Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

‘Father isn’t sitting in the confessional for his health’—and other lessons from Catholic school

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 24, 2017

My parents lauded good education as a prerequisite for a happy life, so they scrimped and saved to send their daughters to Catholic schools from day one. And after 12 years under the dutiful eyes of women wearing wimples, here are some lessons I learned.

We can help people who have died. The sisters taught me about a mystical connection between the living and the dead called the Communion of Saints. We could help the faithful departed, they said, through prayers and sacrifices. I was somewhat compulsive about praying, so I said the rosary fervently for relatives who had died—and just for good measure, also prayed for my deceased turtles, Flat-top and Wormy. These little fellows were so dear to me that I scrawled their names on holy cards, so I’d never forget them. It seems to have worked.

Rules exist for a reason, and if you break one, you will pay. This might seem blatantly obvious, until you notice how often people try to sidestep a well-deserved speeding ticket. The sisters taught us certain rules were engraved in stone. For example, you were expected to keep your skirt ironed and your saddle oxfords spotless. And when I neglected to polish my shoes the night before, I discovered that white chalk, hastily applied before the school bell rang, covered up a multitude of sins.

Smoking was forbidden on school grounds, but my best friend and I were somewhat reckless, so we decided to lock ourselves in stalls in the girls’ bathroom—and light up our Newports. We were happily exhaling clouds of menthol-scented smoke when we heard a distinctive rustling sound, which indicated the approach of a sister in a floor-length habit.

“Are you smoking in there?” she thundered.

We quickly flushed the evidence, waved our hands frantically to clear the air and exited the stalls. When we denied any wrongdoing, she simply sniffed our breath, then marched us off to detention.

Don’t expect life to be fair. There was no way to ignore the obvious fact that God had endowed some girls with curly hair, smooth skin and waistlines the circumference of a pie pan. Other girls struggled with dieting, skin problems and hair as limp as boiled linguine. Still, the sisters reminded us that God also doled out talents like writing, drawing and acting in high school productions. They taught us life wasn’t always fair, but God loved us, no matter what. It took me many years to realize they were right.

Avoid the occasions of sin. The underlying principle here was to shun tempting situations. Gamblers shouldn’t frequent pool halls, and drinkers shouldn’t dally in bars. As for dating, the sisters outlined a clear game plan for avoiding the occasions of sinful behavior. There was safety in numbers, which meant riding alone in a car with your boyfriend was asking for trouble. When I look back on my wild and wooly college days, it’s clear I neglected this rule. In retrospect, I should have stitched “safety in numbers” in needlepoint and posted it on my dormitory wall.

“Father isn’t sitting in the confessional for his health.” We heard this line many times, not only from the sisters but from Father himself. As for me, I hated the thought of the priest sitting there all alone, so I always managed to drum up some sins. I even went the extra mile, telling Father I’d committed each category of sin 100 times. I figured it was better to overshoot than undershoot the mark, and if he found this humorous, he never commented.

Artwork (“Grace Notes,” oil painting) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is