Back in the early 1960’s I attended Brooklyn’s Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School under the strict tutelage of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, a religious order of men which I firmly believe to this day served as a covert witness protection program where the feds stashed overly talkative but religious members of the Brooklyn Bonanno crime family. At the time Loughlin was an all male student high school, the entrance to which should have been emblazoned with the admonition, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!” The Christian Brothers, replete with perpetual scowls, not only taught most classes but they also relentlessly patrolled the halls and all other areas of the school dressed in dark, floor length, cassocks secured with a cloth rope belt in their eternal hunt for student ne’er-do-wells. When out of earshot (and decades before Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones made the term famous) we referred to them as the “Men in Black”.
In 1965 I was struggling (translation: failing miserably) with my French class and I was pulled aside by Brother Dennis, the Dean of Discipline, who made me an offer I could not refuse. If I agreed to teach catechism (a collection of questions and answers that are used to teach children about the Catholic religion) after school each Wednesday to students from a nearby public school for two semesters I was assured that divine intervention would arrange a passing grade in French. As my somewhat less than stellar deportment in school had already made me a frequent visitor to after school detention activities, I figured why not?
Every Wednesday at 2:45 pm I would head down to the school library where I would be greeted by a group of 10-12 boys and girls from the local public school all of whom were even less enthused about being there than I was. After a few weeks an informal arrangement evolved between the students and myself. I wouldn’t bust their chops and they wouldn’t bust mine. Although the tenets of Catholicism were touched upon during our weekly meetings our conversations invariably strayed to many other things none of which had anything to do with religion. It didn’t hurt that I also provided weekly reading material to the group in the form of a comic books, The Green Lantern, Superman or Batman for the boys and Archie, Richie Rich or Little Lotta for the girls.
Everything was going swimmingly until Easter week of 1966 when I was suddenly relieved of my catechism duties and hauled in front of the Dean of Discipline for a hearing. Brother Dennis told me Brother Thomas, the librarian, overheard my catechism students laughing yesterday and he asked several students what they had found so funny. The children told him that I was telling them about Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday and Joseph of Arimathea removing Jesus’ body, wrapping it in a clean linen shroud and placing it in a tomb that had been carved into rock in a nearby garden. They said I then told them Our Lord’s body remained there until Easter morning when the rock sealing the tomb rolled back and Christ rose from the dead and, stepping out into the sunlight looked down, saw his shadow and ran back inside meaning 6 more weeks of Lent! Brother Dennis, who was fuming, asked me what I had to say for myself and I responded by telling him that I thought I might have been unduly influenced by listening to George Carlin. The Men in Black were not amused!
Needless to say, I failed French and to add insult to injury they also failed me in Religion, which was somewhat akin to failing gym as you really had to work at it. I also spent the rest of that semester in twice-weekly detentions in order to write a thousand word essay on religious profanity. For the duration of my time at Bishop Loughlin, and especially during the Easter season, I was looked upon by the Men in Black as the male version of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In my senior year I thought I could cleverly ingratiate myself with the powers that be by implying that I might be considering a religious vocation. I was immediately awarded additional detention time, referred to St. Bartholomew’s Protestant Church over on Atlantic Avenue for any further vocational discussions and ordered never to broach that particular subject at school again!
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