In sixth grade, at the tender age of twelve, I had a gigantic nun-crush on my teacher, Sister Gabriella Marie. A member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, “Gabby”, as we affectionately called her behind her back, coached me through spelling bees and oratorical contests, and greased the skids so that I could become Captain of the School Crossing Guard. She thought I had potential, and urged me to go into the priesthood, or to college at Notre Dame.
Precious Blood Nun Bobble-Head Doll, in “throwback” uniform
I passed on those opportunities, but I’ve stayed in touch with her over the years, and I gave her a call the other day to see how she was doing.
“Hi Sister,” I said simply, knowing she’d recognize my voice.
“So it’s you, you little scamp!” she squealed affectionately. “If you hadn’t choked on ‘accelerator’, you could have gone on to nationals!”
“I coulda been a contender, insteada what I am, which is a bum.”
“You’re never going to let me forget it, are you?”
“You’ll burn in purgatory until the end of time for that bonehead mistake,” she said affectionately.
Purgatory, where spitball throwers and spelling bee chokers go.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I-am-in-seventh-heaven!” she pronounced slowly and deliberately, almost ecstatically.
“Sonia Sotomayor!” she exclaimed. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, since the Supreme Court nominee has been reflexively attacked by conservative commentators, and Sister Gabriella was never known for the liberality of her views. She once recommended capital punishment for Scott Walje, who gave her the finger when she sentenced him to detention for throwing a spitball.
The Flight of the Spitball
“Really?” I asked.
“Absolutely!” she replied. “Did you know that she was valedictorian of her grade school class at Blessed Sacrament School, where she had a near-perfect attendance record?”
Perfect attendance–the hallmark of the goody-goody girl. Gag me with a spoon.
“And that’s enough to make you support her?” I asked, turning the critical dialectical skills that she had taught me back against her.
“Not just that, you nimmy-not. She’d be the sixth Catholic on the Supreme Court–we’d finally have the super-majority we need to take over the country!”
“No, Ruth, you can’t have Rosh Hashanah off.”
As someone who has unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to take an anti-Catholic prejudice case, I knew it wouldn’t be that easy. “Sister, I don’t know where you get some of your crackpot ideas.”
“In the penumbras and emanations of other constitutional protections,” she said, mocking Justice William O. Douglas’s famous loosey-goosey formula for finding a right of privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut, one of the building blocks that led to Roe v. Wade.
Justice Douglas: “Has anyone seen my penumbra?”
“How can you be so sure she’d be good for Catholics?” I asked.
I heard a snort at the other end of the line. “And you’re the one with the law degree?” she asked sarcastically.
“Well, yeah,” I said sheepishly. “But it isn’t every day I get involved in the great social issues that the Court takes on. I’m a business lawyer.”
Flying, not Yawning Nun
I heard her yawn. “Excuse me,” she said. “I’m either very tired or you’re very boring. But to answer your question, I’m pretty sure she’s anti-abortion,” Gabby said. “You have read Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, haven’t you?”
“Can’t say that I have,” I admitted. “Is that the one where she says the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position with public funds?”
“On the nosey,” she shot back at me. “So she’s an ace in the hole on that topic.”
“She’s a solid vote on religious freedom!”
“You mean the clause of the First Amendment that newspaper reporters always forget about when they say ‘separation of church and state’?”
“You got it, pal,” she said with the same tough-talking tone of voice she used to silence smart-aleck boys in the back row of chorus practice. “And that phrase isn’t even in the Constitution.”
Jefferson: Huge Notre Dame fan.
“I know, it’s in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and he actually favored government support of religious schools, as opposed to support of ministers.”
She was silent for a moment. “My God–you may actually have learned something at that godless four-year liberal arts college you went to instead of Notre Dame.”
“No–I went to law school at Boston College.”
“That Doug Flutie is so cute!”
“So–you think she’s a vote to respect religious freedom?” I asked.
“Absolutely. In Hankins v. Light, she voted against government intrusion in the dismissal of an age-discrimination claim by a minister against his church. She said it was unconstitutional to ‘trespass on the most spiritually intimate grounds’ of a religion.”
Sotomayor as a young girl: Perfect attendance!
“Okay, sounds good. What else ya got?”
“In Ford v. McGinnis, she ruled in favor of a Muslim prison inmate who was not allowed to participate in a religious feast.”
“Okay, but Islam is the religious flavor-of-the-month among liberals,” I pointed out. “How about something really weird, like Santeria?”
“You mean the religion that incorporates animal sacrifice into its rituals–not for barbecue–and which has previously been before the Court in the case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah?”
Reluctant participant in Santeria service
“That’s right,” she said. “Sotomayor ruled in favor of Santeria prison inmates who wanted to wear beads under their clothes in Campos v. Coughlin.“
“Okay,” I admitted, as someone who became a practicing Rastafarian after I left the Roman Catholic faith. “This is starting to sound good. But now for the $64,000 question,” I said. “How about religious symbols on city property, the greatest waste of time since monks stopped arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin?”
“I’ll take the over.”
“She’s for them!” she said. “In Flamer v. City of White Plains, she sided with a rabbi who was denied permission to erect a menorah in a city park.”
I had to admit it–Gabby had done her homework. “That is so freaking cool,” I said. “So what do you think a Catholic caliphate in America would be like?” I asked her.
“Let me lay it out for you,” she said, and proceeded to describe the following program designed to make America more like Catholic grade school:
No Talking in Line: This rule is strictly enforced for reasons of safety and order at Catholic grade schools, and it works; a low drop-out rate, high test scores, and winning hockey and football teams are the results. So get your last artsy-fartsy comment out of your system–”I don’t think Woody Allen’s made a good movie since Broadway Danny Rose!”–because next time you talk in line, you’ll feel the vise-like grip of Sister Mary Clarus on your upper arm.
You talk, you die.
No Meat on Fridays: I hope you like fishsticks. When the nuns are running the place, we’ll go back to the pre-Vatican II days when you had to abstain from meat on Fridays.
Fishsticks: Crunchy, but not delicious.
Clean your plate: Goodbye to nouvelle cuisine–from now on, everybody gets big portions of starchy food, and you have to finish every bite because there’s a nun standing guard at the tray return to make sure you don’t scrape anything into the garbage.
No more boy-girl parties: When Catholics go into the confessional, they have to promise to sin no more and “to avoid the near occasions of sin.” Boy-girl parties lead to dancing, then spin-the-bottle, then kissing in the coat closet, and are thus a “gateway” to violations of the Sixth Commandment barring adultery. How do I know? A one-game suspension from the Sacred Heart School Gremlins seventh-grade basketball team for hosting one! I tried to tell my coach it was my mom’s fault–she was a Protestant and wanted me to have social skills. “And look how that turned out,” was his sneering reply.