pretty big deal. Talk about memory lane. My mom and
my older brother, Russ, both graduated from St. Francis. So did several of my
closest buddies.

paraphrase Charles Dickens, SFS was the best of schools and the worst of
schools. The education was far superior to that provided by the public grammar
schools in our village. But, the brutal and badly misnamed Sisters of Charity
gave the school a very poor image and reputation. For whatever reason, the nuns
didn’t like boys. Period. And, they really didn’t like some boys.

still have vivid memories of Sisters Julia Michael, Catherine Imelda and
Catherine Winifred beating the bejesus out of my classmates. They’d pull ears,
yank ties and rap knuckles until they saw blood. And, that was when they were
in a good mood. The priests were also scary dudes and at least one was
implicated in a pedophilia scandal decades later.

for me, SFS’s positives always outweighed the negatives. So, knowing that most
of you could care less, I nonetheless thought I’d pay one final homage to St.
Francis Grammar School by listing my top 10 memories:

Bobby Gandolfo knocking out the late Gregory Alberque at Kenny Molta’s fourth
grade party. I’d never seen a one-two combination like the one Bobby threw that
day (FYI: Bobby was positively all-world in sports and academics at SFS).

Being suspended with my fellow altar boys for misbehaving at a seventh grade
funeral mass. It was terribly wrong, but terribly funny at the time (laughs
courtesy of the late Greg Alberque).

The Kenny Molta/Mike Nardone book bag incident. Kenny threw Mike’s book bag
down the Park Street sewer drain, completely ruining its contents and Mike’s
day. Great stuff.

Playing ‘steal the bacon’ in Mr. Hale’s gym class. It was a bizarre game that
takes far too much time to explain. And, it was run by a total Martinet of a
gym coach named Mr. Hale, who punished misbehaving or underperforming gym
participants by making us hoist folding chairs over our heads until our arms
gave way. Nice, Mr. Hale. Very nice.

Patty Perrotta’s seventh grade party and the introduction of spin the bottle.
Nice, Patty. Very nice.

Seventh grade ‘lay teacher’ Mr. Carroll, whose idea of fun was walking behind
us as we took a test and chalking up our ears. God knows how he ended up.

Father Stauffer, who ended up leaving the priesthood and marrying one of the
nuns. Sure beats pedophilia. Nice, Fr. Stauffer. Nice.

Getting caught by Sister Noreen for forging my mom’s signature on a
less-than-satisfactory fourth grade report card and then making me go home and
tell my parents what I’d just done. A painful, but necessary lesson, Sr.
Noreen. No hard feelings.

Slap-boxing matches in the schoolyard at lunchtime with each of us emulating a
heavyweight contender of the era (I was Ali).

Sally Ann Pappan for introducing me (and quite a few others) to the wonders of
French kissing. I know, TMI. But, it’s a world-class memory of those days.

revoir, SFS. I’ll miss you. Sort of.

24 thoughts on “My old school

  1. Can’t wait to see your debut, Gaetano. Quick question: is it safe to assume Mildred Pierce wasn’t a nun?

  2. The “Mildred Pierce” mini-series on HBO doesn’t come out until 2011…with therapy some scars can be healed…but for a few, your life is changed FOREVER.

  3. You could have a second career as a psychologist, Lunch. I believe Gaetano’s HBO debut will occur later this Summer.

  4. Gotcha, and sorry if i stepped out of bounds. Maybe that energy can instead be used toward furthering his acting career.

  5. Sage advice, Lunch. But, I know Mr LePoer and he’s still living with the emotional baggage of his SFS days.

  6. A tad harsh to be sure, but I know what you went through, Gaetano. Hang in there.

  7. Brian, you raise a good point. We’re obviously focusing on the renegade nuns who tortured us. There were just as many kind and caring ones who made sure we received a first-rate education. The concern of those nuns somewhat offset the pummeling received at the hands of their peers.

  8. We lived in a don’t ask, don’t tell era. Most kids didn’t tell their parents about the abuse. As a result, no one spoke up. Left unchecked, the nuns and prests ran amok.

  9. After hearing these horror stories (as nostalgic in tone as they are), I am glad the Catholic grammar school in my area that rejected me and my siblings because we lived on the “wrong side” of the block, therefore, out of zone to be considered. PS 204 in Brooklyn was just fine, and still is.

  10. Let’s not be too hard on the sisters. They took difficult vows in service to a demanding employer. Any sister who survived 50 or more years of Church politics probably deserves a shortcut to heaven. My apologies to Gaetano, who clearly had a difficult experience.
    Of course, I was the kid who went to the terrible public schools. Going to a Catholic school would have been great for me.

  11. You can’t leave us hanging like that, Trish. What was the subject of your DAR essay contest winner?

  12. My grade school, St. Mary’s, closed about 15 years ago. It was the oldest Catholic School in town, but in today’s seediest part of town. I am grateful for that education compared to the one I could have had at the public school. I was an altar girl and won the DAR essay contest there – memories.

  13. Iggy clearly took no prisoners, Lunch. Re: a Presbyterian church wedding, good for you. The Catholic Church has done everything possible to alienate its constituency.

  14. They were tasty, weren’t they Art? Same goes for the wine. A few vivid memories of waking up drunk priests with my elbow at 6AM masses when they had to much wine with communion.
    I found this on Wikipedia about St. Iggy, Rep. He sounded like badass, if you ask me.
    “From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated. —Ignatius to the Romans, 5.”
    I am getting married in a Presbyterian Church, FYI.

  15. Classic, Art. Just classic. Thanks for sharing. My kids can’t believe the corporal punishment stories from my Catholic grammar school days. It was indeed a different time and place. But, fun just the same. Strange.

  16. Hey Lunchboy: so you ate the unblessed hosts, too? That was breakfast for me when I had to serve 6:00am mass! Did you ever sneak into church to look at the relics embedded in the altar or poke around inside the tabernacle? I did that one lunch hour with a couple other altar boys (I was scared to death the whole time).
    Repman: Both of my Catholic elementary schools have closed–the one in Trenton, NJ (Holy Cross) and the one in Green Bay, WI (St. Jude). Some memories I have: our pastor gripping me by the neck from behind and directing me as a 7-year-old altar boy walking with the big cross in procession; serving midnight mass at Xmas with every altar boy we had; almost setting the altar on fire when I lit an altar candle with a match and put the match (still lit) down onto the altar cloth; being drunk as an altar boy at an Easter service after participating in a Passover meal just before it as the “child” and drinking three glasses of wine. Good times, good times…

  17. Love it, Lunch. Priceless stuff. St. Ignatius of Antioch? What was his claim to fame?

  18. Awesome; simply awesome. Anyone who has been to Catholic school can surely relate, Rep. Consider the following:
    You should know that this former altar boy was caught drinking mass wine with others following a funeral we served. Not only that, we snacked on some not-yet-blessed hosts and we were playing hide-n-seek in the church and confessionals…this was when altar girls were allowed to serve mass and funerals. You can take this where you’d like, Rep.
    Also, another similar story… I once signed a demerit (that was worth three demerits for fighting on the schoolyard) in pencil, with 4th grade level cursive handwriting and turned it in on the same day I received it. Thus, it was evident my mom hadn’t even seen it yet and that I signed it. I believe I misspelled “Susan” too. That got me another four demerits for forgery. If you are keeping score at home, that is seven demerits in one day. I believe it is still a St. Ignatius of Antioch (Yardley, PA) school record.