Growing up

St. Jerome’s all-time hit leader


(A previous published version of this post contained an error. As I was fixing that, I recalled information from more than a half-century ago that changed some of the details. This is an updated version of the original post)

With baseball season coming up, my thoughts drift back more than 50 years to the one time in my life I regret going to Wrigley Field.

At the center of the story is Sister Mary St. Delphine.

Everyone who attended Catholic schools taught by nuns has “nun stories.” Sometimes, survivors from different schools compare stories.

In the competition for the worst/craziest/most violent nun, I always win because my eighth grade nun was Sister Delphine.

In the photo above, taken around the time she was my teacher, Sister Delphine was approximately 180 years old. She presided over Room 301 at St. Jerome’s School in Chicago’s Rogers Park.

Every day of eighth grade started with torture disguised as “music appreciation.”

There was an upright piano in the front of the room with a mirror positioned strategically above the sheet music. This allowed Delphine to monitor the students as she pounded out the hits using her gnarled, arthritic hands.

The songs we had to learn in 1966 included World War II era classics Buckle Down Winsocki and Coming in on a Wing and Prayer, along with one contemporary hit, The Ballad of the Green Berets.

This was torture, not because the songs were bad (though most of them were extremely old-fashioned and corny), but because Sister Delphine insisted on singing them.

Delphine’s singing voice was…unusual.

I strain to find comparisons, though this Taser demonstration video comes close.

Sister Delphine demanded a roomful of eighth grade boys remain calm and unsmiling as the most horrible sounds we had ever heard filled the room. This was impossible.

When we laughed (and we all laughed), Sister, who had been watching us via the mirror, would get up from her bench, grab a yardstick (she bought them by the gross) and offer her response to our review of her warbling.

We had mixed feelings when the yardstick was headed our way.

On the one hand, we knew it was going to hurt. On the other, there was usually no singing during beatings.

You could tell who Sister Delphine liked. They were the ones with the faint bruises.

Then there were others. I was one of those.

There probably was never a good time to have met Sister Delphine, but this was definitely a bad time.

I arrived in her class frustrated, hurt by my parents recent divorce, and overly emotional. Delphine picked up on that and, like any nurturing teacher would, gave me a nickname in front of the class.


Surprisingly, this did not result in improved behavior.

Warning: The following story ends with a “sad trombone” sound effect.

As the end of the eighth grad year neared I hated school. On the school day in question, in May 1967, I realized I really needed to see a Cubs game.

I don’t remember what my plan was for explaining my absence. Maybe the story was that I was sick and had to go to the doctor. Or, I had to stay home in bed. Or I had a sick relative I had to care for.

Whatever the story was, it did not involve sunshine.

So maybe sitting in the bleachers was not the best idea.

When I saw my sunburned face I knew I was in for a bad time. The next day, I made a half-hearted attempt at a lie, but Delphine wasn’t having it. She quickly got me to confess.

The rest is a blur, but I’m pretty sure I got more hits than the Cubs did the previous afternoon.

The kicker: While I was sunning myself at the ballpark, Sister Delphine, who wasn’t much interested in teaching anyway, decided to give herself and the class a treat and tuned the classroom TV to the ballgame.

I’ve only scratched the surface (something Sister Delphine did often) on my eighth grade year.

There will be more.