Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Make straight his paths

Last Saturday I reprised an earlier post about the Presentation sisters of Dingle, Ireland, who taught my daughters for a year, forty-one years ago –- and who now lie in the convent cemetery under the spreading copper beech.

I remember particularly Sister Gregory, who recognized a scientific aptitude in my daughter Mo, and encouraged her interest. These were good women, who seemed happy and dedicated to God and the education of girls.

They are gone now. The kids of Dingle go to a co-ed, secular comprehensive school. The nuns' convent has been recycled to another use. The chapel, however, is open to the public. And a magical space it is, lit by stained glass windows by the inimitable Harry Clarke. I like to imagine the nuns standing in their stalls to each side of the central aisle, chanting the call and response of the Holy Office, antiphonally, one side to the other, then turning to the altar for the Gloria Patri.

You can take the boy out of the Catholic, but you can't take the Catholic out of the boy. The beauty of the stained glass and Gregorian chant, the sweetness of celebration –- just thinking about it is almost enough to have me go running back to the fold. But the fold's not there anymore. Perhaps it was never there. Perhaps there was always a worm in the bud.

Two stories in the paper that dim the nostalgia.

One, about government compensation of Irish women who as young girls were incarcerated in the infamous Magdalen laundries, run by orders of nuns, for imagined sins against "purity." (Whatever young men were complicit in their sins went unpunished.)

Is all that gone now? In Catholic Ireland, yes. In Islamic Pakistan, no. Another story, of two girls who "sullied the family honor" by making a cell-phone video of themselves, fully garbed in traditional clothes and headscarves, playing joyfully in the rain outside their bungalow. For this, they were killed by the girls' step-brother and accomplices, after local men watched the video.

Thank you, Sister Gregory, for encouraging my daughter's interest in science.